The Waldorf Curriculum: Grade Five

Block Rotations and Subject Descriptions



As he or she progresses through Grades One through Eight, the Waldorf class teacher must determine not only what will be taught, but also how and when. The “block rotation” presented here, as well as the descriptions of the subjects to be taught and the week-by-week approach to this teaching, will hopefully inspire class teachers to develop their own modus operandi for this challenging task.

Note: Elements of Grade Five, a downloadable file with many images of student work from this grade, as well as a class play, may be purchased at

Eugene Schwartz leads Online Conferences on Grades 1-8 for teachers, homeschoolers, and parents. For information, visit:

Fifth Grade Main Lesson Block Rotation Eugene Schwartz, class teacher

September 5 – September 28 Botany October 1 – October 19 Mathematics October 22 – November 9 North American Geography November 13 – November 30 Language Arts December 3 – December 21 Ancient Myths and History January 7 – January 25 Mathematics January 28 – February 15 North American Geography February 25 – March 15 Ancient Myths and History March 18 – March 27 Language Arts April 8 – May 3 Work on Class Play May 6 – May 17 Ancient Myths and History May 20 – May 24 Class Trip May 28 – June 7 Botany • Our Class Play school performances will be on May 2nd and 3rd. • We will go on curriculum-related day trips to the New York Botanical Gardens and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dates TBA



In Fourth Grade, the children had Zoology as their first natural science block, studying the creatures that move in and around the earth. This year we move one step closer to the earth itself, studying the plant kingdom; next year we penetrate the earth itself, with the sixth grade Mineralogy block. As the children “incarnate” more fully into their own bodies, the science blocks reflect that movement and provide an objective picture of their inner experience. Rather than dissect plants and analyze the parts, the science approach used in the lower school stresses the healthy activity of the senses: the children will learn most through what they can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. In our technological time, when our senses are deadened through their dependence on “ready-made” impressions gained through photographs, TV, microscopy, etc., we want to do everything possible to bring the children’s senses to life, and science is a stimulating means to this goal. Our methodology relies very much on the botanical work of J. W. Goethe, a nineteenth century researcher known best for his poetry and drama, but no less important for his scientific work. Goethe stressed the principle of metamorphosis in the life of the plant, i.e., the ever-changing forms of roots, stems, leaves and sepals that find their conclusion in flower and fruit. With its concern for the formative elements in the plant, this approach emphasizes the synthetic, rather than analytic modus operandi, a method that we believe is healthier for the fifth grader. Main lesson book work will include drawings of plant parts and families, charts describing plants growth, compositions and poems about plant life. A field trip to the New York Botanical Gardens will provide an experience of plant growth in different zones of the world.

