The teaching of language arts in the grade school permeates every activity in the classroom. The teacher’s ability to speak beautifully to the children is imitated by the children in circle activities, the telling of stories, and the speaking of verses. Each year a new step is taken toward the development of the children’s understanding of language. The language arts curriculum emphasizes taking the right amount of time in the early grades to develop both technical reading and writing skills and a love of language, which can be cultivated in later years to foster both technique and creativity.
Reading begins as the children write their own main lesson books. The first stories written or read are those they have heard their teachers tell. Their classmates retell these same stories, and the students copy them from the blackboard into their books using beautiful handwriting and carefully drawn pictures. With this multi-faceted approach the children learn to read and write out of a living experience of the language of the story.
The role of literature in the curriculum begins with the first stories and poems told by the teacher or read aloud from a book. While listening, the children develop a sense for the musical nature of language. Stories and poems are chosen to educate speech and engage the feeling life of the child. As the children become independent readers, books are assigned regularly that enhance the curriculum,
whether fiction, history, or biography, and allow the students to broaden their experience of world cultures. Discussions, book reports, plays, and oral presentations augment the reading curriculum.
Handwriting in the main lesson books begins with upper‐case letters in the first grade, with lowercase and cursive writing following shortly after. Second and third graders are presented with lessons regarding the basic kinds of words that make up language: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. In the fourth grade the children are introduced to all the parts of speech, punctuation, and the simple tenses of verbs. In fifth grade, active and passive verbs, prepositional phrases, and the structure of paragraphs are taken up. Sixth graders are taught the uses of the conditional sentence, a means of developing a feeling for style.
The seventh and eighth grade grammar curriculum continues to present a deeper understanding of the grammatical foundations of English. Expressing personal experiences, feelings, and ideas in writing, students develop effective techniques in various forms of written expression. All of which serves as the precursor to the critical thinking work that will be required in high school.
We are often asked about our approach to teaching reading (which starts later than is typical in public or many other independent schools), and we can assure parents that our students are highly literate, adept, passionate readers who excel in language arts. There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.
If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite quickly and easily. Some parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for "taking off." Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents concerned about the child's progress. It is important that parents should deal with their own and their child's apprehensions.
From "Five Frequently Asked Questions" by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
We are teaching reading from nursery school onwards, with sequencing, sensory integration, eye-hand coordination, large and small motor coordination, tactile discrimination, visual and auditory discrimination, both horizontal and vertical mid-line crossing, symbol recognition, counting skills, and confidence in physical skills in general.
So, we are teaching reading from the entry into any Waldorf school. We also recognize that a lifelong love of reading is not fostered by pushing, but by encouraging. Robert Frost, former poet laureate of the U.S., did not read until he was 15 years old. Sylvia Ashton Warner, one of the premier educational leaders of the mid-twentieth century, did not read until the age of 12. We might say that this delay in reading might have encouraged genius in the inner ponderings of these giants in literature and educational skill when they were young and not pushed to perform in reading.
Patrice Maynard, Leader, Outreach and Development for the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America AWSNA
The humanities curriculum takes a thematic approach to social studies. The program begins with fairy tales in the first grade and fables and legends in the second grade. Stories of the Old Testament in third grade, Norse mythology in fourth grade, and the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Greece in fifth grade are presented orally by the class teacher. Students also read excerpts from original texts, and literature of or about the period. The covered material is also written down (3rd grade on) and beautifully illustrated in the Main Lesson books. By the end of eighth grade, the students have journeyed from the days of the Roman Empire through medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Discovery, the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions, the World Wars, the economic upheavals of the 20th century, on into the present day. Studies include geography and histories of Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. Special emphasis is placed on the biographies of people who have altered the course of world history. Emphasis throughout the years is placed on developing skill in reading, research, composition, creative writing, and self-expression.