The Lower School (Ages 7 to 14)
Children begin formal school at age seven when they enter Class 1 – the first class in the Lower School. Here they meet their Class Teacher who, ideally, will stay with them for the next eight years.
In the Lower School the curriculum is structured to accord with the child’s imagination and learning readiness. This is determined by the underpinning pedagogical philosophy that holds that children develop according to broadly universal phases, that abstract and conceptual thinking come more naturally to children at a later stage and that young children learn best when the teaching appeals foremost to their feelings and artistic sense. Subject matter is presented in a pictorial way in a context that emphasises rhythm, routine and repetition.
All the core subjects such as English, Maths, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, are studied in block periods of 3-4 weeks in the Main Lesson, which form the first lesson on every school day.
The Lower School curriculum
The Main Lessons are the corner stone. Lessons during the rest of the school day include regular practice lessons in English, Maths, eurythmy (a form of movement which is unique to Steiner schools) and modern languages, as well as lessons in games, painting, drawing, landwork, woodwork, clay modelling, handwork and music.
Music and Drama play an important part in school life and classes regularly perform plays. Singing and recorder playing form an integral part of the Main Lesson in the younger classes, leading to the formation of class orchestras.
In Class One time is spent encouraging good habits of classroom life and work, fostering a sense of respect for others, reverence for nature and learning to connect with and care for the environment.
Writing is introduced using pictures, rhymes and stories, and practised with form drawing and movement. Reading begins with the children’s own written work and familiar songs and poems. Listening and speaking skills are also practised, with nature stories and fairy tales from around the world. Number work is begun, again with pictures, rhymes and stories and the four processes are introduced. A start is made on learning times tables by heart.
Stories from legends and fables are the primary literary base for writing, speaking and reading. Cursive writing and composition are introduced. Reading skills continue to develop, working with word families, vowels and diphthongs, moving from familiar to new texts. Nature stories help the children to understand the cycles of nature, reinforced by walks. Maths work builds with mental practice and longer exercises, moving on to larger numbers, number bonds, odd and even numbers, columns and carrying over and simple geometrical form drawing.
The focus in the Main Lessons is on practical activities, including farming, gardening and building, and a building project. There are several field trips in connection with these topics.
The children begin to write full sentences from stories and activities, explore nouns, verbs, adjectives and punctuation, and move on to descriptive and creative writing. In maths, practice of all 12 tables continues; long multiplication and long division are introduced, as is money handling and change, and various forms of measurement – linear, liquids, solids and temporal.
The Main Lessons provide opportunities for more independent work, including individual project work and include local geography, local history, beginning with the school grounds and leading on to trips exploring the area; the Norse myths; a simple form of biology where the form and functions of humans and animals are introduced. In English, grammar work covers the tenses and parts of speech.
In maths, fractions are introduced, using all four processes; measurements, area work is continued and in form drawing Celtic knot work in particular is explored.
Main Lessons include: early civilisations of India, Persia, Babylonia and Egypt, moving on to classical ancient Greek history (the year culminates in a trip to the national Steiner school Olympic Games and the games lessons include preparation for this); Geography, which becomes regional, with a study of the British Isles; Botany, when they are introduced to plant life.
English work develops with direct speech, converting from active to passive voice, punctuation. In Maths, compass geometry is introduced, as is the decimal system.
At this stage in the curriculum calls on pupils’ emergent deductive, logical, analytical and critical faculties. Main Lessons include Physics where pupils are introduced to optics, sound and thermodynamics; Geology; History, focusing on the Roman Empire, with its practical, organised and legislative aspects, and Roman Britain, leading to a field trip to Hadrian’s Wall; the rise of Christianity, Saxon and Danish invasions of Britain, William the Conqueror. Geography now extends to European physical and human geography.
In English lessons, the conditional is taught, and there are regular dictations and comprehension exercises, whilst science and history blocks introduce report writing. In maths, percentages, profit and loss, simple interest and proportion and ratio are covered; geometry lessons introduce the use of the protractor.
Curriculum themes mirror the pupils’ exploration of the outer world and their inner emotional turmoil. Main Lessons include an exploration of inner feelings through wish, wonder and surprise Main Lesson; in history they explore the Middle Ages and the transition from feudalism to the Renaissance, and the Age of Discovery with the great voyages of the 15th to the 17th centuries. In the Astronomy Main Lesson they study the night skies, linked with the history of the great voyages of discovery; Geography continues this by moving to World Geography, including focusing on one continent and looking at the cultural, material and economic conditions of human societies. Science continues with mechanics and inorganic chemistry and combustion. Human biology emphasises health and hygiene and examines our breathing, circulation and digestion and some sex education.
In English the students write business letters and compositions on many different subjects, and revise the grammatical forms of direct and indirect speech. They also study a work of fiction together. In maths they are introduced to graphs and algebra, whilst continuing to build on geometry.
In this final year with the class teacher, each pupil has to work independently on a substantial project of their own choosing, and together they prepare for a major drama production which marks the end of their time in the Lower School and is a major event in the school calendar. Physics covers magnetism, electricity, and electromagnetism. Organic Chemistry studies substances which build up the human body whilst Biology examines proportion in the human body, the skeleton, muscles and the human eye and ear. Meteorology is introduced with an overview of global weather systems and the study of cloud formations, rain and wind. History Main Lessons cover the major trends in the development of Western culture from the 17th Century to the present, examining in particular revolutionary periods, including the English Reformation and Civil War and the revolutions in America, France and Russia. Biographies of inventors, industrialists and social reformers are an on-going feature in these lessons.
English lessons continue with sentence analysis, literature study, creative writing and narrative and descriptive prose. Maths moves on to more complex arithmetic using roots and powers, compound interest and surface areas and volumes and the five basic Platonic solids are calculated and constructed, whilst algebra continues with the theory of equations, introducing more variables.