The effort to complement students' natural abilities begins at an early age and continues throughout their time at a Waldorf school. It is encouraged by the curriculum and supported by the fundamental understanding that a child's strength should not become their weakness because of one-sided development.
Understanding Waldorf Education
Developmental Profile of a Grade 4 Child*
In grades 4 and 5, when the child reaches 10-11, the transition from early childhood is complete and the transition towards puberty has not yet begun. This second seven-year period is referred to in Steiner Waldorf pedagogy as the "heart of childhood."
In fourth grade the child feels very much separate from any of the security and comforts that previously were supportive. This is a time to look around and see how one stands in relationship to that which is near and to find security and uprightness through that relationship. Four is a sign of stability and strength and balance: the four winds, the four seasons, the four elements. Four represents a sense of steadiness and completion. It is this sense of four, in the midst of separateness and defiance, that is at the very heart of the fourth grade curriculum.
The fourth grader is at odds with the world. Questions take on a personal twist: "How do you know?" There is an earnestness stemming from a new awareness of just what they're up against in the world. Therefore, every possible opportunity is given to meet these oppositions in quite unexpected ways, ways in which the child can have the experience of crossing and, at the same time being led towards a wholesome resolution.
The fourth grade student is eager to learn more about their world close to home. Through imaginatively presented lessons, the teacher meets the growing interest of the children in more concrete areas of knowledge and provides them with opportunities for more independence in their work. The curriculum helps the children form a sense of their relationship to their environment, in both a social and geographical sense.
In form drawing, Celtic knots are challenging tangles of skill and beauty. The feeling of separateness comes in handy here, otherwise one might get lost in the maze. The theme of separateness is further reflected in the mathematics curriculum with the study of fractions, introduced with concrete objects to demonstrate truths before forming mental concepts.
The fourth grade child is now introduced to string instruments — if not introduced in the previous grade — something delicate and yet powerful that will not answer endless questions nor oblige shortcuts to success. A new discipline and respect is called for in the child. There stands the player, and there the instrument, as separate as anything could be! The music is the bridge.
Throughout the year we hear and read stories of heroes. The hero emerges as someone to look up to, emulate, laugh at, respect. There may still be the miraculous feats and yet, the human qualities - the emotions, the struggles and the confrontations - are emphasized; the children understand more than anyone else the hero's plight to slay the dragon, to woo the maiden, to succeed in the three tasks. In the stories of the Norse Myths, the gods of Asgard are portrayed as individuals with distinct personalities; the children learn from Loki the consequences of amoral cleverness; Thor faces seemingly insurmountable odds, yet through perseverance is at last triumphant; Odin, ruler of the gods, gives his eye to drink of Mimir's well so that he may gain wisdom and spiritual vision to protect Asgard.
As the children become more aware of the world, the challenges of life may seem overwhelming. The Norse stories give the children the strength to face these challenges.
Grade 4 Core Subjects
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* Reference: The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum,
Edited by Martyn Rawson and Tobias Ritcher