Book Review: Teaching Science through the Grades July 21 2020

Teaching Science Through the Grades Waldorf PublicationsTeaching Science through the Grades, edited by David Mitchell

This rich collection of essays on the unique approach to teaching science used in Waldorf schools around the world, leads teachers and all readers through the development of the science curriculum, reflecting in turn, the development of the child.

It is not so easy to understand this very different approach to science teaching. Waldorf schools follow the path of Goethe, not Newton. Goethe developed an experiential path of knowledge in the sciences, avoiding the more theoretical approach that is so common in modern teaching. Science begins in the kindergarten with cultivating in children the capacity to observe, to notice changes, to rejoice in nature, and to understand living things out of this innate tendency. As the child grows, the teacher capitalizes on the easy areas of developmental interest while still encouraging the noticing of everything around: the sounds, the scents, the colors, the abundant growth, the changing of the seasons, the habits of animals, and the landscape as it is shaped by all living things — including human beings!

Scientific study becomes a little more formal in fourth grade with the examination of animals as they relate to human beings. In fifth grade, the investigation of plants follows with much more technical language and attention to botanists and their studies, but also with a continued reminder of the relationship of these living things to the life of the children, the lives of people. Open-hearted gratitude is always encouraged for all that the plant and animal kingdoms offer to the people of the earth.

When a child turns twelve, with the onset of puberty hot on the heels of every youngster, a new kind of objectivity and thinking is possible.  This makes the introduction of lifeless science possible.  Minerals, rocks, stones, gems, caves, and mountains are explored with the skills now cultivated over the previous six years of keen observation, love and gratitude for the things and beings of the earth, and limitless interest in all that is around us.  Physics is introduced in grade six and this is built upon through seventh and eighth grades. By high school; observation, heightened interest, the pursuit of natural curiosity, dedication to exploration, and analytical thinking are solid habits of study in Waldorf students.

Teaching Science through the Grades carries readers through these phenomena and this approach, giving a sense of why and how science is taught in all Waldorf schools. Capacities to be developed are the goals of this method with social ideals of participation and sharing discoveries as an added benefit to this approach. No studying the theories of others to be memorized and proven in pre-developed experiments in controlled laboratories for Waldorf students or teachers!  Life is the curriculum and science is all around us. That’s what students learn to trust in our world. Waldorf teachers are cultivating the Newtons, Einsteins, Pasteurs, Curies, and Leibnitzes of the future, leading them through the path to sciences that these giants of thinking followed themselves —  experience, observation, clear thinking!