In third grade, through the themes of creation stories, house building, and farming, the children are brought literally down to the earth in their education. The students themselves bring a special blend of capability and innocence, plus a powerful energy for work. Enthusiasm, from the Greek word meaning “infused with divine spirit,” is the quintessential third grade characteristic.
The students are connected to all that surrounds them in the world, yet they experience a profound change in their inner lives during “the nine-year change.” The preeminent mode of learning up until this age is imitation, where the child primarily replicates what teachers do and say. The child begins to experience a new emergence of self wherein s/he becomes and feels more separate and distinct, more an individual. With this change, the child can be more objective and critical, but also experiences a period of separation and loneliness.
The curriculum for the third grade is designed to help the child stand as an individual on the Earth, confident of his or her ability to become a valued member of the human community. The stories of the Old Testament provide a metaphoric picture for the child of the separation from the parental home (Garden of Eden) and of the ability to make one’s way in the world through individual good deeds and the laws of the community (Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). During these language arts blocks, students are introduced to the parts of speech in grammar, spelling, and cursive writing to facilitate their own independent writing skills. They typically learn Hebrew as part of their study of the Hebrew legends as well.
On the practical side, the themes of house building and farming show the child how basic human needs are met on this Earth. The solidity of the foundation of a house, the firmness of the floor joints and the uprightness of the stud walls give the child a picture for his or her own development. Likewise, the farming block creates a picture of the bounty of the Earth and of the human responsibility to care for our collective home. Children study how human shelters have been made by many cultures. The native American way of life is especially interesting for students at this age.
The study of measurement in the mathematics curriculum allows the children to discover how human beings orient themselves on the Earth. The children learn about the earliest attempts to mark the passage of time by watching the cycles of nature to the later inventions of the water clock and sundial, which they may construct as a class. How distance is related to the measurements in the human body (e.g., the king’s foot being “a foot”) is a fascinating discovery for how the human being is truly the “measure for all things.” Further topics in mathematics include carrying and borrowing, number patterns, and word problems. Rhythmic math movement work also continues. They also learn about money and currency through the stories they hear and may open their own market for the school to visit. Later in sixth grade, business math will leverage this foundational learning.
In music, the children begin singing rounds and playing a stringed instrument, as well as the soprano recorder. In the arts and handwork, the children spin fleece into yarn, and continue painting, crayon drawing and modeling with clay. In handwork class, the students learn to crochet their flute cases and further develop dexterity of fingers and flexibility of hands. German and Spanish continue with stories and much more complex games, rapidly expanding vocabulary to hundreds of words. Lessons are filled with conversation. The class play, related to their studies and intended to bring forth each student’s innate gifts, is shared with the school community. Circus Arts begins in Grade 3 and continues through Grade 8.
In addition, students enjoy day trips to venues tied to the curriculum (e.g., local blacksmith, biodynamic farm, etc.).
In the fourth grade, the children have left early childhood behind, but have not yet begun puberty. The teachers of the fourth grade class increasingly experience the children as emerging individuals with strong personalities and distinctive gifts and talents, as well as challenges. The children have lingering characteristics of the nine-year change as their self-consciousness intensifies and their perception of the world continues to sharpen.
Cognitively, the children are more able to form independent mental images and to recall them at will. Though the pictorial element is still strong in their thinking, reasoning begins to emerge in a more objective way since the child can now distinguish between one’s environment and oneself, and between what is past, present and future.
The Waldorf curriculum meets the fourth grade child’s development by bringing forth, from the past, the Norse myths whose gods and goddesses exemplify strong individual characteristics, both for the good and for mischief. Where the children experience life as overwhelming and challenging, they find kindred spirits in the Norse gods and goddesses who met life headlong with courage, compassion, faithfulness, sacrifice and, occasionally, cleverness run amok.
The study of local geography helps the children establish their place on this Earth. Learning to make maps of their classroom, school, neighborhood, and the North Shore, and discovering the directions of north, south, east, and west as manifested by the movement of the sun and planets, gives the children a sure way to find themselves in the here and now. This is true in their bodies as well, for by this time the children should have become quite coordinated in the three aspects of space: forward/back, left/right, up/down.
The students also have the opportunity to do their first research project as they discover the wondrous versatility of the form of the human being in “Human Being and Animal,” a zoology block. Here the children study the specialized skills and habits of the animals and come to realize how upright posture, the organs of speech and the adaptability of the hands contributes to the uniqueness of the kingdom of the human being. Likewise, the child can see the responsibility that belongs to the human being toward the other kingdoms of nature due to the human being’s own special abilities.
Reflecting the fact that the world is no longer one whole for the children, the study of fractions enters in the mathematics curriculum. Concrete experiences of making and cutting up pizzas and pies, and anything else the teacher can find to break into parts, becomes the basis for the abstract experience of adding, subtracting, multiplying, reducing, and expanding fractions. Students also begin to read “musical fractions” (half notes, quarter notes, etc.) in their stringed instrument music studies.
In German and Spanish, students are introduced to grammar, reading, and writing through activities and lessons tied to their morning main lessons. The fine and practical arts include clay modeling, geometric figures, form drawing of Celtic knots, watercolor painting and—in handwork—cross-stitch embroidery. Music classes continue with singing canons, singing rounds, and using harmonies. Instrumentally, the children continue recorder playing and playing their stringed instruments in a group.
Games and movement activities are filled with qualities of courage, cleverness and sacrifice requiring teamwork and strategic cooperation. Similar to the introduction of rules, or grammar, in main lesson language arts, the students are ready for rules to guide their games and movement work together. Rhythm is also stressed through games involving running, jumping, and rope jumping. Lessons in Circus Arts continues. Field trips and a class play continue to support and deepen the students’ academic work.