Mountain Phoenix Community School offers a dynamic curriculum for the middle school years — grades 6 through 8. Students begin the day at 8:00 a.m. with homeroom and then move quickly to active classes such as band, orchestra, physical education, art, or Spanish. This is followed by main lesson, the heart of the instructional day, which is filled with in-depth learning in the areas of math, literature, language arts, history, science, and geography. Each two-hour main lesson topic continues for 3 to 4 weeks. Every lesson integrates a balance of thinking, feeling, and willing activities so that students are actively engaged in learning. Music, poetry/speech, drama, and art are integrated into the main lesson where possible to enrich the learning experience.
The child entering into sixth grade is in the final third of the second seven-year stage of development, and there is a significant change in how he views the world and himself. The grace and fluidity of the fifth grader are supplanted by the influence of gravity as he begins to experience an increasing body mass and hormonal changes. He may feel earthbound and develop a keen interest in the physical nature of life. The sixth grader also becomes increasingly capable of causal thinking and the curriculum expands to meet and engage this emerging capacity.
The curriculum encourages students to develop living concepts through direct experience. The educational impact of this is very different than beginning with a definition or concept, which may be remembered but is likely to remain undigested within the child. The experiential path is very much the approach of the artist, one in which the child initially perceives, wonders, questions, and only conceptualizes fully at the end. Perception and experience unite in ideas and give rise to a range of feelings; the resulting concepts are alive for the child and can live and grow as she develops. This provides a basis for true scientific thinking and discovery and has been identified by many as an essential twenty-first-century skill.
By the end of sixth grade, we see a greater mastery of critical thinking and formal operations. The child is ready once again to encounter new challenges.
The seventh grade year is one of remarkable growth – for the child and therefore in the curriculum. As the child enters early adolescence, there are increasing signs that the end of the second stage of development is in sight. This transition signals the beginning of a period of intense exploration and new discovery for the young person – in thinking, beliefs, feelings, and relationships.
The Waldorf curriculum responds by introducing the Age of Discovery, the Reformation, and the Renaissance. Each of these mirrors aspects of the student’s experience. Like explorers of old, the seventh grade student must inch away from the familiar shores of family and childhood and set out for lands unknown. Traditional beliefs will be challenged and tested and the young person must learn to stand firmly in her own thoughts. Perspectives will change dramatically, just as they did for the artists of the Renaissance. Seventh grade teachers often marvel at the flowering of learning, understanding, and artistic abilities; this can truly be a joyful time of new birth for the student’s artistic and thinking capacities.
Eighth grade signifies the end of the class teacher years. Reflecting the value placed on the continuity of relationships, the student may have had the same core teacher for many years, possibly since first grade. This relationship and the curriculum of the lower school will be brought to a culmination over the course of this final year.
A new stage of development is beginning, one in which critical thinking will be the primary learning mode and where the generalist teacher of the grades will give way to the specialized instruction required by the high school student. In many ways eighth grade is a bridge, completing the second seven-year stage and establishing a foundation for the third seven-year stage.
The end of the grade school years is generally marked by a series of culminating events that may include individual project reports, a significant drama production, and a class trip. The young person able to stand before others as a confident individual with independent thoughts and opinions to offer. There are opportunities to review the path that has been traveled over the years. By the end of eighth grade, a stage of growth has come fully to an end. The physical changes of puberty have been accompanied by significant changes in thinking. The young person is now more conscious of herself, of her relationships with others, and of the surrounding world. The process of imitation and education through the will of the first seven years led to learning through imagination and images in the second seven years. Now education must appeal to the increasingly strong capacity to reason, think, analyze, and evaluate. The generalist approach of the grades teacher gives way to the specialized subject knowledge required in the high school. The young person embarks on a search for truth, a journey to find a valued individual pathway for herself and to discover ways to contribute meaningfully to the world she lives in.
The text above is adapted from the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, with revisions that reflect the MPCS curriculum.