Lower School children are inspired deeply by their feelings and by the beauty of the world around them. They respond powerfully to the tools and methods used in Waldorf Education, which engages their feelings through music, art, movement, and drama, and enlivens learning through in-depth study of a topic using an experiential, hands-on approach.
Imagination plays an important role in the early grades, helping the child to develop an inner experience of the subject matter. Social, emotional, and practical skills are emphasized, as well as academic skills.
Each day in the EWS Lower School begins with a Main Lesson of 2 hours, during which the class teacher presents the day's lesson artistically, descriptively, and dramatically and leads the children in activities relating to the subject. After a brief snack time and recess, the 40-minute long Special Subject classes begin: Handwork, Music, Spanish, Physical Education, and in the Middle School, Language Arts, Math, Chorus, and Practical Arts. The children create their own “textbooks”, or Main Lesson books, which are beautiful, artistic, academic representations of what they have learned.
- Grades 1-5 start at 8:30am
- Grades 6-8 start at 8:15am
- All grades end at 3:15pm
The early Years
Infusing Academics with Wonder and Reverence
The children come to first grade full of curiosity and are met by their teacher who fosters the skills necessary to learn, to work, and to play in an atmosphere of warmth and reverence. Many subjects are introduced, and even if the child is already familiar with the content, the wonder and beauty that the teacher brings hold the students’ attention as they start on their academic path. The students hear folk and fairy tales that will lead to letters and simple writing. Nature stories introduce the qualities of the numbers. From knitting and modeling with beeswax, to the daily movement and eurythmy, to finger games and verses, to singing and reciting poetry, the children actively engage in their learning process. Playing the recorder, performing simple chores, celebrating the festivals and participating in cooperative games are also part of the first grader’s experience. In addition, EWS first graders begin learning Spanish through immersion into songs, stories, verses, and games, developing a sense for a foreign language and culture, as well as a lifelong love of learning languages.
Taking three days to learn a single letter may seem long but it is the depth of that learning that allows the child to move forward with confidence.
Coming to first grade means a student will have the opportunity to look out into the world and begin to develop his or her discernment capabilities. The first lesson taught is the drawing of straight lines and curved lines. This simple task, performed with intention and care, lays the foundation of how the students are asked to approach their work. From that day forward, a teacher may refer back to this first lesson, even in eighth grade. Each year builds on the ones before and a class teacher carries not only the present but the past and future of the elementary grades.
Active Thinking, Keen Discerning
The curriculum and experiences in the second grade year build on the foundation of first grade, transitioning the students from the experience of one and the whole to duality and comparison. The children enter into second grade with an established relationship with their class teacher. This sets the stage for an easy start, and the class is ready to get to work from the first day of school. The scope of the second grade curriculum juxtaposes fables with legends drawn from diverse cultures. The stories further develop the students’ writing and reading skills. Descriptions of the animals in the fable precede the story, which is told without moralizing. The students gain a deep intuitive grasp of human moral lessons brought through the characterizations of the various animals. At the same time, the highest moral striving of humanity is portrayed through legends of individuals and their accomplishments. On one hand, the stories of noble deeds and self sacrifice cultivate a sense of wonder and admiration for human striving; on the other hand, the animals, with more self-serving antics, often mirror the children’s lower self. This polarity is seen so clearly in the second grader; in hearing these ancient stories, the child is able better discern him or herself in sometimes a humorous or other times a deeply meaningful manner.
Coming to second grade gives the student the opportunity to gain the tools and skills for active thinking and working. The Language Arts lessons include parts of speech, more writing, and oral recitation. The four operations of Math are continued using memorization, practice, and more challenging problems. Place value and adding and subtracting with carrying and borrowing are introduced. For the child, this second grade year is a working year and a social year, as the child learns how to be a part of a class, while exploring his or her independent nature.
Working Hard to Achieve Goals
Third grade reflects the students’ transition from a paradise-like experience to living firmly on the earth. As the child grows more aware of the world, concerns, questions, and fears may arise. The third grade curriculum helps the children work through uncertainty by engaging them in practical activities that help them connect to living on the earth. Teachers utilize cooking, farming, simple woodworking, and other useful activities to build confidence and skills in the third grade student.
