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Home: Freunde Waldorf

From imagery to conception.

The Waldorf curriculum has an interdisciplinary structure, integrated laterally and developed vertically. What the pupils experience in a lively, direct and imaginative way in the lower classes, is taken up in a transformed and scientific way in the upper classes. Nature study, for example, is introduced in the fourth class (age 9/10) in such a way that the children can fully identify with the characteristic gestures, movements and soul qualities of animals. In the Upper School zoology lessons the various animal groups are studied in their ecological, biomechanical and evolutionary relationships to each other and to humanity. What begins as an encounter with the being of animals at the level of direct sense experience leads to deeper and more conscious understanding of them and of their place in nature.

As we grow from early childhood through adolescence and adult life, our understanding of the world goes through a number of changes. This does not happen in leaps and bounds, but in almost imperceptible stages. In the beginning we grasp an inner image of a coherent whole, and gradually we can distinguish details and see their relationships to one another. At last we reach the stage of synthesis, of growing aware of a whole by activating our power of thinking. This metamorphosis of comprehension particularly characterises human development. The development of the ability to comprehend is accompanied by the emergence of the child´s individuality. Together with the development of other abilities, it is expressed by an increase in definite and distinct forms of thought. This metamorphosis of comprehension does not only map out the course of the entire curriculum, it also determines the changing methods employed during the years in the periods of Main Lesson teaching.

As regards teaching methods, the process that leads us from the inner image to the concept grasped in thought form shows two distinct facets. In connection with a curriculum which covers twelve years of schooling, this process indicates the way children and adolescents need to be addressed at various stages of their development. The first years of school are therefore characterised by forms of teaching that lead to strong inner images. They are worked over in various forms of active artistic creativity. In later years, conceptual though will play an ever-increasing part. Individual activity is encouraged and challenged until it emerges in the formation of individual judgements in thought form. This process from image-forming to conceptual and later genuinely scientific thought and work is followed in all subjects.

The second facet influences the detailed work of the subject periods. Here, special emphasis is placed on developing a healthy and active power of recollection. In the lower classes, children´s relationship to everything surrounding them is of course imbued with feeling. What does this imply? We later remember largely those events or even those elements of our learning experiences that have appealed to the emotions during the first years of schooling. So, the feelings play an important part in the course of lessons at that time. After this phase, memory can be strengthened by using the imagination to re-create what was originally perceived by the senses and then transformed into conceptual form. Such activity is set in motion by the teacher´s describing the processes concerned in strong and realistic images. These often characterise the matter in hand more easily than abstract definitions which the pupils are supposed to commit to memory as they stand.

In all learning, experience stands at the gate. Learning may then take place in the field of concepts or in the active encounter with the phenomenon or in the acquiring of the abilities necessary for work with specific materials. Conceptual comprehension is the next step and will naturally be bound to follow. From the readiness to come to grips with one´s own experiences arises the ability to recognise and to understand something new. Finding a way from the image to the concept – the way that is sought and worked at in Waldorf schools all over the world supports the development of a power of thinking that can approach the world clear-eyed and with an open mind.

Jon McAlice