I got a unique chance to hear Rainbow Rosenbloom of Live Education (http://www.live-education.com/) speak this weekend. He almost never comes to the Southeast, so I am filled with gratitude that he accepted our homeschooling group’s invitation to come for our annual Conference/Curriculum Fair.
I think one of the most interesting and provocative things he said was (in going through all the ages from the Early Years through Grade 8 in one day, on Saturday) was how he saw the subjects as the vehicle for teaching the bigger picture of character development, for training soul faculties, and how this corresponded to a child’s developmental age. This is something that many veteran Waldorf home educators know, but it is always nice to be reminded about this again and again with different stories of children, different terms and vocabulary that reflect a broader picture, and what that all really means.
For example, in much simpler terms than the four hours or so we sat in lecture about this subject (!), he broke the developmental stages of childhood down into:
Early Years through Grade Two: The Early Years is celebration of life, and this celebration through the festivals and the year should continue throughout one’s life. This is the foundation. How being engrossed in a bodily activity moves around the six/seven year change to a shift of being on the crux of self-consciousness. How small children provide us with the wonder and inspiration to really look anew at the subjects we thought we knew; how do we fall in love with subjects so we can teach with inspiration? Small children often provide the answer – their wonder in creating a wet on wet painting in the Early Years and Early Grades becomes the basis of a study of color in the sixth grade physics block.
My note: The subjects we use to “teach” this shift into self-consciousness are the things we are bodily doing -not the manipulation of little symbols (numbers, letters, math) but what children get to do with their bodies, not their heads.
Grades 3-5: We focused on the thought that this age group has to have a voice without being squashed. We develop moral reasoning beginning in this stage, and nine and ten year olds are all about fairness and justice (which usually means it all works out fair and justly for themselves; the true meaning of fairness and justice comes later with more maturity). We must pay special attention to the interpersonal relationships at this point – it is very important for parents to be involved in making friendships with families for our children or with the families that our children are friends with because this becomes the basis of discernment in the middle school grades. How our friends treat us when we are this age, the interaction between siblings, and between friends is exceedingly important for this age grouping. True discipline and guiding really begins in earnest around the age of nine, because at this point a child can BEGIN to self-reflect on their part in social interactions, to look at what their own responsibility might have been in things. Boundaries are oh so important!
Our goal at this age, as it is at every age, should be our deep wish to know our children. Because we don’t know them at this age. Maybe we think they do, because we have known them since birth, but their world is shifting, and it is private and inward in many ways. They may let you in and tell you some things. Honor those moments instead of sloughing them off.
My Note: Life is the curriculum; but also the beauty of the Waldorf pedagogy and how it so meets this age group. Your child will tell you what they need if you observe them, if you look at things and read it for three days and then decide if you are having an a-ha moment with that material or not and then bring it. Something straight out of the pages of a curriculum can be dry or hit or miss. I know many mothers want a curriculum, and I am not disrespectful of that. However, part of homeschooling is if we can tailor the subjects we know are great for the third through fifth grader in the curriculum, and see what arises out of that for our specific children and their own development of character, of balance for their adulthood. Even if you have only one moment like that each month, what a wonder!
Grades Six Through Eight: Here becomes the painful feelings of perhaps wanted to be loved, accepting, belonging by others outside of the family…and the use of the discernment that began to develop in the ninth and tenth years in order to do this in a healthy way, and is still developing now in these middle ages so when children go to high school and college they have this basis of health in interpersonal relationships. Really helping our children understand the difference between being desired and being recognized as worthy and loved is a major thrust in this age cycle. This happens at a subtle level in the teaching of the subjects in the Waldorf curriculum.
One of the examples Rainbow gave was the Pythagoras “riddle” that if you discover and understand the relationship between the numbers 220 and 284 that you could discover the meaning of relationships. (The factors of 220 add up to 284 and the factors of 284 add up to 220). Thus the twelve, thirteen and fourteen year olds have little seeds planted through the subjects that help them develop the discernment, the idea of being recognized for worth, the capacities for these virtues and values.
These are the bigger, spiritual and moral developmental stages that happen and the unique way in which Waldorf Education looks at the beautiful, big picture of the healthy development of the human being.
With much love, and with gratitude for the beauty of Waldorf Education,