The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden mirrors the children’s coming down to earth, and through the stories of the Old Testament, the students learn about the suffering and joys of life. Greater work is expected from the children, from composition writing to spelling tests, knowing how to measure and use money, learning cursive writing and the names of the punctuation marks. The third grader experiences hard work and the confidence it brings.
Heart of Childhood
Embracing Human Nature, Engaging the Student
Fourth grade marks a clear change in the work that the children do and what is expected of them. The habits and skills that have been developed are now put to use in tackling new and varied subjects. The study of animals is taken up in this year in such a way that the children must use their capacities for discernment to recognize and describe the unique qualities of each animal studied.
In their lessons in mythology, the children are introduced to the Norse gods and goddesses, a pantheon whose fiery passion, wily cleverness, and shining self-sacrifice mirrors their own. These stories of the Norse people, a tradition that survives in the verses of the Edda from Iceland, the Kalavala in Finland, are tales full of rich images that spring from the Norse people’s close relationship to the natural world. Here the children encounter epic struggles between polar opposite forces, extremes in conflicts, and a wealth of humor and wisdom. The stories speak particularly well to the growing nine to ten year old as they pass out of early childhood into a middle childhood that is often as conflicted as the weather of the northern lands. Fourth grade is indeed a year of extremes, from a creation story born of ice and fire to the comparison of a mouse and a cow. The children are asked to travel between these extremes and find the balancing points in each subject.
The children also begin to explore their own environment, making maps and learning about the rich culture and ecosystems that exist in North Carolina. In arithmetic, the children review the four processes, multiplication tables, and measurement before splitting the world into pieces in the study of fractions. From musical notation, instrumental music, and singing in rounds, to learning to make braided and knotted patterns in their form drawings, beauty and artistry continue to engage the student in every part of his or her working, learning, and playing.
The Golden Age
The fifth grade is often called the “golden age of childhood”, for it is a time when the children experience a special balance between their dawning inner life and their physical nature. Thus, the curriculum and experiences in the fifth grade year transition the students from the warmth and wonder of the early grades into the academic and social dynamics of Middle School. While many subjects continue at a new and more rigorous level, especially Math (introducing decimals) and Language Arts (extending beyond the fundamentals of grammar), the biggest change is from the study of myths into the study of recorded history.
A fifth grader will hear stories and myths from the ancient civilizations of India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and finally ancient Greece. The children often delight in finding common threads in the creation stories and hero tales of these different cultures and peoples. With a focus on the evolution of human consciousness through the millennia and across the globe, the students learn about different views on life, death, and the afterlife. When the students explore the life and culture of ancient Greeks, they first study the Greek myths and then cross the bridge into recorded history beginning with the city states of Athens and Sparta. Their experience culminates in participating in a Waldorf Pentathlon, joining other Waldorf schools in our area.
A new subject for the fifth grader is the Botany blocks, in which students delve into the wonder and mysteries of plant life. With a focus on phenomenological study, the children look at the many aspects of plants, from the smallest algae and lichen to the towering conifers, searching for how to characterize what they observe. Through creative artistic rendering, they delve into their scientific exactness, sketching actual plants, and discovering through direct experience.
Structure and Order
Rudolf Steiner has pointed out that it is not until the child reaches his twelfth year that he can grasp causality, that he can understand cause and effect. This ability opens up a new way to approach the material of the curriculum. In Geology, for example, the sixth graders not only sharpen their observations of the world at their feet but also study how the movement of the earth changes the landscape and its inhabitants, and how our actions in the present will shape the world in the future. In Geometry, the students learn what happens when the straight edge is not exactly straight or the consequences when the compass point has moved a fractional amount.
The curriculum and experiences in the sixth grade year transition the students fully into Middle School. Many of the core subjects, such as Math and Language Arts, take greater strides in both breadth and the skills necessary to work with them. A sixth grader studies History from Rome to the Middle Ages, and all the stories and details those vivid cultural epochs contain. From Economics, Geography, Geometry, and Mineralogy to the phenomenological science of Physics, the students are often invigorated by the challenges of this new level of thinking.
