Humanities in the Waldorf Grade School

In light of Waldorf education, what do the Humanities mean? We offer our children a way to understand what it is to be human and a way to become more deeply human as they grow. This is embedded within the curriculum from the beginning of First Grade through graduation day. Everything the teacher says, does, and holds inwardly is a face-to-face learning with the children. Waldorf schooling is humanistic and draws from the humanities, even in teaching natural sciences.

All subjects are brought to the children in relation to the human being and life. Every aspect of each lesson is permeated with meaning that is relevant for the child at a particular stage of development. After splashing in rain puddles, or delighting in a sun shower, the First Grader will hear a story of The Little Raindrop. In this earliest telling for the 7-year old, the story is authentic to nature and truthful down to each detail. The teacher speaks to the class in image-rich language that is freely spoken. By not reading, the teacher can have direct eye contact and be in touch with each child in the class. The next day, the children bring forth their own inner pictures from what they have heard. They must mull it over and wrestle with how to make it fully their own. By their own human endeavor they create something new. The ensuing artistic work—drawing, painting, and/or enacting brings the story home. The teacher writes the essence of The Little Raindrop on the blackboard and the First Grader imitates by laboriously copying the writing in a Main Lesson Book. Poetry recitation, singing and verbal recall of the story further enliven the whole picture. On a very human level and through the Humanities, the lesson is developmentally appropriate for First Grade.

This early story telling lays a beautiful and truth-filled pedagogical foundation. The Little Raindrop becomes “The Water Cycle” in the 7th Grade Chemistry lesson. Young adolescents can now view it through the lens of natural science with burgeoning abstract reasoning capacities. The preparation for this new developmental stage was initiated way back in First Grade. Young teens are challenged to objectively examine natural phenomena and what they think they know. They will reason their way to the natural lawfulness behind The Little Raindrop. However, no matter the topic, 13-year olds hunger to find meaning and meaningful human connections. The science lesson is incomplete without addressing this element: “What does this mean to me ?” 

To nurture this ongoing quest for meaning into maturity, the teacher holds a picture of each one becoming ever more human. In Waldorf education, this principle of the evolving individual makes the Humanities authentic; and the warm cultivation of the human spirit carries every subject.

With lofty goals, we Waldorf teachers continually ask: Why are we teaching this? What is the human connection that is crucial right now for the students before us? How can they take what we have given and put their own stamp on it? What will they make of it ten years and more down the road? With this springboard, how will they improve our world? How will my life be bettered because our students fully embrace their humanity? In no small part, the Humanities in a Waldorf school will form the world we will all live in together. I am eager to see what great gifts our children create for us.

- Wendy Baschkopf, Grade School Humanities