Fifth grade students have enhanced their recent gains in consciousness and grown more accustomed to being an isolated self, seeing the world in a new perspective. Yet, like third grade students, they are about to leave another phase of childhood and cross a new threshold of experience. The curriculum must therefore build on already established foundations, and introduce certain new elements to prepare them for this next step forward.
Until now, history has been taught from only a pictorial and personal nature. No attempt has been made to introduce exact temporal concepts or to proceed in strict sequences. Now, however, history becomes a special Main Lesson subject, as does geography. By telling of humans’ deeds and strivings, history stirs children to a more intense experience of their own humanness. Geography does exactly the opposite; it leads them away from themselves out into ever widening spaces. History brings children to themselves; geography brings them into the world.
In the fifth grade, ancient history starts with the childhood of civilized humanity in ancient India, where humans were dreamers. The ancient Persian culture that followed felt the impulse to transform the earth, till the soil, and domesticate animals, while helping the sun god conquer the spirit of darkness. The great cultures of Mesopotamia (the Chaldeans, the Hebrews, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians) reveal the origins of written language on clay tablets. The Egyptian civilization of pyramids and pharaohs precedes the civilization of the Greeks with whom ancient history ends.
Every means is used to give children a vivid impression of these five ancient cultures. They read translations of poetry, study hieroglyphic symbols of the Egyptians, sample arts and crafts of the various ancient peoples, trying their hands at similar creations. At this age, history is an education of children’s feelings rather than their memory for facts and figures, for it requires inner mobility to enter sympathetically into these ancient states of being so different from our own.
In contrast, American geography examines every consideration of the earth’s physical features and links this with a study of the way human life has been lived in the region, including the use of natural resources. As a continuation of their study of the living earth, fifth grade students begin botany, the study of the plant world. After discovering some of the secrets of the plant life found in their own environment, the students’ attention is drawn to vegetation in other parts of the world.
Building on years of form drawing, freehand geometry is introduced in the fifth grade. Fractions and decimals continue to be emphasized in mathematics, along with mixed numbers and reciprocals.
In music, they study time values, harmony, and the major and minor scale. They sing rounds and canons, and participate in a school-wide chorus and one of two orchestras.
Foreign language study builds additional skills in reading simple texts, syntax, short talks, and descriptions. Sanskrit poems and Greek phrases are also learned. In addition to free geometric drawing, fifth grade students practice form drawing, watercolor painting, knitting, woodworking, carving and clay work.
Fifth grade students continue their study of eurythmy. Physical education includes rhythmic exercises, gymnastics, kickball and Greek sports such as javelin, discus, shot put, and high jump. The year culminates in a Greek Pentathlon in which students compete in mixed-school “city states” with fifth grade students from other Waldorf Schools.
Main Lesson Subjects
- Ancient civilizations: India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt and Greece
- Language Arts: reading, grammar, composition
- Mathematics: fractions, decimals and introduction to geometry
- North American geography
- Greek mythology
- Research reports
- Olympic “Pentathlon” festival