There is nothing more peaceful than being outside digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, planting things, surrounded by vegetables and flowers. Waldorf Education values environmental education and gardening, and I think deserves a closer look for ALL families and especially for homeschoolers. Steiner felt that “the garden work should be an obligatory addition to the lessons.” (from the little booklet “Gardening Classes At The Waldorf Schools, compiled and written by Rudolf Krause).
Part of a child developing into their bodies entails making a home for themselves on Earth. It also entails a child getting to know and understand the rhythms of the year, season, day and the rhythms prevalent in nature. Gardening is also a great way for children to learn how all things are interconnected and how we depend upon the Earth and land for food, and how we depend upon one another. We depend upon that farmer who grows wheat that we get to grind for flour to make our bread for the week, for example. Steiner said, “It is of special significance for social development to experience by one’s own hand that people always depend on the work of their fellow human beings.”
Gardening is a wonderful place to develop the twelve senses so eloquently laid out by Steiner. These senses are the prerequisites for academic success. It is also a sure antidote for peacefulness, for decreasing anxiety, worry and depression that seems to so plague this generation of children.
Gardening throughout the curriculum may include some of these components:
First Grade and Second Grade – fostering a reverence for the land using all twelve senses through nature crafts (not so much through garden chores yet!) Nature stories are also important and to leave some of the mystery of nature to unfold
Third Grade - This is the age where a nine-year-old is truly developing a sense of place, where their place is on Earth. Where do they belong, how do they create a home here on Earth. The nine-year-old year is a year of DOING, DOING, DOING, and gardening and farming is at the heart of the curriculum for this year. Measurement, building, seeing where things come from (grains on the stalk to bread, sheep to yarn, dyeing things, making compost and cycles of life within the garden). Gardening becomes a vehicle for teaching about the basis of human culture, how we stopped being nomadic and wandering for the most part and planted crops such as oats, barley, wheat, rye, corn, millet and rice.
Fourth Grade – This is a time when ten-year-olds begin to study geography, starting with their own local geography. What better way to do this than to look at the animals in their own garden, to look at how soil develops and the differences between types of soils, to really look at their own sense of place.
Fifth Grade – This typically is when a student has a bound gardening lesson book and there are herb studies, plant studies, drawings to be made and projects from herbs. Honeybees are also a great focal study point.
SIXTH GRADE – this is the traditional part where gardening classes started at the Waldorf school as indicated by Steiner, at age twelve is what Steiner recommended. I believe schools are starting earlier now because there is more need to combat our lifestyle where we are so cut off from nature.
Steiner felt it was important to teach about the farm as a living organism, the fertilization that provided nutritional components, the application of homeopathic principles to earth. You could look into all the resources for biodynamic gardening here! Steiner was amazing that he could create all of this!
Sixth and seventh grade could include work with the soil, growing vegetables and raising flowers. In eighth grade, some curriculums focus on perennials, annuals, home gardening. In ninth and tenth grade, the growing of fruit, grafting methods and the study of soil and fertilizing is studied. Some sources say that in ninth grade the student will learn about plant growth and ground covers and that relationship, weather, constellations and that in tenth grade students will focus on pruning trees and shrubs, repairing tools during the winter, building trails, looking at the relationship between agriculture and cattle.
As homeschoolers, we can use our yards and natural spaces as a wonderful and integral part of our homeschool.
The Agriculture lectures by Steiner may be an excellent place to start, along with Steiner’s more basic works on education so one can understand how the gardening fits within the entire curriculum.
For those of you with small children, I would recommend Donna Simmons’ book, “From Nature Stories to Natural Science: A Holistic Approach to Science for Families “ (
) and also the books by author Sharon Lovejoy, such as “Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together With Children available here:
There is also a lovely audio CD available here that entails one Gardening Teacher’s experience at a Waldorf school through the grades:
– This CD is a lovely listen!