The Greek Pentathlon is an exciting addition to the fifth grade curriculum and another example of how Waldorf education brings learning to life. What better way to make learning Greek history a living, breathing experience—one that the children live in their bodies as well as their minds—than by actually competing in the event? And yet, the Greek Pentathlon is so much more.
In Movement and Games class, the Pentathlon has a significant place in the curriculum throughout the entire year for fifth graders. We started with an introduction to the five pentathlon events (javelin, discus, long jump, 55-yard dash, and Greek wrestling) at the beginning of the school year, and spent a portion of each class training for one of the events. We took a break from the training in the winter and then returned to it in the spring with greater attention to the details of each event. This was a new aspect of Games class as this was an activity that required the students’ attention and effort without any visible outcome — at least none that they could see immediately. There was a special atmosphere that surrounded our training sessions and a subtle sense of “uprightness” soundlessly made its way into the class. The students followed my training instructions with intention, encouraged one another, competed in a constructive way, and took responsibility for their training.
On Pentathlon Day, May 10th, fifth grade students from six Waldorf schools (Princeton, River Valley, Kimberton, Susquehanna, Baltimore, and, of course, Philadelphia) proudly wore their colored tunics to represent each of the four Greek city-states: Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Sparta. They competed against the other athletes in their own city-state in the five events and then joined forces with those same athletes to compete against the other 3 city-states in the relay race. At the closing ceremonies, every athlete received a medal and a personal message from their judge about their own performance throughout all the events. The final step was the presentation of the laurel wreaths. A wreath was given to one boy and one girl from each city state that the judges thought best represented the “spirit of the games”. Throughout the day, our fifth grade students embodied the spirit of the games! In every event, they strived to do their best, reaching for a ‘win’ with pride, accepting and giving encouragement and praise (even when competing against each other!), and gracefully accepting outcomes. Out of eight laurel wreaths awarded, three were presented to students from our school: Elijah Myers, Shahada Westbrook, and Kieran Versaw-Barnes.
I’ve had the privilege of being part of this experience with our fifth grade students for the past eight years and it still has the power to awe me beyond words. Each year I gain a new understanding of some facet of the Pentathlon. It is much more than an addition to the block on Greek history or an event to test students’ physical abilities:
- It’s accepting the reality of a disappointing performance without feeling defeat;
- It’s being beaten by an inch and ‘high-fiving’ the winner;
- It’s accepting the judge’s decision with grace;
- It’s jumping further than you ever jumped before;
- It’s sticking the javelin when you never stuck it in training;
- It’s wrestling until your arms are exhausted . . . and wrestling some more;
- It’s running faster than you ever thought you could run;
- It’s running faster, and with more beauty and grace, than anyone else thought you could;
- It’s being awed by an amazing discus throw by an opponent.
The entire Waldorf School of Philadelphia community has every right to be proud of the way our fifth grade students represented our school at this year’s Greek Pentathlon. So when you see one of our fifth graders, congratulate them for their performance and thank them for representing our school with such grace.
by Treacy Gallagher, WSP Movement and Games Teacher