By Stephanie Sesic Greer
Integrated curriculum across subject areas is a hallmark of Waldorf education, and this integrative approach is applied not only among academic subjects but also between academic learning and social learning. In the early grades, storytelling is a key for student learning.
First graders learn math by hearing and telling stories about gem-collecting gnomes, but these stories also teach important social skills, such as cooperation. For example, when Matthew Minus loses some of his gems, Patty Plus will happily share hers. Teachers in the early grades also tell impromptu stories that address social conflicts as they arise among students. This allows children to consider the nature of the conflict and how it might be solved without naming names of the actual participants in classroom conflict. This inclusive method helps to maintain the class’s sense of community.
In second grade, fables are a main focus of the language arts curriculum, but because these animal stories are also part of the students’ social learning, teachers are careful never to tell children the moral of each fable. Rather, students are encouraged to discuss the fables and form their own judgments and characterizations of the animals based on their behaviors. In this way, young children learn the valuable social skills of interpreting behaviors and responding appropriately.
In the later grades, the social studies curriculum illustrates the higher level social skills of working together in groups for the advancement of society. Examples include the study of Native American circles and Viking councils in fourth grade, Ancient Greek democracy in fifth grade, the Roman Forum and Senate in sixth grade, and European Republics in seventh grade. These lessons about the development of societies throughout history also show how society’s development mirrors individual development in terms of learning to build community.
As with other aspects of Waldorf education, Spring Garden focuses on the long-term value of developing its students’ social skills. Consider, for example, the benefits to Spring Garden graduates who enter the challenging realm of high school with the tools to understand and express their own emotions and to confront and resolve conflicts between themselves and their peers.
How many adults do you know who suffer from the lack of these very skills? How much would society as a whole benefit if more of its members had been instilled from childhood with a deep understanding of self and a sense of responsibility to resolve conflicts within their communities rather than to merely assign blame to other groups or individuals? To me, this is the shining promise of a Waldorf education that develops self-motivation in both academic and social development: that our children will know who they are, that they will claim their place in the world, and that they will make that world a better place.