In Fifth Grade, the child begins to experience a healthy balance between early childhood and approaching adolescence. It is appropriate, therefore, that the curriculum this year encourages a theme of balance. Study of ancient history begins in India, continuing with the civilizations of Persia and the great cultures of Mesopotamia. A field trip to the Egyptian Museum studying the pyramids and pharaohs precedes the civilization of the Greeks, during which students participate in a classic Greek pentathlon with activities of running, long jump, wrestling, javelin, and discus. As a continuation of their study of the living earth, Natural Science is approached this year through Botany and Geography with a year end field trip to Yosemite National Park, enhancing the child’s understanding of local geography and plant life. Building on their years of form drawing, free-hand geometry is introduced. Higher work with fractions, ratio, and proportion are studied. Decimal exercises are practices in preparation for business math, which they will study more extensively in Sixth Grade.
The Golden Year
Developmental Picture of the Student
Fifth grade is referred to as the “golden year” because students at this age are enthusiastic about learning, eager for new challenges, and prepared to work hard. Their sense of self-consciousness emerges, yet they remain confident and in harmony with their surroundings. Students develop an ordered sense of space and time, and they gain a deeper understanding of personal responsibility and ethical principles.
How the Curriculum Meets the Fifth Grader
Fifth graders explore the history of human struggle and accomplishment in the ancient world. These histories present the diversity of experience in the early civilizations of India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Students investigate mythologies, and religions of these cultures, and they discuss philosophies of creation, life, and death. Working with early forms of writing, geometry, and architecture, fifth graders trace the roots of modern culture. Through these classical stories, students develop inner imagination and empathy with an ancient world that is different from their own.
In fifth grade, students also peruse the biography of Alexander the Great--a compelling story of a human leader engaged in an epic quest of self-determination--which marks an important learning transition from mythology to history. Alexander’s story introduces students to the world of human leaders, historical campaigns, and real world events. Through their study of ancient Greece, students develop an appreciation for the balance between skill and beauty, art and science, earthly life and spirituality.
In mathematics, decimal notation used in the four operations is introduced while students continue with fractions, multi-digit problem solving, and word problems. They also learn freehand geometry to gain a sense of the structure of space and delineated form. Studying botany nurtures the fifth graders’ dawning apprehension of beauty in the world, as they balance scientific observation with aesthetic appreciation.
In studying North American geography, students examine how and why people live and work in specific regions. Students select one of the 50 states to profile in a research paper and a verbal presentation on the state’s history. They discuss how soil, landscape, and location influence culture. Their exploration of Native American history includes the people’s practical, cultural, and spiritual relationship to the land.
In weekly gym class, students practice the five events of a Greek pentathlon: discus and javelin throw, wrestling, long jump, and foot race. In the spring, the class participates in an all day pentathlon festival and competition with other regional Waldorf schools. This is the culmination of the students’ physical individualism before they enter--in sixth grade--the new dynamics of team-based sports.
Boys and girls are becoming more aware of gravity and weight as they enter their sixth year of school. One of the subtlest developmental changes is a hardening of the bones. With the increasing awareness of their physical bodies the time is right for the study of the physical body of the earth. Sixth grade begins the study of geology and minerals and includes a field trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The study of earth is balanced by studying the sky in astronomy. Physics, acoustics, optics, magnetism, and electricity are also explored. History hollows the transition from ancient to modern, ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, to European geography. Students will learn practical math skills by starting their own business.
Emphasizing the Concrete World
Developmental Picture of the Student
Twelve-year-olds, on the cusp of adolescence, experience new feelings of weight and gravity in their bodies. They become more aware of their own physicality, and they need to feel that they now stand firmly on the earth. They are curious about cause and effect, and they expect straightforward answers to their questions. Their world is defined increasingly by absolutes, so sixth graders make a point to distinguish between right and wrong. The Romans’ genius for laws appeals to their sense of order and justice. As sixth graders become more grounded in who they are, they begin to look to the world to see what it asks of them.
How the Curriculum Meets the 6th Grader
Geology, astronomy and physics are introduced into the curriculum. Students’ increasing awareness of their physical bodies accords with their study of the earth’s physical “body” in geology. Students study rock formations and the forces that change the earth’s surface. After their attention has been drawn down deep into the earth in geology, it is lifted to the heavens in astronomy. Here, students study the relationship of the earth to the stars and planets, starting from a geocentric perspective, just like astronomers of old. This self-centered orientation between earth and sky fits the students own perceptions; later they will discover the heliocentric view.
In physics, the students are introduced to laboratory science. Science in a Waldorf classroom is always based on a study of phenomena. The students carefully note their experiences in acoustics, optics, heat, magnetism, and static electricity to discover the lawful relationships in the natural world.
The 6th grader’s world is delineated in absolutes and “cause and effect” thinking so the curriculum focuses on strong guidelines and clear differentiation concepts.
In History, the students grasp the significance of cause and effect in the rise and fall of Rome and its effect on European civilization through the Middle Ages. The Roman’s spirit of conquest and their civilization’s ability to dominate and transform the physical world with roads, buildings, and aqueducts is inspiring, but the story has a cautionary side in the equally important consequences of the excesses of the Roman period.
Language Arts: Ancient Indian, Persian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek culture and myths; literature; grammar; writing; recitation of poetry
Social Studies: Festival celebrations; land and culture of ancient India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece; Greek history; North American geography
Science: Botany Math: Decimals; more complex fraction problems; freehand geometry
World languages: Grammar; vocabulary; conversation; songs; dances; poetry
Art: Wet-on-wet watercolor painting; clay modeling; colored-pencil drawing
Practical Arts: Knitting socks on four needles; gift-making
Drama: Re-enactment of stories; class play; assembly performances
Music: Diatonic flute ensemble; singing; strings ensemble
Movement: Two outdoor recesses a day; Eurythmy; traditional dance; physical education including Pentathlon training; daily rhythm/coordination exercises
LIFE SKILLS AND HOMEWORK EXPERIENCED IN 5th GRADE
Author Topic Statements and write rough drafts; present and incorporate revisions to book reports and a research paper
Organize and Study take home math sheets and prepare for weekly spelling reviews
Complex Memorization of their lines and actions for parts in the 5th grade play
Develop Mastery in practice of music for string instruments (Violin, Viola, Cello or Bass) and in physical events for Pentathlon
Model Academic Responsibility including punctuality with deadlines