Plays and performance are an integral part of Waldorf education throughout the grades. They serve many purposes, demonstrating skills including music, linguistic understanding through recitation, and the visual arts with sets, props and programs. But plays and performances are more than just an opportunity to integrate art into the curriculum. They give the children an opportunity to meet themselves and each other through the stories and their social interactions. Class plays also allow the children to become more integrated as a class.
One of the key foundations of Waldorf education is that it is “developmentally appropriate.” As such, the curriculum is carefully designed not only around the skills that the children are ready to learn, but also around the life lessons that will resonate with them. Thus, in second grade, right as the children are beginning to work with their own morality, with questions of right and wrong, fairness, and being good, we use the stories of wise and holy people as well as fables and morality tales.
-alumni parent and current grandparent
This attention to developmental appropriateness is represented in both the stories that are reenacted as well as the way they are performed. The second grade usually works on the play “Saint George and the Dragon.” In this play, the children are able to embody the struggle of the good deed overcoming the dragon’s wild nature. At the same time, because the play is performed in vocal unison and possibly even in a circular setting, these young children are able to experience the emotional aspects of all the parts without having to separate too much from the group. They are together in their own world of imagination. The audience is allowed to witness their process rather than attending a performance in the usual sense. As the children progress through the grades the individual voices become more and more important. Solo roles can give students an expanded opportunity to express themselves, try on new personalities, and explore qualities that might be hard for them to try out in daily life.
The performance curriculum also plays a key role in the development of the class as a group; it is an incredible training ground for working with group dynamics and supporting social inclusion. In the early years, the choral speaking allows all the voices to be heard as one—the speech moves them in one direction with focus. This allows the children to engage the play deeply. They must know all the play and not just their lines, and they are supported in this by the whole group sharing the speech and sharing the image of the story.
Later on, when the individual children take on sole ownership of a character, putting on a play becomes an opportunity for the class to try a new interpersonal dynamic as the children find themselves in roles that ask them to relate to each other in different ways than they are used to. The teacher watches this process carefully all the way through the grades, noticing which introverted child is supported by the choral singing or which child needs an opportunity to be very silly or to be very wise. Pulling together all the elements of a play is also an opportunity for community building amongst the parents as they come together to help the teacher with various aspects of the play.
The plays live deeply in the lives of the children and the school as a whole. The children will vividly recollect moments for years to come. The storylines of all the plays are about striving and have elements of struggle, internal reflection, and action springing out of bravery, faith, and goodness. In second grade, Saint George’s journey well represents the children’s reverent relationship to their own 8-year old life path. Preparing and presenting plays at all grade levels serves the whole child and the larger social group in the deeply integrated way that is the hallmark of Waldorf education.
-Susan Bolich with Seraph White