There is always wisdom behind the progression of Waldorf pedagogy. Each subject is designed to reach a child where he or she is at that moment in their physical, emotional, and spiritual development.
The curriculum also connects children to their place as humans in the greater scheme of the world. This is why Waldorf students spend so much time in nature, where classroom lessons take hold and gain context.
Botany and Grade Five
In grade 5, Waldorf students encounter Botany as a main lesson block. The reasons for this run deep.
As the late Sir Ken Robinson, who delivered the renowned 2006 TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, and Alibaba founder and former English teacher Jack Ma have called for changes in education, it’s worthwhile to look at how connection to the earth might be a powerful motivator for learning.
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We also turn to botanist author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, to understand this important connection between human and nature. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer “embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.”
The Connection between Humans and Nature
She writes that other living beings offer insights into the way the world works. She argues that “the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.”
By grade 5, students are ready to observe the world around them and engage with living science. The botany curriculum empowers Waldorf students with scientific observations and discovery as well as the feelings, ideas and poetry of nature.
The Wisdom of the Waldorf Curriculum
As in any Waldorf lesson block, methods of learning interweave – narrative, history, literature, art, science and even math come together in the study of a particular subject.
Biodynamic agriculture, a practice that shares roots with Waldorf Education and grew out of the wisdom of Anthroposophy, connects the farmer between earth and cosmos. In this story, humans are the decision-makers in the onward march of a living, evolving planet.
Through botany lessons, Waldorf students realize their role as caretakers of the earth. No Waldorf pedagogy is relegated to book-learning.
A Progression of Learning
The goal of a Waldorf classroom is to engage the mind and spirit of each student. It also aims to show how subjects are relevant to everyday life – not an antiseptic, distant study, but with meaning and purpose for his or her development.
Much of Waldorf education leads to this moment of Botany – as all Waldorf education builds moment to moment, year to year, as a progression.
All the days spent outdoors in early childhood and the early grades, noticing and celebrating the wonders of nature, lay the groundwork for a deep dive into the study of the natural world in grade five.