The History of the sixth grade year is Rome and the Medieval Ages. A sixth grader is often interested in establishing structure and order, and in finding lawful relationships; the study of Rome is the perfect background to explore these themes. The mood of the Middle Ages, with the focus on cloistered monks and chivalry, satisfies the sixth grader’s quest for beauty, contemplation, and uprightness. The children study European Geography as a complement to the History lessons. They look for lawfulness in the heavens through a study of Astronomy, and then delve deeply into the structure and make-up of the earth as they study Mineralogy. In Physics, the sixth graders study acoustics, heat, and optics; the dynamics of light, dark, and color are further explored through painting and charcoal drawing. Language Arts focuses on the rules and laws of grammar, while Math focuses on business math and percentages, thus rounding out the sixth grade curriculum.
Higher Academics With A Creative Voice
In seventh grade, the students often start their year with a block in Perspective Drawing. Through this subject, the students learn the exacting application of geometric laws and accompanying artistic skill. Geometry has immediate practical value. To make an accurate drawing of a house, of the interior space of a room, or specific details of a staircase requires perspective constructions. This develops an awareness and sense of objective observation. The atmosphere that is created in this block allows room for the sharing of ideas and encourages students to work together, thus creating a peer learning environment.
In history, students begin with The Renaissance, which highlights human strengths and weaknesses. From Joan of Arc’s astounding courage to the genius father of this era, Leonardo Da Vinci, students are inspired to create intricate and beautifully detailed main lesson books. The masters Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Tintoretto, and Durer inspire students to perform at their highest level. The next block, The Reformation, evokes perspectives of The Church and reformers all across Europe. It is insightful for the students to comprehend how a needed change can be easily turned into a fanaticism that can lead to chaos. Next comes The Age of Exploration, which meets the students’ inner drive to see over the next ridge and to find a path no one has ever found before.
In the science realm, seventh graders study Chemistry and Physics. In Chemistry, students observe the qualities of combustion by building a fire and are introduced to the lime cycle and the effects of acids and bases. In Physics, they embark on the study of Mechanics and delve into Motion. In learning the practical uses of the lever, students lift major boulders and even picnic tables with seventh graders sitting on them! They also work with pulleys and dive into the study of electricity.
Geography becomes truly global this year, and each student studies a country in depth and writes and presents an in-depth report. In Math, algebraic concepts are introduced and practiced in preparation for eighth grade Algebra. The basics of Euclidean Geometry are also introduced. In Language Arts, each student immerses themselves in words and draws inspiration from within and without. A balance is negotiated between the range of forms (rhyme, meter, and style) and the creative voice of each student writer.
One might liken seventh grade to a long journey at sea, in which all of one’s capacities are challenged, thus awakening new skills.
Independent Critical Thinking, Deepening Capacity for Judgment, Heightened Responsibility
“The theme of eighth grade may be summed up as ‘Polarities’. Virtually everything that we study is approached from two perspectives, or, at least, leads the student to see for him or herself that there may be two good answers for any problem, two sides to any one issue... This emphasis on duality arises as the curriculum tries to meet, nourish, and perhaps balance the powerful forces of the eighth grader’s developing emotional life. It is the nature of the emotional life to manifest in paired opposites: sympathy and antipathy, joy and sorrow, love and hate, good and evil... Even the muscles that the students are developing and studying in their anatomy block, with their remarkable capacity to support a broad range of movements, are themselves reflections of this duality.” ~(Eugene Schwartz, Millennial Child, 2005)
Eighth grade marks the culmination of the eight-year Primary School journey, and it brings the students to a crossroads as their time with their primary teacher ends. The work becomes more challenging in preparation for the independent thinking that will be expected in the years to come. Teachers from the High School teach the eighth graders in their area of expertise. This is also the year when Main Lessons may conclude with formal and graded tests. The work is precise and filled with many layers, be it the lofty language of Shakespeare or the complex processes of Organic Chemistry. During this year, the students step wholeheartedly into adolescence. With this leap comes a deepening capacity for judgment, a call to greater responsibility, and the quest to discover who they are and what they will become. As the students leave the Grades School, their sense of authority turns inwards, and they begin to look for direction within themselves.
