The fifth grader has enhanced her recent gains in consciousness and grown more accustomed to being an isolated self, seeing the world in a new perspective. Yet, like the third grader, she is about to leave another phase of childhood behind her and to cross a new threshold of experience. The curriculum must, therefore, not only continue to build on already established foundations, but introduce certain new elements to prepare her for her next step forward.
History has until now only a pictorial and personal nature and no attempt was made to introduce exact temporal concepts or to proceed in strict sequences.Now, however, history becomes a special main lesson subject, as does geography. History, telling of mankind’s deeds and strivings, stirs the child to a more intense experience of her own humanness. Geography does exactly the opposite; it leads her away from herself out into ever wider spaces from the familiar to the unfamiliar. History brings the child to himself: geography brings the child into the world.
Ancient history in the fifth grade starts with the childhood of civilized humanity in ancient India, where human beings were dreamers. The ancient Persian culture that followed the Indian felt the impulse to transform the earth, till the soil, 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 the 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. History is here an education of the children’s feelings rather than of 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.
A study of American geography emphasizes contrast. Every consideration of the earth’s physical features is linked with a study of the way human life has been lived in the region, the human uses made of natural resources, the industry and produce. As a continuation of their study of the living earth, the fifth graders begin botany, the study of the plant world. After discovering some of the secrets of the plant life found in one’s own environment, the child’s attention is drawn to vegetation in other parts of the world.
Building on the years of form drawing, freehand geometry is introduced. Fractions and decimals continue to be the chief concern of arithmetic study. Regular choral singing is practiced in the fourth and fifth grades and the students may come together to become an orchestra.
Whenever possible in a Waldorf school, the practical arts include woodworking. In some classes the children begin with carving a mallet to be used for subsequent projects. In handwork, knitting returns, but now the students use four needles as they create socks or mittens. Eurythmy, foreign languages, painting, sports and games also continue.
Many Waldorf schools host a Greek Pentathlon for the fifth grade students where grace, beauty, form and sportsmanship are lauded along with individual achievements of speed or accuracy.