Heart of Childhood – Grades 4-5
Fourth and fifth graders are eager to expand their world. They increasingly view themselves as distinct individuals; no longer held as fast by their connections to the adults around them. The world and its inhabitants – plants, animals and people – are full of fascination for the children and the Waldorf curriculum responds to this heightened interest with its focus on geography, science, mythology and history.
The child’s sympathies are especially awake at this age. All that we bring to the fourth and fifth grader is stimulating and enlivening, to arouse and nurture these forces of sensitivity. The children are deeply moved by the heroic and tragic characters in the ancient mythologies; they are delighted by the stories of animals and awed by their discoveries in the plant world. They are awake to the world around them and they respond with enthusiasm!
When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.
Tales from the Norse Myths respond to the fourth grader’s own social and emotional polarities and create incomparable opportunities for class discussions. Equally important to nurture the fourth grader’s feeling and thinking life is the Human and Animal block when the students contemplate the animal world as “the human being spread out,” and the human being as the compilation of the many characteristics they observe in the animals.
Fourth grades embark on their first study of geography. Maps are made of the classroom, the school, the child’s bedroom, our 55-acre property, and finally the State of Vermont. We consider the history of the state’s settlement and the resources that attracted both early tribes and European settlers.
This approach of widening the children’s world in a gradual way helps them to expand connections beyond their own, smaller worlds, supporting healthy social development. The study of fractions, long division and multiplication, and the beginning of geometry offer a variety of connections with local and state geography.
The fifth grader epitomizes physical grace, and this is heightened by a movement curriculum which culminates in a multi-school, Greek-styled Pentathlon. The Waldorf humanities curriculum follows a journey similar to the one pursued by Alexander the Great, visiting the civilizations and mythologies of Ancient Persia, Babylonia, India, Egypt and Greece. The study of great heroes, with their juxtaposition of admirable qualities and foibles, stimulates individual feeling and thinking capacities. Utilizing their continually improving writing and artistic skills, the fifth graders make the most of every assignment and especially look forward to their class play.
Just as the fifth graders have attained their own measure of physical grace, the study of botany and its attendant wonders unveils new dimensions of beauty, while building the observation skills required for the more rigorous sciences of the middle grades.
This is the year to explore historic number systems eventually arriving at the elegance of the decimal system; to explore geometry through the beauty of form; to appreciate Pythagoras’s search for truth and beauty and to discover his celebrated theorem.