Children at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School begin the next stage of their journey when they leave Kindergarten and join the Lower School. They meet their class teacher who will, ideally, accompany them through the next seven years of their schooling – from age six or seven through to the beginning of adolescence. During this time, emphasis is given to fostering a real sense of and connection to the beauty of the world and supporting children into become more “at home” in the world.
As with the rest of the curriculum, learning is guided according to the stage of child development. In this way the children maintain their thirst for learning and have learning experiences that really “ring true” to where they are in their development, or that support them through a particular stage. This understanding of child development not only informs the content of learning experiences in the Lower School, but also teaching style, engagement with the students, work on the social health of the class, interactions and expectations between home and school and the classroom environment.
The Growing Awakening to the World
In the seven years of Lower School life, the Waldorf curriculum takes children through a journey that begins in the home environment and expands increasingly out into the local environment and eventually the wider world. This journey begins in Class 1 with the “Home Surroundings” main lesson, which is focused on the child’s immediate environment. The Class 3 child, being ready to look further afield, experiences the “Farming”, “House-building” and “People at Work” main lessons, which provide opportunities to explore and experience the various areas of work that contribute to the completion of a house, the food that we eat, and other tasks that contribute to a healthy society. In Class 4, the children explore further, into the history and geography of the Hutt and Wellington region in the “Local Geography” and “Local History” main lessons, which lead in Class 5 to a study of New Zealand History and Geography. Class 6 brings the “Australia and the Pacific” Geography main lesson, while Class 7, through their studies of the Age of Exploration, look at the Geography of some of the lands “discovered” or opened up by exploration during the Renaissance.
Recapitulation of the Development of Human Consciousness
As the children make their way through the Lower School, they are, without being made conscious of it, led through a progression of main lessons that recapitulate the development of human civilizations and the evolution of human consciousness. This series of main lessons unfolds in such a way as to dovetail beautifully with what the children are experiencing in their soul development at each particular class level.
Class 1 brings a focus on fairy stories, which present strong archetypal pictures of world development and encompass pre-history, human psychology, and human spiritual and social development. The images that the Fairy Stories bring are deeply satisfying to seven-year-old children, who understand on a soul level the significance of moral actions, good or bad.
In Class 2, a focus on fables and the stories of the saints continues to support the healthy development of a strong moral life within the students. Through stories that explore moral characteristics and noble deeds, the eight-year-olds are allowed to experience higher aspects of the human being. The stories are presented without moralising, and the children are awakened gently to their own moral behaviour through the underlying truths that the stories embody.
In Class 3, the Old Testament stories are woven into the curriculum. Adam and Eves’ expulsion from paradise resounds for Class 3 children, as it mirrors the soul feeling of nine-year-olds, who may experience themselves, like Adam and Eve, as being “thrust out” into the world. The goal here is to support the children into feeling themselves as being truly part of the world, and Old Testament stories that bring pictures of this simple, worldly work complement the Farming, House Building and People at Work main lessons.
In Class 4, Norse mythology brings rich stories of personalities and happenings that ten-year-old children can relate to. Throughout the stories, the trickster god Loki grows from naïve mischief-maker to perpetrator of conscious harm when he brings about the death of Baldur, the beautiful sun-god. The battle that follows results in the Norse gods leaving the earthly world – a separation that rings true for Class 4 students, who are experiencing their own increasing separation from the spiritual world that they were, in class 1, so close to.
The Class 5 curriculum carries students through a series of main lessons that begin in the realm of mythology but eventually explore the beginnings of recorded history. Ancient India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece all enter the classroom in a rich and experiential way, with an emphasis on the social, cultural and spiritual aspects of each civilisation’s development at their time of greatest influence. Each civilisation studied marks a shift in the development of human consciousness and a changing relationship to the spiritual world and life on Earth. The Greek epoch marks a time when human beings lived in balance between materialism and spirituality, and we often see this balance in class five students, who are said to be experiencing their own “golden age” before the onset of puberty.
Class 6 brings a study of Ancient Rome – a civilisation defined by its mastery of engineering, a very pragmatic view of the spiritual world and the development of laws that were not handed down by the gods but were developed by people for the good of the state. Ancient Rome represents materialism and a real distancing from the spiritual world, and is studied at a time when children are distancing themselves from the authority of adults and anything with too saccharine or earnest a tone. The emphasis on black and white law, logic and reasoning instead of spiritual maxims, mastery of and discipline in physical endeavour all appeal in a deep way to the twelve-year-old child.
