Sunday, July 5, 2009

Waldorf 4th Grade: Man and Animals

I am in the midst of preparing for the upcoming school year- we'll have a Fourth Grader and a Preschooler, plus the baby, so I want to be as organized and prepared as possible. This summer I'm reading the Norse Myths, researching curriculum choices for the workbook type things we'll use, and trying to get my head around the 4th grade lesson blocks usually called "Man and Animals" or something similar. Sometimes it's called zoology, which is what I've been calling it.

Teaching science has always been my biggest worry point- Avery LOVES doing experiments and lab work, I don't, so much. I love going outside and watching bugs and flowers, but don't really care what they're called or why, he can barely watch for a moment without the desire to KNOW burning him up and into a book. And here we are. Fourth grade. The start of real science, not just nature stories, for Waldorf kids. The unfolding of the child's sense of inner and outer selves, of objectivity, and the BIGNESS of the world. I don't want to mess that up! And I am completely at a loss. What to do?
The Waldorf curriculum tells us that animals are specialized, one-sided. Really perfectly adapted to their task, but only made for that one thing. Animals fall into one of three categories, or embody one of the threefold human traits- they are either thinking, feeling, or willing. Humans, in contrast, are imperfect, but embody all of these traits, plus one other: we are created upright, with hands and arms that are not needed to move us, like animals, but free to turn to service for God and humanity. It doesn't sound too bad (or maybe it does, depending on your perspective) but I am having a problem taking it all in. I just don't really GET it, I guess, and I'm worried that in my attempt to teach something I don't deeply understand and believe that I will not do justice to the task, or my child. I can see a glimmer of how it might be beautiful and true taught by a real Waldorf teacher, someone trained in and understanding of this material. Unfortunately I keep getting stuck with it all feeling forced, like poor science, mixing of holy and earthly things I have no business messing with.
I feel comfortable teaching the animals in tidy groups: you know, mammals, reptiles, mollusks, birds.... I feel comfortable with the idea that humans are upright and special, able to think and feel and do, and that we have a responsibility to care for the world we've been given (or given to, maybe?). I feel comfortable saying animals embody the willing aspect of humans, but the feeling and thinking? I guess dolphins are thinkers, but aren't they still more will-full? Does the octopus, with that huge head, really think more that follow instinct? Surely the jellyfish is more instinctual, yet it is sometimes taught with the "thinkers".... I don't know, and I'm having a hard time getting comfortable with this lesson, I guess because of exactly what I don't know.

The Octopus: a classic Waldorf embodiment of the "thinking" characteristic of the human.

The Eagle: who soars like our thoughts, who attacks prey as we "attack" an idea.

The Lion: embodies "feeling" with strong use of all the senses and that powerful heart.

The Snake: no limbs, all digestive and torso- another "feeling" animal.

The Sea Star: looks like our hand, a clear manifestation of "will".

A Steer: like oxen or a bull, strong and made for work, exercising one's will.


Melisa & Erik Nielsen said...

Planning is so much fun! I was taking a few minutes to scroll through blogs tonight and came across yours. Do you listen to our radio show? You might enjoy the one on grade 4. Also, we are starting a series tomorrow morning for the entire month of July on planning. So many important things go into planning. You can do it! This will be a fun year for you. I loved teaching grade four to my sons - it is just enough science to get them comfortable before the major stuff starts! Many blessings.

Melisa Nielsen

mama-aya said...

I do love the planning, but this one is really tough for me. Melisa's guides are so wonderful and down to earth- I'm planning to turn to them this summer, for sure! (And I guess I'll check out the radio show, too! I need some inspiration....)