The sixth grade is a firm, intentional step into the outer world. It is an arrival upon this earth. As children approach eleven or twelve, changes begin in their physical bodies. One of the most subtle is a hardening of the bones. Boys and girls are more aware of gravity and weight. With the increasing awareness of their physical bodies the time is right for the study of the physical body of the earth.
Geology turns to the structure of the earth, and proceeds from the study of the flora and fauna of the geological ages to minerals, metals, and finally gems and crystals, leading to the functions of mineral and metallic substances in the human organism. The study of minerals and rocks, mountains and rivers awakens great interest and enthusiasm. Here the students can experience a reflection of their own process and inwardly they are eager to embrace earth life and explore physical existence.
As the world continues to expand in geography, the sixth grade students are introduced to the earth’s configuration and contrasts; distribution of oceans, seas, continents and mountain masses; and climate studies. These are applied specifically to North and South American geography. The study of the Earth and its relation to the other bodies of the solar system is introduced through astronomy.
The students are introduced to the basic concepts of physics. As with all subjects in a Waldorf school, the approach is first through art. Acoustics, or sound theory, leads from familiar experiences in tone and speech, such as observing how music is made, to experimentation with sound phenomena of other kinds. The sounds in music and nature lead to experiments by which they discover harmonies of relationship made by subdivisions in strings. From these experiments the children proceed to problems of tone conduction and then back to the human organism. They discover that they, too, have a musical instrument within them, the larynx.
Optical studies begin, like acoustics, with familiar experiences in the realm of beauty. Study of color in the world begins with the sun, giver of light. Each color is studied for its own special attributes and then observed in relation to other colors. Experiments with artificial light and shadow in the classroom lead to rainbow and prism, then experiments to determine laws of light refraction. In all these studies the principles underlying the various light and color phenomena are arrived at as end products generalized from concrete experiences rather than stated theoretically before the experiments are made.
Sixth grade history follows the transition from ancient to modern history. Because the ll-year-old herself is involved in such a transition, she begins to move from poetic consciousness to a search for truth in the form of scientific concepts. The child is now able to grasp history as temporal sequence of cause and effect relationships. The students study the decline of Greece, the rise and fall of Rome, and the effects of these two great cultures on European civilization up through the Middle Ages. The Roman epoch epitomizes in an historical sense what the children are experiencing in their bodies. Of all ancient peoples the Romans most strongly dominated their physical world. All their accomplishments – cities, roads, aqueducts, the Roman army and their conquest of the Western world – match a feeling of omnipotence that the sixth grader has: “I can do anything!” Yet equally important for the children is the example of how the excesses of the Roman period led to the fall of the Empire and the Dark Ages, which were illuminated by the new religion of Christianity.
Mathematics continues to exercise the disciplines learned in previous classes and then moves on to the study of percentage and ratio, the relationships between things. Sixth grade geometry is an ideal place to bring all the years of circle movement, eurythmy and form drawing into exact constructions, using compass, rulers, and right angles. These forms can be treated with all the visual artistry that has been so much a part of the curriculum in drawing and painting. Now, however, there is the discipline of precision and the use of tools. Whereas geometric shapes have in the prior grades been drawn freehand as artistic exercises, families of geometric figures are constructed and studied in the sixth grade for the numerical laws they embody. These designs are now done with the utmost accuracy.
Sixth graders review parts of speech and verb tenses and write detailed reports and compositions. Grammar emphasis is on clauses, phrases, and the formulation of good sentences and paragraphs. Oral presentations of reports and research are given with an artistic component. Students practice lengthy recitation of epic poems. Class plays usually come from Roman or medieval history. Biographies are assigned for reports.
Shadows, landscapes, and color contrasts are taken up in painting. Handwork relates to form and structure as the children design and create a gusseted stuffed animal. They continue to develop their skills with tools in wood carving, creating objects that serve the human or animal world.
In Grade 6, the string players join the brass players for a class orchestra, which continues in 7th and 8th grades. In chorus and orchestra for these grades, the students learn more complex and challenging vocal and instrumental arrangements, demanding attention in the lesson and more instrument practice outside of class. Singing focuses on two and three-part choruses, songs of the minstrels and middle ages, and recorders in descant, alto and tenor voices. Eurythmy expands to include simple tone eurythmy whereby students learn gestures which correspond to musical forms. A greater depth is sought in this art form with geometrical forms and transformations. English continues with more emphasis on reading, writing and grammar. In Spanish a new lesson book with vocabulary, grammar, and verb work is introduced. Earlier understanding of grammatical concepts is strengthened and verbs are now conjugated. Students are reciting poetry and singing songs from the modern world. Students are also reading more complex literature, such as a story of Cesar Chavez written entirely in Spanish.
The Middle School Dance Program is intended to bring to the students a measure of proficiency, confidence, and cooperation in movement when dancing. The dances taught include: swing, cha cha, waltz, and foxtrot. These dances require partners, which promote a socially healthy exchange between the boys and the girls. The 6th grader learns the basics of each of the dances during the spring semester and is invited to the Middle School Spring Dance.
A transition from cooperative games to competitive sports begins in Grade 6. Basic fundamentals and proper skill development is emphasized. The curriculum culminates in a Medieval Fair, involving area Waldorf schools, in which students in a medieval period atmosphere, meet outdoor movement challenges that include group initiative events and individual obstacle courses.
Sixth grade is the gateway to pre-adolescence and idealism. In their studies of Rome the children are grounded so that through their physical awareness they can begin to discover what “I” means for them. In the Middle Ages they begin to venture out toward the unknown to find what, in the world, they are asked to address. The stories of the Grail offer an introduction to their quest in life. In summary, this year is both an ending and a beginning.