In Class 7 the children experience something of a Renaissance, after the cool but epic materialism of Ancient Rome. The period of the Renaissance in Europe is studied, and the children learn of the flourishing of the arts in Europe, many brave journeys of discovery and the immense and diverse talents of some of the key figures who contributed world-changing inventions, discoveries and developments to society. Class Seven students are pushing out into the world themselves, keen to explore new things, develop new and diverse talents and expand their horizons, and with a renewed appreciation for beauty and art.
Classes Four, Five and Six bring a series of main lessons that explore three kingdoms that share certain attributes with human beings – the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom and the world of minerals respectively. Each of these kingdoms is studied in a way that reflects and highlights aspects of humanity – the physical, cognitive and moral capacities of the human being. Lessons are presented imaginatively and pictorially. We do not wish to fill the children’s heads with dry zoological, botanical and geological facts, but rather to awaken a consciousness of the life of the earth.
In the “Man and Animal” main lesson in Class Four, the children investigate the broad variety of deeds and moral choices that people make, and compare these, through a variety of means, to the more specialised activities of chosen animals. In looking at how animals specialise, the children begin to perceive how human beings embody so many capacities that exist in animals as specialist skills. In seeing how animals are bound to behave according to their instincts and attributes, we place subtly before the children pictures of the human being’s freedom of choice and our moral obligation to care for the animal world in an unsentimental way.
In the “Botany” main lesson in Class Five, the children study the order of plants. The archetypal forms of plants – their ability to produce seeds, roots, stems, leaves and blossoms, are central to the discussions, descriptions and observations. The children are led through the order of plants, from the simple, lower-order plants that do not have clear divisions between their various archetypal functions to the higher plants, which form roots, stems, leaves, seeds and blossoms clearly and distinctly. These pictures are brought artistically, and, like the other Science main lessons in the Lower School, in a way that can be observed. Again, human attributes are highlighted by our studies – the lower plants being compared to young children who are not yet able to master the various skills that human beings possess, and the higher plants being compared to well-balanced adult human beings. For Class Five children, this main lesson brings to consciousness what lives in the world about them, thereby strengthening their connection to the natural world, at the same time as saying something of the capacity for balance in the human being.
Class 6 brings a study of the mineral world, and the inanimate, structural nature of the minerals, along with the unassuming beauty of their innumerate forms, makes mineralogy a perfect study for the Class 6 child. Class 6 children experience their bodies in a new way, and often seem to be weighed down by gravity. As they are coming to grips with their bones, we lead them into an investigation of the ‘bones of the Earth’. The creation of rocks from volcanic eruptions, the effect they have on the landscape and the way lives are affected by them are all studied in a living manner. Through observation, through handling the rocks; through stories and artistic activities and through practical application wherever possible, the children discover the quiet life of the planet.
The Rhythms of Lower School Life
The pattern of the day consists of three main blocks, separated by morning tea and lunch breaks: the ‘main lesson’ in the first two hours, two practice or specialist lessons in the middle of the day and then two more practice or specialist lessons at the end of the day. The daily timetable takes account of the ebb and flow of the children’s energy, and is varied accordingly.
The main lesson is an opportunity for new learning and experiences, and more rigorous and focused work and exploration. Key subjects are taught in these main lessons, usually in units of three to four weeks. This provides plenty of opportunity for the children to enter deeply into the themes, to recollect the previous day’s experiences and to anticipate the new developments each day. Main lessons should involve ‘the head, the heart and the hand’ in listening, in imaginative and artistic work, written work and movement-based activities. Children’s Main Lesson books often record these theme journeys, and when they do, much care and enthusiasm is devoted to their presentation. Children can feel that the work they present really matters and is valued.
The middle session of the day is often used for practice and revision of skills and knowledge already learnt, though specialist lessons also often take place during this and the last block. Specialist lessons in the Lower School include Handwork (knitting, crocheting and sewing), Woodwork (carving, whittling and simple carpentry), German, Eurythmy and Religion.
Afternoon lessons are generally more relaxed, with an emphasis on games, artistic and practical activities.
The Parent and Wider School Community
The Lower School years are an exciting voyage of discovery for the child, the parents and the teacher alike, who form a bond that enables learning to take place on all three sides. This link is crucial. A child who is fully supported in their educational journey by both teachers and parents will have the support and encouragement needed to navigate the many changes and challenges ahead.
Regular parent-teacher meetings, whole-class meetings, home visits (in Class One), and social and cultural events are part of wider school life.