We are on the last chapter of this wonderful book. Chapter XIII is about teaching a foreign language, which is a topic I have seen asked and wondered about on many of the Waldorf homeschooling Facebook groups as of late.
Rudolf Steiner wanted first graders to be able to hold a little conversation in that foreign language by the end of that first grade year. Writing in a foreign language is not introduced until the fourth grade, so in grades one through three, through two or three fifty minute periods a week, foreign languages are introduced orally only. Poems, songs, and verses are used with NO English whatsoever.
At first, the children just hear sounds and not meaning. The key to helping the children is to provide variation and diversity in what is being brought. This is done through finger plays, instructions, songs, recitations and speech exercises, little plays, games, skipping rhymes in jump roping, story telling and hands on activities. Gestures, objects, use of body geography and miming (“put your hands on your head”), using props, singing are all used.
In using songs, the song is song by the teacher for at least three class periods before the class attempts to join in (and movements accompany the song!) Poems and verses can be accompanied by objects and props. Again, the poem is said for two or three lessons before asking the children if they could guess what the poem is about. With speech exercises, the children repeat after the teacher (not with the teacher) and often is done not only with the entire class but row by row in a classroom. Plays are taught, but not 100 percent chorally as individual children are asked to speak. “Here is a rule that is worth adopting: “Whatever I do in the whole group, I shall also practice in smaller groups – and also individually,” writes the author on page 121. Texts should not ALWAYS be rhythmical and rhyming since real life speech is not always rhythmical and rhyming.
With games, the children are introduced to the concepts of the game through a story and drawing pictures and then the game itself. Games offer social skills, spatial orientation, rhythm and more. Repetitive stories, rope jumping, and DOING things, more than sitting and listening.
Foreign language classes can be built upon a six week rhythm for 12 or 18 lessons total. Within the lesson, just like within the Main Lesson itself, there are periods of concentration/relaxation, shorter/longer, quick/slow, quietly/loudly, listening – doing. This artistic way of teaching is Waldorf Education!
Our next book, most appropriate for this Lenten period of soul cleansing, is working with the questions that families ask, in “Lifeways”.