One of the strengths of the Waldorf education is that the teachers are free to select the specific age-related material and present it in their own way for that particular group of children. Thus each class in a Waldorf school is unique and yet universal. We have chosen to create a class of SK and Grade One children to meet the increasing needs of children of this age.
In today’s world, with its lack of movement and flood of media, many children are coming to first grade with hindrances. Society is in a hurry and the pressure on children is enormous. Children are often unable to focus for very long. Impulse control may be lacking. Their nervous systems are often overloaded. They may have retained reflexes that contribute to learning difficulties. Waldorf education, at this stage. works with a slower deeper approach to help the children enter more into their bodies, building a healthy foundation for learning and life.
Throughout the grades, we support the development of the child’s capacities: academic capacities, capacities of love and compassion, and the capacities to fulfill one’s destiny. Waldorf teachers educate the whole child: head, heart, and hands. They develop the children’s aptitudes for thinking, feeling, and acting. This allows children to grow and mature in holistic ways.
Through bringing breathing into the lessons, alternating outer activity and focused work, the children will be developing rhythms which support better focus, clearer thinking and physical well-being. Through using three day learning rhythms, we take into account their sleep/night life to bring warmth to the intellectual material. Through love for the children and daily meditations, the teachers bring the essence of a new form of education – spiritual insights and inspirations that are gifts to the children.
The task of the SK/Grade One teacher will be to blend the many streams of learning. As learning is tightly tied to development, Waldorf teachers practice child observation becoming aware of the individual student’s developmental progress. At this stage of development right/left dominance is established and the child ‘s ability to freely cross both horizontal and vertical midlines, etc. Children may be stronger with details (left brain) or the whole picture (right brain). So we teach from the whole to the parts (e.g. whole language) and parts to the whole (e.g. phonics). While there is no magic wand, the class we move and move often! All learning types – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners – will be taught.
One of the signs of grade school readiness in a Waldorf school is that the child is able to imagine or think in pictures. Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, calls this early form of cognition “knowledge via imagery rather than concepts.” Subject and object are not yet separated and they live still in a state of ‘oneness’. The child identifies with the images and this is reflected in how they are drawn to and engrossed in stories.
A curriculum, which is tailored to this age, builds pre-literacy competencies that create a rich and deep foundation for literacy, which is greater than the mechanics of reading and writing. There are children coming into first grade classes who are fully reading, while many don’t yet know their letters. Both types of students can be met through Imagination. Children of this age can live into the imaginations – giving life to the soul amongst the ever intellectually demanding landscape.
The stories for the year, told by the teacher, will focus on fairy tales and nature stories. Through nature stories, the teacher is able to imaginatively connect the child to the greater world and how nature works. Through fairy tales, the child is presented with an archetypal picture of the human being and the experiences and challenges met on his or her journey.
This class of children will be together for their eight/nine year journey. The SK/Grade One year will be about potential and possibility – and beginning the journey to make these manifest.