Waldorf Education From Stories to HistoryAug 30, 2021
The Waldorf curriculum is based on the child’s development. It aims to support and enrich each childhood developmental phase. Understanding these phases are a prerequisite to provide meaningful support to the child on their journey to adulthood, by providing them with the right learning at the right time.
The second seven-year development cycle, between 7 and 14 years old, is characterized in the child with a living life of the imagination - the beginning of an inner experience. Children naturally think poetically - their thought lives in feeling, it is not yet an abstract analytical thought, this will come later.
It is the “seven years” where the life of feeling asserts itself and predominates over thought and will. The child has a capacity to represent the world through images and this capacity is just waiting to be developed. The images must be alive, interior, neither dry nor abstract. With his forces of feeling, the child will bind himself to what is brought to him. The teacher must use a living teaching method through the use of images that are adapted to the age of the children.
The stories told to the children are major elements of the Waldorf curriculum with an aim of bringing these living pedagogical pictures. They change each year as the child is moving forward in their development.
In first grade, the child of 7 years old is still united with the world, with the notion of time and space still being irrelevant to him. They continue the gesture of imitation from early childhood, while still being largely oblivious to their own thoughts, feelings and actions.
This child lives in a fairytale atmosphere. The fairy tales, out of any precise temporality and spatiality, tell the mysteries of the incarnation in a very simple way. Told in the right way, the 7-year-old can relate to the fairy tale heard, identifying with the prince or the princess and, thus, living unconsciously and feeding on the spiritual realities transmitted by the tale. The child is still part of this spiritual world and, by addressing him with a storytelling language, we can touch this inner life.
The 8-year-old child is more "earthly" than last year, even if the world is still a subjective experience, even the marvelous feels like reality. We begin to introduce the world through legend: we thus enter a terrestrial world (unlike fairy tales which remain in the sky) but a world of beauty through the life of exceptional beings.
The 8-year-old child also lives in polarities. The teacher will then have the child explore the opposites in the world of feelings through the stories. This is how, next to the legends of saints, which present the human being in their most beautiful nature (generous, humble, wise, thoughtful) we will oppose fables and animal stories. In the stories, the animals exemplify the animal qualities or their faults that man carries within him: the cunning fox, the proud lion ...
“For soul hygiene both parts are necessary, in the right dosage and the proper balance. While legends provide nourishment—eventually too much nourishment—to the highest human qualities in children, fables provide satisfaction for the natural, animalistic qualities within a light of good humor.”
Jens BjØrneboe, Fairy Tales and Legends, dans Teaching History through the Grades, AWSNA, 2007
The 9-year-old lost the sense of oneness they felt with the world and the security it brought. They now feel isolated, separated from the world. They are an earthly being.
In this age of interiorization, the child develops an awareness of their own individuality. They see the multiplicity of beings around him and place their I in front of others. They then begin to question: their parentage, the teacher's authority, life ... The child must completely adjust to this new way of perceiving themselves and the world.
The stories of the Old Testament will help them with this. The fall from Paradise represents the final end of infancy, when the child, by becoming aware of themself, comes out of their state of oneness with the world to begin to experience it. At the age when the child asks himself questions about themself and the world, the stories of the Old Testament will bring them open answers which will allow them to reconnect with their spiritual being.
The Old Testament tells of the descent to earth and thereby gives new ground to children.
The child experiences a moment of calm after passing the Rubicon at the age of 9. They settled into his new way of being and made the transition to a new awareness of themself. The child develops their forces of antipathy (unlike in previous years when he was in sympathy) by expressing his feelings about everything, often critically. These forces of antipathy are necessary to become aware of oneself. The child feels a stronger impulse towards the world, they can go beyond the limits of immediate space and time.
The child is full of strength and energy. Norse mythology features stories that portray the forces of nature, with its mighty gods and giants, whose adventures are full of fighting and daring. It speaks to children, who have this abundance of energy in them. In addition, the antipathy they develop, which leads them to think more objectively, is found in the form of images in this mythology. Heroes must use intelligence and cunning to overcome the enormous forces they oppose.
One of the notable peculiarities of this mythology is its end, the battle of Ragnarök, where gods and giants die, so that finally a new world appears where human beings can live again. We are far from the "happy ending" of fairy tales or the achievements that the Israelites were able to achieve thanks to the guidance of a god who never dies. Through these stories, the 10-year-old realizes (unconsciously, like everything that is conveyed by the stories we tell) that they must find within themself their own strengths to live in a world where the duality of good and evil is a reality.
After living in the world of fairy tales, legends and myths for the first four years, the child is now ready to cross the border between mythology and history proper.
Through a vast picture of human evolution, the child goes from the dawn of prehistory in the culture of ancient India to the countryside to the east of Alexander the Great, via Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and ancient Greece. The history of these ancient civilizations gives a historical picture of the human being in their development in the physical world, which is parallel to the child's own descent into the world of matter; children are given a picture of their own development. Ending with Ancient Greece, the child experiences the awakening of intellectual thought in humanity.
All the myths told about these civilizations have a deep meaning that is not explained to children. However, upon hearing these stories, the child unconsciously comes to understand the human and themself more deeply.
This is the year of the transition to puberty. The limbs visibly grow, losing the grace and poise that the child had achieved the previous year. They become clumsy, no longer controlling their gestures. The child becomes linked to the earth by experiencing the weight of their body and their bones. A new form of thought, linked to the material, appears. The 12-year-old pre-teen becomes much more aware of details, begins to make connections between things, to see causes and effects.
The history program will lead them to discover a highly structured civilization, where the material world was conquered thanks to new ways of thinking and where individual consciousness was born: Rome. It was in Roman civilization that the notion of borders, limits (private / public…) appeared for the first time, allowing individuality to appropriate its own space where it can be developed.
Rome also shows the pre-adolescent the consequences of an egocentric ego, with the perversion of the last Roman emperors. In the polarity of this self devoted exclusively to itself, the study of the Middle Ages presents individualities (monks, knights Templar, cathedral builders) turned towards interior elevation and the quest for eternal truths.
Seventh and Eight Grade
Adolescence begins, and with it an awakening of conscious thought, of oneself and of the world. The young person thirsts for knowledge about the world, but in a factual, concrete way by which they can sharpen their capacity to think for themselves.
The Renaissance, with the great discoveries, opened the young adolescent to the world. Through biographies, They will be able to experience the accomplishments of great men who have transformed the world by affirming their Self. The study of revolutions (French, industrial) answers questions from adolescents about freedom, injustice, society and the purpose of life.
In eight years, the child thus passes from stories to history, accompanying their passage from a consciousness still in the dream in first class to a consciousness much awakened and sharpened eight years later. They go from cosmic time (with tales), to mythological times up to historical times (with Greece in 5th class). The stories heard, the civilizations studied help the child in the interior transformations they experience on their way to adulthood.
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