At The Waldorf School of Philadelphia the grades school day begins with a long, uninterrupted lesson, referred to as the main lesson. Here one subject is the focus; the class deals with it in-depth each morning for several weeks at a time allowing the teacher to develop a wide variety of activities around the subject at hand. Shown in the image below, the first grade language arts block is brought with lively rhythmic activities to get the circulation going and which bring children together as a group; they recite poems connected with the language arts theme, practice tongue twisters to limber up speech, and work with concentration exercises using body movements.
After the day’s main lesson students record what they learned in their main lesson books. Below can be seen the third grade students learning about volume measurement. The teacher enlivens the lesson with a recipe for fruit punch that includes a variety of different volume measurements, in this case ounces, cups and quarts. The students learn to add the different measurements together and convert the amount into quarts.
Following main lesson there is a recess period after which teachers present shorter review lessons with a strongly recitational character. Afternoons are devoted to lessons in which the whole child is active: eurythmy (artistically guided movement to music and speech), handwork, or games, for example. Thus the day has a rhythm that helps overcome fatigue and enhances balanced learning.
The curriculum at The Waldorf School of Philadelphia can be seen as an ascending spiral: the long lessons that begin each day and the concentrated blocks of study that focus on one subject for several weeks. Here in the image below is the fourth grade teacher and her class studying Zoology.
As the students mature they engage themselves at new levels of experience with each subject. It is as though each year they come to a window on the ascending spiral that looks out into the world through the lens of a particular subject. Through the main-lesson spiral curriculum, teachers lay the groundwork for a gradual vertical integration that deepens and widens each subject experience and, at the same time, keeps it moving with the other aspects of knowledge.
The image below shows the fifth grade teacher telling a story about Native Americans and how it is said that the Smokey Mountains were named. This story is an element of the fifth grade US history block which builds on the third grade Native American block.
And so it can be seen that all students participate in a full range of basic subjects regardless of their special aptitudes. The purpose of studying a subject is not to make a student into a professional mathematician, historian, or biologist, but to awaken and educate capacities that every human being needs. Naturally, one student is more gifted in math and another in science or history, but the mathematician needs the humanities, and the historian needs math and science. The choice of a vocation is left to the free decision of the adult, but one’s early education should give one a palette of experience from which to choose the particular colors that one’s interests, capacities, and life circumstances allow.
If the ascending spiral of the curriculum offers a “vertical integration” from year to year, an equally important “horizontal integration” enables students to engage the full range of their faculties at every stage of development. The arts and practical skills play an essential part in the educational process throughout the grades. They are not considered luxuries, but fundamental to human growth and development.