THE FALL FROM GRACE
Third grade is a big year of transformation. The student begins to feel a separation and loss of the kingdom of early childhood as he enters into a more conscious state of who he is as separate from the people and places around him. These changes may have already begun in second grade, and may also not come around until fourth grade. Yet, on the whole, this is the experience of the nine year old. In the Waldorf school we name this the “Nine Year Change.” It is a time of awakening, the second time in the child’s life that he discovers “I.” The first time was around the age of three when he first used the word “I” to refer to himself.
The third grader now he finds that he stands alone amongst his family, teacher and peers. He begins to notice that he is separate from those around him. He may experience fears that seem to be unfounded to the adult. He may also experience intense moments of grief and sadness, almost a mourning of some great loss. I had a student in my class that cried nearly every day, with no apparent cause, for almost a year and then quite abruptly stopped. Nightmares are often common at this age, especially with a theme of dying. Doubt and questioning can also pervade the relationship he has with his teachers and parents. It is not unheard of for a nine year old to wonder if his parents are really his or if maybe he was adopted, or for him to question the genuineness and authority of his teacher. For an excellent book written on the nine year change, see Hermann Koepke’s Encountering the Self.
The answer to all of this lives in the brilliant Waldorf curriculum. As A.C. Harwood (2001) states:
Steiner recommended a sequence of the better known stories of the Old Testament. It is not only that you have here the legend at its highest and grandest - Noah with the animals, Elijah with the ravens, David with his sling, and Joshua with his trumpet - but that the whole story is one of the journey of man from paradise to the earth, that journey which the children themselves are in the act of making. (p.91)
The third grade Waldorf curriculum gives the nine-year-old the gift of meeting the world that he has come to acknowledge with the tools he will need to live in his new home, the earth. The student will learn the practical skills of farming and gardening, house building, measurement and time. They will also learn about clothing and fibers, cooking and weaving. These kinds of activities are just what is in order and turns this year of turmoil into a rewarding experience. The third grader goes forth with gusto, tools in hand - literally, to conquer the world. By the end of the year the third grader has the confidence in their abilities to navigate their way through life. A true sense of knowing that, if need be, they could make it on their own.
Koepke (1989) speaks of the nine-year-old and his relationship to the arts:
Up to the ninth year art is a servant to children, but that after this time children should become a servant of art. This change results from the liberation of creative forces that had until then been active unconsciously in building up the body but that can now slowly and gradually be used to give expression to the ego. The creative core in the human being is now being addressed; through art it can reveal the spiritual in matter. For this reason, the artistic element is of central importance in Waldorf pedagogy. (p. 89)
In this drawing of “The Sower,” the children are given a bright and colorful landscape where the gesture is one of moving forward with an uprightness and with the arm scattering seeds onto the fertile land.
Here, the chalkboard drawing was added to each day that the students learned about another type of dye. The original drawing consisted of the woman stirring the purple dye vat with all the others empty without fire beneath them. As plant and animal dyes were introduced and used in the classroom on different fibers, in the drawing the pots were filled with the color of the dye that was used, and on the line hung the fabric or fiber that was used with that dye was hung on the line in the drawing as well. This drawing was not done by the students in their main lesson books. Instead, their book entries consisted of each dye and fiber that were used on a particular day.