A second grade child is like a butterfly who has just emerged from the hard imprisoning chrysalis and sits upon the leaf waiting expectantly for those glorious new wings to dry and strengthen. He is truly poised for flight. Rudolf Steiner has described the seven year life cycles and the importance of the moment when the forces working within the child cast off the baby teeth and construct a smile that gleams with permanence and strength. A second grader has this process well underway. He is on the threshold of newly awakening faculties. Energies freed from the process of forming the body now awaken the subjective world of feeling – wonder, pity, joy, tenderness and sorrow. These are the currents of air upon which these new little butterflies will rise, on which they will find their relationship to the world about them.
Second Graders with their Middle School Helpers
The first grade was a time of creating wholeness and a sense of rhythm in this new world of the classroom becoming one class, learning and growing together. The land of fairy tale was peopled by a prince, a king, a princess, three brothers, a stepmother, all the aspects of the human community without individual distinction. The children delighted in identifying with each and every one of them.
Second graders retain this love of the archetypal imagery, but as their feelings awaken the separation from the whole creates a consciousness that can be depicted as a set of parallel lines. "I see and want to learn that which I see" might be a good way to describe it. Symmetry is one second grade theme that reflects this emerging sense of ‘I and other’.
They are also ready to see the dual aspect of the human nature. Their own feelings of sympathy or antipathy may be unsettling for the adults in their lives, and require us to seek for creative responses. We do not wish to burden the seven or eight-year-olds with responsibility for their strong judgment, so we must seek other ways to show them the foibles of their own animal natures. Literature from every culture provides fables which show man’s animal characteristics pitted one against another. The pictures speak of the children’s imaginations allowing them to form their own inner pictures so the morals need not be given to them.
A second grader has a ready appreciation for a fox who invites a stork to dine on a low plate from which the stork cannot manage to feed himself, simply to enjoy the other’s shortcomings. But to see the stork “pay the fox in this own coin,” and invite him to a sumptuous meal served in an impossibly tall vase is to show the child the scale of justice with which Mother Nature balances her affairs.
On the other hand, the second grade child still delights in the mystery of the spiritual world where he still dwells at heart. He sits in rapt attention to legends of those spiritual beings who have the forces of nature in their service. When a snow white doe comes daily to sustain the Holy St. Giles with her milk, no one questions how she came to do this. And when the huntsman gives chase and shoots her, as she places her head in St. Giles lap, not a muscle moves nor an eye remains dry as the Saint removes the arrow from the shoulder of the mystical doe. Thus the second grader, still sustained by the unity he retains with his environment, is an eager participant in all that comes to his attention. He loves to have a choice – to choose a partner, to choose a part, but as in the story of St. Jerome who is approached by a roaring lion, it is difficult for him to decide whether he wants to play the Holy Jerome or the lion he heals.
In arithmetic, the children carry out more complicated operations with the four processes. Imaginative stories still form the basis of these problems. Through rhythmic counting accompanied by accented clapping and movement of the whole body, they learn to count by twos, threes, fours and fives and can begin learning the multiplication tables.
Grammar is introduced with liveliness and humor by acting out stories in which the children can experience the contrast between doing words, naming words and describing words. Nature study continues with nature walks along with poetry, legends and imaginative descriptions of natural processes. Painting and modeling are continuously integrated in the main lesson subjects. (see "Additional Programs" for more on Handwork, Foreign Languages, and Eurythmy)
The class teacher who progresses with his pupils from first to second grade can look back on all his pupils’ previous learning experiences, build step by step on his own foundation, and can endow his teaching with real unity. Thus, young children, who are sensitive to readjustments and changes, are given the security of knowing one personality and method intimately and thoroughly.