If the seventh grader can be said to be on a voyage of discovery, the eighth grader can be thought of as a revolutionary. Revolutionary periods are studied in history, the world in geography, the short story in Language Arts and the Platonic Solids in Geometry. Anatomy and Physiology add to the student’s knowledge of himself, and Meteorology adds to his or her understanding of the greater world. The students continue to find artistic expression in chorus, playing an instrument, and working with their hands in sewing and woodwork. At the end of the year, each student presents a project that has been worked on independently throughout the year, and the class together presents a major play, often from Shakespeare. How far the students have traveled from that first day of being introduced to straight and curved lines! The student is now ready to be launched into high school and beyond, with skills, poise, and intention.
“Foreign languages play an essential role in the curriculum of the Waldorf school… Each language contributes to our appreciation of the world around us. Perhaps it may be said that the teacher of foreign languages in a Waldorf school is dedicating his own efforts to the re-enlivening of language so that a true sense of brotherhood may arise among human beings.” - Rene Querido
At EWS, students study Spanish in Grades 1-11. Learning a foreign language is important not just as an academic exercise but as a gateway to understanding and communicating with human beings who are different from us, with their own individuality and experiences of daily life. Through learning a foreign language, the child’s thinking becomes more flexible, and his whole horizon is widened. In addition, when we learn a foreign language, we become more subtly aware of our mother tongue, discovering its own particular capacities of expression, its own beauty and musicality.
The learning of a foreign language greatly depends on imitative musical abilities. In grades 1-3, we use these imitative abilities to teach language through gesture, mime, songs and poems. Through games, the class learns their numbers, colors, names of clothing, parts of the classroom, parts of the body, the seasons, etc, so that such words become a part of their vocabulary. There is no need to translate, and the teacher does so only if a child asks for a meaning. Recitation is done mostly in chorus, but the children are slowly encouraged to speak along, to answer questions about their family, pets, and their house. All work is done orally, and everything that is learned and memorized forms the basis for later, more formal, language lessons.
In grades 4-6, the children begin to learn to write in Spanish and German by writing down the poems, stories, and dialogues presented to them in the earlier grades. It is essentially the task of these grades to learn to read the foreign language, to be able to do simple dictation, and to write answers to questions that have first been dealt with orally in a living way. As reading and writing skills grow, the teacher draws attention to such things as grammatical details and spelling rules.
In 7th –8th grades, poetry, songs, plays, oral exercises, and grammar are continued, but now, in addition, the printed book is introduced. In High School, more advanced conversation, grammar, reading, and writing instruction is given in at least one language, until the student is expected to have obtained mastery of at least one foreign language by graduation.
Handwork is a special subject taught to all students in grades 1-8 for two class periods weekly. Handwork really begins in the Early Childhood classes with finger knitting and simple hand sewing. It then continues and expands through the grades with knitting, crocheting, embroidery, fine hand sewing, and finally machine sewing in 8th grade.
Handwork in the Waldorf curriculum brings a balancing element between intellectual activities and movement activities, and it allows the students to engage in the struggle, the joy, and the care natural to the creator. There are also subtle intellectual and moral benefits. Rhythmic repetition, such as in knitting and crocheting, strengthens their concentration and hand-eye coordination and enhances math skills through counting rows and stitches, measuring out patterns, and creating three-dimensional items. Children learn to correct their mistakes and value quality, utility, and hard work. Nothing is wasted and all materials are treated with care and respect, helping the children to be reverent and grateful for the gifts of earth, plants, and animals. The joy of accomplishment, as the children complete increasingly difficult tasks in small steps, creates the self-confidence necessary to tackle much larger tasks in their future academic and daily lives.
CLICK HERE for the EWS Handwork Happenings Blog.
“Children who learn while they are young to make practical things by hand in an artistic way, and for the benefit of others as well as for themselves, will not be strangers to life or to other people when they are older. They will be able to form their lives and their relationships in a social and artistic way, so that their lives are thereby enriched. Out of their hands can come technicians and artists who will know how to solve the problems and tasks set us.” – Rudolf Steiner
Beginning in the 6th grade, students take Practical Arts classes. In their Practical Arts classes, the students make beautiful, practical objects out of wood and metal. We use only hand tools, concentrating on exactness in the use of those tools and developing endurance and skillfulness of hand. This helps to train the children’s senses and their will, as well as enhancing their understanding of Geometry, Biology, Physics, and other subjects they are studying in Main Lesson.
