What Are Waldorf Grades 6-8 About Anyway?

In the Waldorf School, there is often a sharp drop-off at sixth grade (the twelve year change), and then again as children enter high school in grade nine, as many parents switch to different forms of education.  This is also happens in Waldorf homeschooling. I know very few people who are Waldorf homeschooling grades 6-8 in the manner in which they homeschooled grades 1-5.  For many homeschoolers, this coincides with an uptick in outside activities of their children with just not enough time to plan or implement something lengthy, the want/need for children to do something more independently, or simply a dissatisfaction with the middle school curriculum as it is often said the true “thinking” part of Waldorf Education begins in high school.

I personally think it may be more of a daunting teaching problem rather than anything else.  I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  January 2002, Volume 7 #1: Did Rudolf Steiner Want a Seven-Grade Elementary School Configuration? – Waldorf Library in discussing whether or not a teacher should be with a class for all eight classes:

Waldorf education is not only about educating but about “awakening” the children. If a teacher does not possess the powers of awakening a certain age group, should one not accept that and instead work with the principle of specialization?

I think this problem of “awakening” children sometimes is daunting not only for teachers in a Waldorf School setting (who really might be better served by being with early years children) and who don’t want to awaken older children, but also for homeschool teachers as well…if we don’t awaken children by throwing facts and judgment at their heads, then how do we awaken them in the middle school grades?   How do we teach?  As the days with older children grow busier and more out of the home, these grades are not spoken about nearly enough compared to first and second grade, at least in the homeschool world. How do we get sixth through eighth graders ready for high school?  Still, though, in my observation of my own children and in looking at other children from even non-Waldorf families and what those children are ASKING to study during those years, the Waldorf curriculum meets those needs in a lovely way.

I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  this article:

The four upper grades deal with the same aspects of the human being in reverse order. In the fifth grade, the great individuals of Ancient History stand as a polarity to the Norse Myths, because they both deal with the human ego. The sixth grade topic of Romans, especially Roman law, is polar to the Hebrew Law because law shapes the astral. The seventh grade topic of Age of Discovery is polar to the topic of animal fables; both are connected to the life of people/ animals or to the etheric in general. The eighth grade topic of cultural history is polar to the archetypes found in Fairy tales of the first grade, because both describe the nature of human archetype thus representing the physical body level of the curriculum. A teacher who masters such interrelationships has mastered the content, form, and organic wholeness of the entire curriculum, and is thereby able to give the children the sense that all the subjects are interconnected and taught for a purpose.

Steiner did give indications of what to bring in these upper grades and it all culminates beautifully in the high school curriculum, where tenth grade is back into Ancient History, eleventh grade is back into Medieval and Renaissance topics, and twelfth grade is back into modern scenes.  A beautiful balance of the working of the will (cultural geography), working with the heart (history and literature), and working with clarity of thinking (math and sciences) permeates all grades.

I urge you to think about how the curriculum that served your children so well in the younger years serves them even better in the upper grades and high school.  I see children in the middle school years who are asking about the exact topics that the curriculum provides! It doesn’t change just because a child is past 12 or even past the 15/16 change.  The curriculum meets the child in front of you.

Many blessings,