Middle School Students Rehearsing to Perform Dickens'
"A Christmas Carol"
The sixth grade is a firm, intentional step into the outer world. It is an arrival upon this earth. As children approach eleven or twelve, changes begin in their physical bodies. One of the most subtle is a hardening of the bones. Boys and girls are more aware of gravity and weight. With the increasing awareness of their physical bodies the time is right for the study of the physical body of the earth.
Sixth Grade visiting a Cement PlantGeology turns to the structure of the earth, and proceeds from the study of the flora and fauna of the geological ages to minerals, metals, and finally gems and crystals, leading to the functions of mineral and metallic substances in the human organism. The study of minerals and rocks, mountains and rivers awakens great interest and enthusiasm. Here the students can experience a reflection of their own process and inwardly they are eager to embrace earth life and explore physical existence.
During their Geology Block
As the world continues to expand in geography, the sixth grade students are introduced to the earth's configuration and contrasts; distribution of oceans, seas, continents and mountain masses as well as climate studies. These are applied specifically to North and South American geography. The study of the Earth and its relation to the other bodies of the solar system is introduced through astronomy.
The students are introduced to the basic concepts of physics. As with all subjects in a Waldorf school, the approach is first through art. Acoustics, or sound theory, leads from familiar experiences in tone and speech, such as observing how music is made, to experimentation with sound phenomena of other kinds. The sounds in music and nature lead to experiments by which they discover harmonies of relationship made by subdivisions in strings. From these experiments the children proceed to problems of tone conduction and then back to the human organism. They discover that they, too, have a musical instrument within them, the larynx.
Optical studies begin, like acoustics, with familiar experiences in the realm of beauty. Study of color in the world begins with the sun, giver of light. Each color is studied for its own special attributes and then observed in relation to other colors. Experiments with artificial light and shadow in the classroom lead to rainbow and prism, then experiments to determine laws of light refraction. In all these studies the principles underlying the various light and color phenomena are arrived at as end products generalized from concrete experiences rather than stated theoretically before the experiments are made.
Sixth grade history follows the transition from ancient to modern history. Because the ll-year-old herself is involved in such a transition, she begins to move from poetic consciousness to a search for truth in the form of scientific concepts. The child is now able to grasp history as temporal sequence of cause and effect relationships. The students study the decline of Greece, the rise and fall of Rome, and the effects of these two great cultures on European civilization up through the Middle Ages. The Roman epoch epitomizes in an historical sense what the children are experiencing in their bodies. Of all ancient peoples the Romans most strongly dominated their physical world. All their accomplishments - cities, roads, aqueducts, the Roman army and their conquest of the Western world - match a feeling of omnipotence that the sixth grader has: "I can do anything!" Yet equally important for the children is the example of how the excesses of the Roman period led to the fall of the Empire and the Dark Ages, which were illuminated by the new religion of Christianity.
Mathematics continues to exercise the disciplines learned in previous classes and then moves on to the study of percentage and ratio, the relationships between things. Sixth grade geometry is an ideal place to bring all the years of circle movement, eurythmy and form drawing into exact constructions, using compass, rulers, and right angles. These forms can be treated with all the visual artistry that has been so much a part of the curriculum in drawing and painting. Now, however, there is the discipline of precision and the use of tools. Whereas geometric shapes have in the prior grades been drawn freehand as artistic exercises, families of geometric figures are constructed and studied in the sixth grade for the numerical laws they embody. These designs are now done for the first time with the utmost tool-aided accuracy.
Sixth graders review parts of speech and verb tenses and write detailed reports and compositions. English continues with more emphasis on reading, writing and grammar. Grammar emphasis is on clauses, phrases, and the formulation of good sentences and paragraphs. For the first time in the English block the students are graded on quizzes, tests, essays, artwork, class participation, and timeliness. Students recite poetry and sing songs from the modern world as well as practice lengthy recitation of epic poems. Oral presentations of reports and research are given with an artistic component. Class plays usually come from Roman or medieval history. Biographies are assigned for reports.
Shadows, landscapes, and color contrasts are taken up in painting. They continue to develop their skills with modeling clay, and with tools in wood carving, creating objects that serve the human or animal world.
In chorus and orchestra for these grades, the students learn more complex and challenging vocal and instrumental arrangements, demanding attention in the lesson and more instrument practice outside of class. Singing focuses on two and three-part choruses, songs of the minstrels and middle ages, and recorders in descant, alto and tenor voices.
(see "Additional Programs" for curriculum information on Handwork, Foreign Languages, and Eurythmy)
A transition from cooperative games to competitive sports begins in Grade 6. Basic fundamentals and proper skill development is emphasized. The curriculum culminates in a Medieval Fair, involving area Waldorf schools, in which students in a medieval period atmosphere, meet outdoor movement challenges that include group initiative events and individual obstacle courses.
Sixth grade is the gateway to pre-adolescence and idealism. In their studies of Rome the children are grounded so that through their physical awareness they can begin to discover what "I" means for them. In the Middle Ages they begin to venture out toward the unknown to find what, in the world, they are asked to address. Stories of the Grail and King Arthur legends are brought in sixth or seventh grade as an introduction to their quest in life. In summary, this year is both an ending and a beginning.