Waldorf education recognizes 3 distinct phases of childhood:
- birth through 7 years of age
- 7 through 14 years of age
- and 14 through 21 years of age.
Below, we have adapted content from our Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers - both a basic schema of the distinctions between the 3 phases of childhood and specific discussion of this middle phase. Please consult this book for more on the flow of the entire Waldorf progression through the grades. From Nature Stories to Natural Science takes an in-depth look at the development of science learning during this time.
From 7 – 14, the grade school years, children are viewed as living primarily in their ‘feeling life’. As the above quote shows, it’s not that children don’t ‘feel’ before this age, rather that during this period they learn best through an artistic and imaginative approach that stirs their feelings. By hearing the great myths and legends of various cultures, the adventures of heroes and explorers, and the struggles of men and women throughout history, children’s feelings are deeply affected and a moral basis to their learning is laid. By using an artistic approach to all material – drawing, painting, modeling, acting, etc. – the teacher helps each child unlock his or her artistic abilities, further deepening the child’s experience of and feelings for what he is studying. Each child makes a main lesson book for each topic studied, a beautiful record of the experiments, essays, poems and drawings created as part of understanding the topic at hand. In creating these main lesson books, in exerting her will to use best handwriting and to work with care, each child sees that she is a creative person who is able to work hard and make something beautiful. This can help dispel the nonsense that only some people are artistic. We’re all artistic: it’s part of being human. Some of us may have special gifts and be ‘artists’, but, if our upbringing and education allow it, we can all create beautiful things.
During these years and throughout high school, topics from the curriculum are taught in 3 – 6 week main lesson blocks. The first two hours of each morning is devoted to in-depth study of the topic at hand: this is when main lesson books are created. For example, 3rd graders have a main lesson on farming, 5th graders have a main lesson on botany, 8th graders have a main lesson in chemistry and 12th graders have a main lesson on architecture. During the main lesson period, the children also spend time playing the recorder, singing, doing some mental arithmetic, or whatever the teacher feels is necessary to engage the children in their hands, hearts and heads. Working with a topic in-depth as is done in the Waldorf main lessons is something like the Unit Study approach favored by many homeschoolers.
A clear curriculum is followed from 1st through 12th grades. Based on a careful study of how children change and develop, the curriculum speaks to the needs of the growing child. An example of this can be seen clearly in the 3rd grade curriculum: generally, at 9 years old, there is a change, a growing sense of separation from parents in the child. Questions of authority, of right and wrong, and of selfhood arise. In Waldorf schools, 3rd graders study Building and Farming, 2 practical main lesson blocks which, on a subtle level, can really speak to the inner experiences of a child who is ‘creating her own self’. Likewise, the 3rd grade block on Old Testament stories, with its themes of right and wrong and man’s relationship to God’s authority, is a subject that most 9-year-olds can really relate to (if only subconsciously).