Part One Week One: Differences between minerals and animals; the plant as a mediator in the world of nature. Roots, leaves and flowers as the basic plant gestures. The parts of the flowering plant. Contraction and expansion; the growth of the plant from old seed to new seed. Week Two: Plant growth from the equatorial tropics to the Arctic Circle. My own observation of plant growth from a tropical beach at sea level to the top of Mount Haleakala in Hawaii. Plants in the environment. Week Three: The Monocotyledons (grasses, grains) and the Dicotyledons (woody-stemmed, fruits) as a fundamental polarity in the plant world. The Lily as representative of the monocotyledons; the Rose as representative of the dicotyledons; the lore of the flowers in history. Grains and fruits. Part Two Week One: Lower and higher orders of plants: fungi, algae, ferns, seaweed, and their relationship to the flowering plants. Week Two: Coniferous and deciduous trees, in forests in settled areas. The oak, and its many appearances in history and geography. Types of wood, and the uses to which trees are put; the disappearing forests. The insect world and its relationship to the plant kingdom. Ants, bees and butterflies. Mathematics With the study of fractions in fourth grade, the children’s work in “arithmetic” came to an end, and what they learn from this point on is “mathematical,” involving less manipulation and more conceptualization. There are three goals in this year’s math work: the solidifying of those skills learned in the previous grades, learning to express fractions as decimals, and understanding some basic geometrical concepts. By the end of fourth grade, many children in the class showed a good understanding of decimal concepts, and were able to do simple problems with decimals in all four operations; we will thoroughly review this material. We will also learn the metric system and continue our work with money problems to provide practical application of decimal concepts. Great progress was made last year, but a number of children are still challenged by the basics, and I will continue to provide help here. Besides our work in math blocks, we will also work on basic math skills and “mental arithmetic” two or three times a week at the beginning of main lesson times throughout the year. Once a week, throughout the year, there will be math homework assignments. Part One Week One: Review of the Four Operations, with a special emphasis on long division. Review of decimals learned in fourth grade. Week Two: Problems involving measurement of time, linear and volumetric measurement, measurement of weight. Word problems and situational problems involving measurement. Week Three: Fractions, especially factoring, lowest common denominators and division of fractions. Part Two Week One: Word problems involving fractions and decimals. Week Two: Geometry, learned through freehand geometrical drawing. Understanding the line, the arc, the point, the circle. Week Three: Triangles; the Theorem of Similar Triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem. North American Geography In Fourth Grade, the children were introduced to the subject of Geography through the study of their “local surroundings”, venturing as far as the Hudson River Valley. This year, their horizons will be broadened considerably as we plunge headlong into the multitude of contrasts that are to be found throughout the North American continent. Our study will place a special emphasis on the United States, of course, but also cover Canada and Mexico. Since we are as interested in “cultural geography” as in physical geography, we will look not only at mountains, rivers and prairies, but also at the Native American tribes that lived so harmoniously with their varied environments, as well as the biographies of individuals who seem to exemplify a particular geographical setting. To further enrich the subject, we will learn regional poetry, tall tales and songs. We will learn something about the way our nation in governed. Main lesson book work will include the drawing of maps and landscapes characteristic of the areas we study, as well as compositions based on classroom discussion. Part One Week One: An overview of the geographical features of the North American continent. How climate, altitude, soil and vegetation influence exploration and settlement. Polarities in geography: comparison of the Northeast and the Southwest; the Southeast and the Northwest. Native American tribes. Week Two: New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. The ocean: fishing and whaling; the mountain streams and rivers and the development of industry. The Yankee clippers and the independent spirit of New England, expressed in its poetry. Week Three: The Atlantic Seaboard and the Deep South. Life in a warm climate; the challenges of the rugged southern mountains; the lore of the Mississippi River; Jim Bowie and George Washington Carver. Part Two Week One: The Midwest and the American heartland. Chicago, Detroit and life around the Great Lakes. The role of the farm in the past and today. Paul Bunyan and the influence of the Scandinavian settlers. Week Two: The Southwest and the Rocky Mountain states. The influence of Spanish and Native American culture. Mexico. The contrast of the desert and the mountains. Week Three: The Pacific coast, from California to British Columbia. The Lewis and Clark expedition. Alaska and Hawaii. The influence of Spain, Russia and Japan on the West Coast. Language Arts Since language is basic to every subject that we learn, it could be said that we never stop studying “language arts”. Every main lesson block calls for the children to orally review subject matter presented by the teacher, to recite poetry linked to the block study, and to write compositions based on classroom discussions. The “Language Arts” blocks are special insofar as we go more deeply into grammar and grammatically at all times in school; I would be grateful if this were supported at home, as well. Part One Week One: review of the parts of speech. Review of types of letters and letter-writing. Week Two: The four types of sentences. Punctuation. Prepositions and prepositional phrases. Week Three: Direct and indirect quotations. Part Two Week One: Tense of verbs; past perfect, present perfect and future perfect. Week Two: Pronouns as subjects and objects of sentences. Ancient Myths and History Our study of ancient history will encompass the cultures of India, Persia, Babylonia/Chaldea, Egypt and Greece. We will span a time period stretching from about 3000 BC to 300 BC. We will approach this vast subject primarily through the mythologies of the great peoples that we study; as we enter more documented times, we will learn more of the architecture, sculptural and poetic achievements of ancient peoples. Our experience of Greece will also entail consideration of the lives of such individuals as Pythagoras, Socrates, Pericles and Alexander the Great. The study of history in fifth grade introduces the children to the roots of Western Culture, which, however maligned and neglected in our times, still constitutes the basis of our way of approaching and understanding the world today. If we but think that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras was a contemporary of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel, the Indian teacher Gautama Buddha, and the Chinese sage Lao Tze, we can realize the richness and formative power of those ancient times. Main lesson book work will include maps, drawings from the myths and historical scenes, passages from such ancient writings as the Vedas, the Zend Avesta, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, as well as original compositions. The theme of our class play may be drawn from our studies in ancient history. A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will provide an opportunity to experience ancient art first-hand. Part One Week One: Geography of the Asian Subcontinent. The gods of ancient India. The avatars of Vishnu: Krishna’s deeds. The Mahabarata and the Bhagavad Gita. Week Two: The Ramayana and the battle of gods and asuras. The caste system of ancient Hinduism. The life of Gautama Buddha and the arising of a new impulse in India. Week Three: Geography of ancient Persia. Zarathustra’s life and teachings: the battle of Light and Darkness. The wars of the Iranians and Turanians (which do not seem to be over yet!). The beginnings of farming and domestication of animals. Part Two Week One: Geography of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Ur and Babylon: the first cities in the ancient world. Chaldean astronomy; the Epic of Gilgamesh. Week Two: The geography of Egypt, “the gift of the Nile”. Egyptian myths; Ra, Isis and Osiris. Imhotep, Djoser and the Pyramids. The Sphinx. Week Three: Pharaoh, priests and scribes. Everyday life in ancient Egypt. Temple construction, mummification and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Egypt’s continuity over 3000 years. Part Three Week One: Geography of Greece and Asia Minor. Greek myths and epics: The Iliad and The Odyssey. The rise of Athens and Sparta and their contrasting ways of life. Week Two: The Persian War. The “Golden Age” of Athens. Greek architecture, sculpture and drama. From Socrates to Aristotle. Week Three: The life and times of Alexander the Great Form Drawing and Painting This is the last year in which we will do the freehand drawing of forms; in sixth grade we will begin to work with straightedge and compass. Our form drawing work this year will involve some continuation of the braided forms learned in fourth grade. We will also draw forms adapted from some of the ancient cultures that we are studying in history, e.g., Egyptian architectural motifs, and designs from Greek shields and jewelry. The careful freehand drawing of purely geometrical forms such as triangles and hexagons will lay the foundation for our studies of Geometry in our second math block. The content of our paintings will be related to our Geography, Botany and History main lesson blocks. Using light washes of a single color as the “ground” or “mood” on which to work, we will paint characteristic North American landscapes, e.g., a southwestern mesa, or a New England autumn. Later, we will “grow” flowering plants on our paper out of water and color. The gods of India, and the architectural wonders of Egypt and Greece, will also be among the subjects with which we will work this year. Class Play Our class play will be Themistocles, a play that I have drawn from our Ancient Myths and History studies. It tells the story of the great naval strategist who led Athens to victory in the Second Persian War. Once again, I hope that parents will be able to help with costumes and sets; year by year, your children will assume a greater part of these responsibilities, too.