The uniqueness of the Waldorf curriculum lies primarily in how and when the children are taught, rather than in what is taught. In presenting material, first comes the encounter; then encounter becomes experience; and out of experience crystallizes the concept. Perception, feeling, idea: three steps in a genuine learning process that prepares the intellect for the abstract and conceptual thinking which will become possible later, in adolescence.
Waldorf schools are organized to make the relationship between student and teacher as fruitful as possible. In the elementary grades, this is accomplished by the unique Class Teacher/Main Lesson system. Each morning the children spend the first period of the day - the two-hour Main Lesson - with their Class Teacher.
During this time when young minds are freshest, they will intensively study a block from one of the core subjects. In this way the rhythm of the day begins with work which requires the most attention, and each academic subject can receive special focus during the course of the year.
The teacher has time to enter each subject in depth and to approach it in a variety of ways; time to enliven each topic with poetry, painting, modeling and drama. Thus, intellectual learning is always combined with artistic, rhythmical and practical work. After about a month, when one topic has been fully explored, a new Main lesson block is introduced.
Subjects which require regular repetition in shorter lessons (foreign languages, for example) occupy the later part of the morning. Afternoons are devoted to activities that are more social in nature: games and sports, painting, handwork and gardening.
There is a wonderful coordination and harmony of subject material throughout the curriculum. What is being taken up in each Main Lesson block appears in subtle ways in the activities of the afternoon. The challenges of handwork and the fine arts are treated not as separate, unimportant "options" but as vital parts of a complete education.
Two great rhythms work concurrently in the Waldorf grade school: the daily rhythm of lessons, and the rhythm of seasonal festivals celebrated throughout the year. The student of this age needs the ordering quality of rhythmic activity in order to develop the security and confidence necessary for academic achievement and self-disciplined work habits.
The close community relationship established between a class and its teacher in the main academic subjects is balanced by lessons taught by subject specialists, so that the children have a healthy experience of many different adults. Subjects such as foreign languages, music, eurythmy, handwork and physical education may be taught by class teachers with the necessary skills, or by other specially-trained teachers.