Emerson Waldorf School resounds with music. Every child in each classroom sings every day with their class teacher, and you may often find a class playing flutes or dancing. Being surrounded by music, the children are wonderfully musical. The music program nurtures that musicality, educates it, and ultimately gives it the chance to shine in our performing ensembles.
EWS music classes nurture and strengthen a child’s inner sense for music in the early years without any academic instruction, but eventually expand to include music literacy instruction that exceeds the National Standards for Music Education. Nonetheless, the inner qualities of music are still emphasized, and the classes focus just as much on listening, responding, composing, and improvising.
Every child at Emerson Waldorf School participates in instrumental music. Starting in first grade, they learn to play both the flute and the lyre. In fourth grade, every child enters the orchestral music program by beginning to learn the violin, viola or cello. In sixth grade, students have the option to stay with their string instrument or begin learning an orchestral wind instrument: flute, clarinet, trumpet, or trombone. The children also all continue working with the flutes they started in first grade, only by now they’ve graduated up to a full recorder consort and are playing four and five part arrangements for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass recorders.
Students at Emerson Waldorf School all join the chorus starting in fifth grade. In chorus they strengthen their music reading skills, learn the basics of good vocal production, and work carefully with the expressive elements in music in order to make their performances artistic and interesting. The choruses learn some challenging multi-part music and always impress audiences.
Our music program assumes that every human being is musical, and is designed to help our students claim that natural birthright. It is not aimed at producing musical technicians trained to perform and impress, rather, it nurtures a strong sense of musicality. Our performing ensembles include everyone, not just the “music students,” and the quality of these ensembles demonstrates the robust musicality that our music program fosters.
We provide Physical Education classes twice a week for children in Grades 3-8. As one might expect in a Waldorf School, PE looks very different from grade to grade, as the children are in different places developmentally. In the early grades, we play imaginative games which include running, jumping, skipping, and dancing and provide both exercise and good lessons in social interaction.
In Grade 5, Physical Education focuses on the events of the Greek Pentathalon, in conjunction with their study of ancient Greece. This culminates in a regional event held in the spring, in which 7 or more Waldorf Schools from the Southeast region participate in a Greek Pentathalon together.
In 6-8th grades, we begin to develop the skills necessary to play a variety of sports strenuously and by the rules. Activities such as volleyball, basketball, baseball, and frisbee begin to develop physical strength and mastery of one’s body, as well as team work and good sportsmanship.
Each class also has a Eurythmy block each year.
Eurythmy is an expressive art movement originated by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. Primarily a performance art, it is also used in education, especially in Waldorf schools. Through Eurythmy, the creative forces active in music and speech can be experienced and made visible. These forces belong to us, and they can help us therapeutically. Doing and seeing Eurythmy strengthen one’s sense of well-being, as well as one’s sense of self and free independence. It can be approached in many ways: hygienically, socially, and through performance – all are artistic and are drawn out of the human being. Eurythmy is taught from Nursery through Grade 7 at Emerson Waldorf School.
In Middle School, students begin to take Language Arts and Math as Special Subjects twice a week throughout the year in addition to the several Main Lesson Blocks they will study in these subjects. Language Arts focuses on grammar and writing skills through classroom work and homework assignments, and Math focuses on practicing Math and Pre-Algebra skills in Grades 6-7, as well as beginning Algebra in Grade 8.
Every year, each class in Grades 1-8 performs a class play that is related to the curriculum they are studying. Every child in the class performs, and in the older grades, the children often make the costumes and the sets themselves.
The Emerson Waldorf School offers an After School Program for all students Grades 1-8, until 6:00 pm on all school days with the exception of the four Assembly days, when all students are dismissed at 12:00 pm.
After Care is also offered for Nursery and Kindergarten students. Please see Early Childhood section of website for details.