First Grade is a bridge between the kindergarten and the grades. The loss of the milk (baby) teeth indicates that the children have completed the formation of their physical bodies and are ready to begin to work with their minds. An important task for the teacher is to create a rhythm for the children's school lives to enable them to grow and learn in a healthy way. Towards this end the teacher designs a rhythm not only through the season's festivals and holidays but also within each day and within each lesson during the day.
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. They are 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. She 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.
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; you might hear Waldorf teachers referring to it as the "Crossing point", the "Watershed" or the "Rubicon". What is prescribed in the curriculum for this age? Farming and gardening, the Old Testament, Building and Grammar. Why these? Do you remember the time before your ninth year? Can you recapture even a hint of the qualitative richness of a home landscape, a certain house, particular relationships? And then, can you remember how things and people began to look 'ordinary'?
To understand the fourth grade curriculum and why it is so suited to the nine and ten-year-old, one must first look back to the preceding years of schooling, and especially the curriculum of the third grade. There the children who, up until then, had lived in a certain harmonious relationship to the world, were cast out of Paradise. They were no longer allowed to dwell in the fairy tale realm of the first grade or even to fluctuate back and forth between heaven and earth as in second grade when the stories of saints and fables were told to accompany this duality. They have arrived! Now, how are they going to survive?
The fifth grader has enhanced her recent gains in consciousness and grown more accustomed to being an isolated self, seeing the world in a new perspective. Yet, like the third grader, they are about to leave another phase of childhood behind them and to cross a new threshold of experience. The curriculum must, therefore, not only continue to build on already established foundations, but introduce certain new elements to prepare her for her next step forward.