Fifth Grade: Beautiful Botany

“The plant world is the Earth’s soul world made visible, and this is why we can compare it with human beings.  But you should not merely make comparisons; you must also teach the children about the actual forms of the plants.”……”All children, who in their youth learn to know plants according to scientific principles,  should first learn about them as we have described – that is, by comparing them with soul qualities.” – Discussions With Teachers, Discussion Ten, Rudolf Steiner

I think we can get a little hung up in this block if we are not careful.  There is a balance to hold about the study of botany and the ideas that come from anthroposophy about the soul qualities of plants and awakening the feeling life and this sort of scientific botany proper.   I think we hint at the scientific, we work with observation skills needed in all sciences, and we also see the wonder, awe and reverence for the plant world. Scientific botany proper often comes in during the grades 6-8 in ecology and biome discussions, and then a whole block in grade 11.

Some people really balk at Steiner’s analogy about human development compared to plants that he outlines in “Discussions With Teachers.”.   However, one must remember that in the line of Steiner’s thinking, he is not working on the physical level (ie, that physically mushrooms have no complexity, for example)  but the spiritual level in his analogy of expressing the “pleasures of infancy” to mushrooms and fungi ( remember, this is a SOUL quality, he is NOT saying that the mushrooms and fungi are babies!), pleasures of early childhood – algae and mosses; experiences at the awakening of consciousness of self -ferns; experiences of the fifth and sixth year up to school age – gymnosperms and conifers; first school experiences, years 7-11- parallel veined plants, Monocotyledons: experiences of the eleven year old – Simple dicotyledons: and school experiences from the 12-15th year – the net veined plants, Dicotyledons; plants with green calyx and colored petals (page 144, Discussions With Teachers).   There is a lot of information for you to digest in his lectures, which I highly recommend you read before you plan fifth grade! He is also is comparing the different types of plants to the perfect plant as expressed by Goethe as well.

Yet, I personally feel remiss if I don’t mention a little bit about where plants are currently in scientific thought in this block along with some of the anthroposophic ideas about soul qualities of the human being as identified and unfolding in different plants as mentioned above. (See the comments from readers  below for more on this!) I mean, at this point, algae and lichens are not even considered part of the  plant kingdom and I  usally do mention this (I also mention that for most laypeople, however, people still think of them more as plants if we look at things from the perspective of mineral-plant-animal- people, which is why we study them in this block). I don’t think it has to be either -or, but a balance.

Outside of lots of field trips and lots of time to draw out in the field, some of the things I like to do in a general flow as below:

  • The Plant as a meeting of all four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) along with Time.  The plant as an expression of the human soul in stages of unfolding capacities.
  • How do the seasons work on the plant? (great drawings can come out of this!)
  • Roots (tap roots, fibrous roots, rhizomes, tubers), stems, buds,  leaves
  • Fungi (stem cap, gills) (dying properties) (great for modeling,  drawing with pastels)
  • Algae (great for painting and modeling)
  • Lichen ( I tied into the idea of biomes and relationships with the animals)
  • The Perfected Plant and how some plants attain part of this perfection (like a fern mainly expresses the leaf, horsetail mainly the stem)
  • Mosses (liverwort, mosses, creation of peat, uses of moss)
  • Ferns (the largest division of the plant kingdom) (also great for painting, drawing, modeling)
  • Conifers
  • Monoctylodons, bulbous flowers (see Learning About the World Through Modeling for modeling ideas)
  • Grasses
  • Simple and complex Dicotyledons
  • Trees (look in “New Eyes for Plants”); find out about your state tree if you are in the United States
  • Biomes which will extend into all of the middle school grades….

Resources:

  • Discussions With Teachers, pages 105-135
  • There are numerous suggestions for painting in the book “Painting and Drawing in the Waldorf School”
  • Drawing From The Book of Nature
  • New Eyes for Plants
  • Learning About the World Through Modeling
  • Tree in the Trail by Holling C Holling is a nice read aloud for this block
  • The Internet for legends about plants
  • Your local library

Blessings,
Carrie