The third grade is often called the turning point of childhood. Every age has its drama, but the eight or nine-year old is going through a change that is particularly profound. As a nine-year old, we feel ourselves growing apart from the world. We become separated, independent, and begin to question all that was previously taken for granted. “Why is it called oak?” “Are my parents really my parents?” This questioning is accompanied by a stream of interest in everything practical. “How is a house built?” “Where does my food come from?”

Nine-year old children usually love to go out into Nature in a more methodical and challenging manner than before. They become capable of more sustained effort; it is an ideal time to start regular family hikes. They become capable of more sustained interest in an animal or plant and this should be encouraged as much as possible; it lays the foundations for active caring about our planet Earth. The Waldorf curriculum meets this interest by giving them practical farming and gardening experience.

If their imaginative powers have not been paralyzed by technology, eight and nine-year-olds like to say “What if …?” and plunge into spontaneously created fantasies. The teacher feeds them substantial stories that wrestle with fundamental moral ideas. Nine-year-olds form clubs and delight in battles between clear-cut opposites: us and them, heroes and enemy, good and bad. The “Building Block” teaches them about the far-reaching co-operation that is necessary for the achievement of civilization.

The question “Who am I?” may arise, and this is possibly the most difficult of all. Many of us side-step this new awareness though increased external activity or by clinging to established patterns. It is important that nine-year-olds achieve a new inner-security, new clarity of thought, new techniques for coming to terms with their emotions. The Waldorf curriculum provides music, drama, and grammar throughout grades 1-8. In third grade the annual class play allows the children to experience the great relationships of the Old Testament, and there is always lively relationship with their teachers. Machine-learning at this stage deadens the courage for lively relationships. Through round-singing, the student learns that holding your own voice against others is a necessary part of harmony; that a rhythm must be consistent if it is to be a reliable vehicle for melody and harmony. The children also progress in their instrument learning. After two years with the pentatonic flute, the third grader learns how to play the simple recorder. Although the student may be introduced to stringed and wind instruments as he moves through the middle years, the recorder will continue to be an instrument used through the grades.

In third grade English may become a special subject assigned its share of main lesson periods. Grammar awakens living rational thought, the awareness of a qualitative difference between words that are “naming”, “doing” and “describing”. In the previous years the teacher may have prepared the ground by writing whatever was to be copied from the board with nouns always in blue, verbs in red and adjectives perhaps in yellow or green.

Now we see why our third graders require more understanding, guidance and companionship from their  parents and teachers. In a Waldorf school, the children are helped to form new relationships with nature through farming and gardening experience, with eternity through Old Testament stories, with others through building experience, and with themselves through drama, music and grammar.

Source: Daniel Bittleston, Waldorf Education – A Family Guide
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