Grades 6 through 8 (Middle School)
With sixth grade the content and quantity of subjects expand significantly to meet the needs of the preadolescent. In addition to deepening work with previously encountered material, many new subjects are introduced; all with the goal of helping the student maintain a healthy interest in the world around them. The Waldorf curriculum encourages preadolescents to direct their gaze enthusiastically and sympathetically out into the world and through this come to a deeper understanding of themselves.
The preadolescent period brings dramatic inner changes that are set in motion. Biographies of men and women who struggled with the challenges of their times provide the perspective from which history is viewed. Over the course of sixth, seventh and eighth grades, the history of European and American civilization are surveyed from ancient to modern times. In seventh grade, the students are able to see a reflection of their struggle for individual identity in Renaissance studies, from Italian artists capturing new visions to scientists and religious reformers grappling with the constriction of long held beliefs, to bold explorers venturing out into the unknown.
A new capacity for exact observation is cultivated through the physics lessons, in which students move from the mystery of phenomena to its exact measurement. Inorganic chemistry is a highlight of seventh grade as is the chemistry of foods in eighth.
The physical changes at this age lead naturally to a study of the human physiology, which is taught from the hygienic perspective of responsibility for the integrity and health of our bodies. Earth science supports the ever- expanding geographic study of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the planet as a whole.
Business arithmetic, algebra and geometry become formal disciplines and are studied over the course of all middle school grades. The language arts curriculum expands into the interweaving branches of literature, grammar and composition and along with mathematics, occupies both main lesson and ongoing period classes.
Sixth grade is the gateway to preadolescence and idealism. In their studies of Rome the students 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. The stories of the Grail offer an introduction to their quest in life. In summary, this year is both an ending and a beginning.
As seventh grade students enter into puberty, they are also adventuring across a basic threshold experience on their way to selfhood. Can they enter this dark unknown territory carrying a flaming torch to allow discovery as they wander and probe? Can they spend their time productively bearing in mind others behind them also need their light? If their spirit of inquiry and creativity in a social context can be fostered in puberty, they will surely find it sweet to enter adulthood. If it isn’t fostered, they may stumble endlessly in the darkness, burdened by excess baggage of self-centeredness, criticism and chaotic emotions. To help them cross this threshold, Waldorf presents a rich curriculum designed to take them out to civilizations and people who share their mood of soul, as well as lead them to a closer look at each one’s own environment and inner being.
The task of Waldorf elementary education is to give students an understanding of humanity and the world they live in, to offer them knowledge so rich and meaningful as to engage their hearts and wills as well as their minds. Such and understanding is the basis of all real learning in later years. With the completion of the eighth grade the students should have a well-rounded, general picture of human life and the universe. This last year of elementary school should not only bring all previous experiences to a new peak, but also enable the students to enter fully and potently into the life of their own time and ready for the next phase of their journey into high school and life.