Stories for Upper Grade Students April 19 2016

       Stories for Upper Grade Students

            When puberty begins to enter the scene in a Waldorf classroom many changes rush in on young people. Physically they change but, perhaps, more importantly, inwardly comes a remarkable change of consciousness. It could be called the beginning of an adult biography where childhood is left behind with certainty.

            The many transformations in youngsters can be challenging and frightening as it can be hard to manage all the changes. Hurting others with words and attempting things known to be forbidden to see what might happen are new experiences children experiment with. Parents might note, “I know my child and he would never lie.” Or a parent might say, “My child would never shoplift (or attempt something so dangerous; or deliberately cheat, or any number of other things that were impossible before this time). But suddenly the child feels power and the ability of giving life and its opposite. In the young person new ideas enter into consciousness.

            At this time is becomes important to think of the child’s true and higher self. Misdemeanors or illegal actions must be dealt with quickly with appropriate consequences directed but without harshness or judgment. To remember who the child really is in his or her best character, understanding that these developing pre-teens are capable of many downright dumb experiments that instruct and pass away. To give the student the impression that he is condemned to a label of “bad” or “untrustworthy” is unbearable for one so young. This can engender bitterness or instincts of revenge or retaliation. Warmth and decisiveness and unwavering adherence to whatever the consequence is for a misdeed are important. Once the consequence is completed, the youngster should know that the burden of that misdeed is lifted and that the child’s goodness can again prevail. This may need to be repeated a number of time before the young person regains equilibrium.

            In a Waldorf school, stories, always a primary vehicle for teaching, become even more important as the student struggles to understand the changes happening in body, soul, and consciousness. Boys need heroes to admire to develop an inner capacity of idealism and courage to overcome a tendency to overpower others with their considerable physical strength. Girls need beauty to build a sense of truthfulness and courage for compassion to guard against coquettishness and the power they hold in their flowering beauty and womanliness. Of course boys need beauty and girls need heroes, as well, but one can observe tendencies in one gender and the other that ring true and become archetypal behavior to be addressed.

            Jakob Streit was a Waldorf teacher who understood these things deeply and who had a knack for storytelling that he used to help young people through these tumultuous times.

            In grade six and seven medieval history is a taught. This period abounds with wonderful biographies of knights, and kings, peasants and emperors who demonstrate the nobleness of aspiring, compassionate, human beings at their best.

           Jakob Streit told such tales in his small but potent book, Three Knight Tales. Here is an excerpt from one of those good stories that gives a little taste of how rich one of those tales is. Read these to your sixth grade or have these stories as readers for early seventh graders and nourish the troubled souls of your growing pre-teenagers:


           So they sold their horses and boarded the ship that was returning to Naples and Salerno. During the long voyage Henry had plenty of time to contemplate his life and his illness. It had broken into his life like a dark thundercloud. But he had not forgotten his dream on the night he became ill, of the moth in the flame that had come out a butterfly, a butterfly of hope. He could not talk about it with anyone, not even Odo, who prayed to the Sun for him day after day on the deck, and read every wish in his eyes.

            When they arrived in Salerno, they asked the innkeeper how it was with the doctors in the city. There was supposed to be one who even knew about treating leprosy. “It is said that his name is Piguno,” replied the innkeeper. “He was a long time in Arabia and brought back unusual medicinal knowledge with him. He heals with blood and bloodletting mostly. There are a lot of rumors about him, but he is of good character.”

            Later on in the story when the knight was still searching for a cure for his unexpected affliction…

            The next morning, Doctor Piguno led the young maiden into a special chamber, and told the knight to wait in a chair in front of the door. Poor Henry had not shut his eyes the whole night. His pity for Mary became greater and greater so that he thought about rejecting the sacrifice. But how could he do that to the pure hearted girl? Suddenly Henry heard a rustling noise as if a knife was being unsheathed. It was like an explosion within him! He banged his fists on the locked door and screamed: “Open the door, Piguno!”

            Find out what the strange illness and the conclusion of the story might be in this little treasure of inspiring stories for twelve, thirteen and fourteen year olds. Witness the power of deep stories on the young . . . yes, especially in puberty!

            Also find Geron and Virtus, Columban, and The Star Rider and Anna McLoon by the same author. You will not regret it (and neither will your pre-teenagers!)