The morning sun is filtering through the oaks as children are dropped off for school at eight o’clock, relishing a few minutes of running around before the hand bell is rung. The kindergarten children are being walked up to the play yard where their teachers wait to welcome them. At 8:15 sharp, the hand bell is rung and the grades children dash to line up behind their teachers who lead them to their classroom doors. Upon entering, each child is greeted with a good morning handshake and a direct gaze that helps set the tone for the day ahead.
As in all Waldorf schools, the day in the grades classes begins with movement, recitation, singing, flute playing and some mental math. This period of time brings the children together as a harmonious group, gets their blood flowing and starts the day off with vigor.
Meanwhile, in the kindergarten and nursery (3 and 4 year-olds), the children are jumping right in to play—building, dressing up, putting on puppet shows, role-playing or creating magical kingdoms with blocks of cut tree branches, stones and shells. Some gather around their teacher to knead the bread dough that will be baked and served at snack with honey and butter. A few sit around the sewing table to finger knit or work on their sewing projects. The sunlight pours through the windows and the busy hum of children at play fills the room while the teachers work quietly in such a way that the children learn through imitation and they are carried by the steady, dependable rhythm that forms the day.
In the grades, after the morning warm-up, children are working on the main academic lesson of the day until 10:30. The first grade is rhythmically stepping off the multiplication tables “one, two three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine” they shout as they step off the 3’s table, marching around the room. The second grade is copying from the story of “The Fox and the Grapes” from the blackboard into their main lesson book in which they have drawn an illustration of the story that the teacher told the previous day. Third graders are measuring their garden plots as part of their block studies on measurement to be followed by a 4-week block on the study of farming. The fourth grade is busy working on their class play, “The Theft of Thor’s Hammer,” taken from the Norse mythology they have heard and have written about and the fifth graders are deep into the study of the Greek myths which will culminate in a trip to another Waldorf school for the Greek Olympiad. They have been practicing javelin, discus, Greek wrestling and foot races all year in preparation for that ceremonial event.
By 10:30 the grades children have finished their morning main lesson and are enjoying a snack before going outside for recess while the kindergarten children are sitting down for the mid-morning snack after putting all the toys away and engaging in a circle time of movement and seasonal songs and verses. At eleven o’clock they will go outside for a whole hour of play in the fresh outdoors.
Recess for the grades is just that—a recess from concentrated mental work, time to breathe out and enjoy free play while teachers watch but do not interfere unless necessary. Some swing on the rope swings, some play four square, some build shelters with the loose materials they find, and some climb trees. When this time is over, the teachers call in their classes for the special subject classes that begin at 11:15, taught by special subject teachers.
After lunch recess on any one day you may find the first graders knitting bags for their wooden flutes, the second graders having a Spanish class, the third graders learning eurythmy movements, the fourth graders having singing and the fifth graders speaking and writing German.
A second special subject class follows for each grade and then it is lunch time when the children eat their lunches that they have brought from home. Place mats and napkins are placed on the desks and the children talk quietly while they eat, sometimes sharing “news” with one another. A second recess gives more out-breathing time before the last two classes of the day, more special subjects and extra main lesson classes for practice of skills.
At noon the kindergarten children come running when they hear their teacher sing, “Come follow, follow, follow…” and after a trip to the bathroom and fresh cup of water they settle into the child-sized ladder back chairs that are gathered around the teacher’s rocker. A candle is lit, a song is sung and the teacher tells the fairy tale she has been telling for the past three days. The children sit, rapt, with mouths open drinking in this story from another time and from another place far away. “Snip, snap, snout,” says the teacher and the children at the end of the story, “my tale is all told out.” And then it’s time for the good-bye circle. While some children leave for home, the other children sit at the table to enjoy the lunches they have brought. As always before eating, a little song of gratitude is sung. Held in the steady rhythm that has been set, the children know exactly what is expected and when they finish eating, they ask to be excused and go to rest on their sheep skins, looking at books until the teacher comes to read them a story and then all rest.
It is almost time to go home and in the grades classes the children are taking care of their daily cleaning tasks. Some water the plants, some sweep,some straighten the book shelves, some wash the board. There is a sense of contentment and continuity as they work together. Parents arrive at three o’clock to pick up their children and ask how their day has been. The look on their faces tells it all; they’re happy.