Reflections. Invitation on a journey of discovery in the curriculum of the Waldorf schools

Christian Boettger

What are the aspects which guided Rudolf Steiner in his original conception of the curriculum? One aspect can be found in a lecture which he gave in Berlin on 4 November 1910 long before the founding of the first Waldorf school: strengthening the forces of memory. In a seven-class school the learning content of the third should be repeated “in transformation” in the fifth, of the second in the sixth and of the first in the seventh. Class 4 was positioned between them like an axis of reflection: “That would mean,” Steiner says, “an excellent strengthening of memory and people would see, if they introduced such a practice, how beneficial these things can be simply for the reason that they originate in the laws of real life.” The horizontal linkage of subject content and deepening which is created by taking up the subject matter in higher classes again means that the forces of imagination of the children and young people are stimulated – for example the Greece main lesson in class 5 and the history main lesson in class 10. Rudolf Steiner also poses many research questions for the teachers. For example about the connection between knitting and arithmetic and mathematics or handwork and history.

Human beings learn through repetition

There are various mirrorings in the curriculum of the Waldorf schools which motivate us to make our own discoveries in this great composition and teach us to see the development of the children in context – for example by means of form drawing through freehand geometry, the geometrical constructions, to the way that the thinking moves in projective geometry.

What does it mean on the other hand when children in class 3 experience the path from sowing the corn to the bread they have baked themselves in the agriculture main lesson in contrast to dietetics or the kitchen practice placement in class 7 and from the horticulture lessons in middle school to the ability to reflect on the agriculture practice placement in class 9, an ecology practice placement in class 11 or a globalisation main lesson in class 12?

What metamorphosis becomes evident when we relate the house building project of class 3 to the art and architecture main lesson in class 12 or when we connect the trades main lesson in class 3 and the concrete experiences during a visit to the blacksmith, a cartwright or carpenter with the trades main lessons in upper school and the associated practice placements?

In these few connections it becomes clear how on each occasion the children at first actively experience or live through the widest possible context of meaning. That is deliberately not yet done with fully conscious reflection. Only after the phase in which the experiences have settled is a start made in upper school to work through to a judgement in a series of deepening steps. Only on this soil can creative solutions for the future flourish. When the learning experiences of the third year of school are picked up again through a smithery or carpentry main lesson or through experiences in an industrial practice placement – that is, once again through practically activity – is a new level of reflection achieved.

Neurophysiological research has shown that the foundations of our nervous and sensory system are always laid through practical activity and experiences. Reflecting on experiences in later years can build on these previously laid foundations. The fuller the practical experiences were, the better can a person subsequently find new creative solutions for new problems.

The pupils should experience that every subject matter offers endless deepening and combination possibilities. The mirrored relationships or the circular curriculum in which content is taken up again and deepened makes such a depth dimension of the subject matter evident to the pupils and thus strengthens a kind of feeling at home in the world, an existential security: I can shape the world.

About the author: Christian Boettger is chief executive of the German Association of Waldorf Schools and in the Education Research Centre. He was an upper school teacher for mathematics and physics at the Waldorf school in Schopfheim.