Seventh Grade Rights of Passage, By Erika Danforth, Waldorf M.Ed. & Integrated Learning

May 31, 2008

One day on the playground, a Waldorf teacher was observing the movements of middle school children in comparison with their elementary school peers. “There was a distinct difference between the movement patterns in the youngsters after the fifth grade. Some of the sixth graders had suddenly shot up and were long-legged and lanky; they seemed to tip forward slightly from the waist up as they ran, and sometimes they stumbled. They had lost the grace of the younger children, and seemed to go abruptly from standing still to tearing around like mad, with no transition whatsoever.” (Koepke, 1992, p. 41) The changes occurring outwardly in the adolescents’ physical body mirror the transformation of their emotional body occurring within.

Historically, cultures recognized this transformation of adolescence as a significant rite of passage into adulthood. It was honored with ceremony and celebration. Today, while some indigenous cultures still maintain these initiation traditions, most children who grow up in Western society do not receive this type recognition for the transformation they are undergoing from the inside out. Some modern Western versions of initiation include adventure education and ropes course challenges that provide opportunities for social and emotional processing.

In the seventh grade at Waldorf schools, students study African culture. As part of their study, they learn about the tradition of initiation ceremonies for African boys and girls in different tribes, as boys prepare to be warriors and girls to be mothers and wives. One such initiation practice involved ‘trial by poetry.’

Seventh graders write their own initiation poems, following the powerful metaphoric format of the tribe. It allows the students to discover themselves through images and metaphors of the outer world. The format begins with the phrase, “Young Woman/Man you are:” and is followed by five metaphors. The short, well-defined format creates a canvas on which adolescents can express themselves. The writing is followed by a read-aloud, giving students the opportunity to share intimate insights with their peers into whom they are becoming. The following poems were written by Waldorf Teacher Trainees at Antioch in their study of seventh grade curriculum. Try it yourself…

Young man you are:

The warm tones lifting from a brass instrument

The spark of passion in a forest fire

A watchful owl over a field of workmice

A galloping steed on the desert of my life

An unspoken promise whispered into a lonely ear

By Aleshanee Aiken

Young woman you are:

A braid of joy, sorrow, and stardust;

A glass jewel held up to the sun;

Tears from a happy whale;

Crimson silk hidden beneath rough wool;

Laughter from a pocket of wind.

By Anna Scalera

Young woman you are:

A white lily about to open and blossom

The gentle breeze that calls everyone to play

The strong oak tree that gives shade to those who are weary

The harmony that makes the melody sound just right

A locked treasure box that is looking for the key

By Jen Davis

Young woman you are:

A ponderosa pine growing straighter and taller day by day,

An eagle flying high above the trees, able to see what is below her,

A wise wild iris who knows that it is best to grow in the sand and shade,

A mama grizzly bear that has the skill to defend her young from danger,

Young woman your strength is a mountain that can not be moved.

By Carrie Reuther

Young woman, you are:

A crop of lettuce gone right to seed

The mandala on the third day

The only boat on the river at dawn

An unmetered verse

And so many cups of coffee

By Greta Jee

Young woman you are:

A bud swelling in the spring

A ray of intuition dancing in the sunlight

A loom upon which the grandmothers weave

A cavernous womb, black as the night sky

The buffalo who faces the storm

By Erika Danforth


Nature Stories in the Waldorf Elementary Classroom by Carrie Reuther, Waldorf MEd Year-Round Program

April 13, 2008

In the Waldorf elementary classroom we use imagination to reach the students we teach. Instead of teaching new ideas to children about the natural world around them as a series of facts, we tell them stories. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that children learn best through pictorial representation; as Waldorf teachers we present much of the curriculum through story with many valuable facts imbedded in the narrative and description. The following is a sampling of a nature story I composed in my Waldorf curriculum class for kindergarten or first grade to explain the change of seasons from fall to winter.

The sun faded and the days had started to get shorter. The trees all around began to sing sweet melodies to Grandmother Wind. When the trees sang, beautiful colors appeared on them: crimson, rust, orange, gold and lemon yellow. These colors then awakened the leaf children who loved to frolic and play with Grandmother Wind. One of their favorite games was to see how long they could float in the sky with Grandmother Wind, before they would eventually tumble to the earth below. However, as the days became shorter the leaf children could not play as long during the day and began to argue about who would play when and where. When Grandmother Wind heard them bickering she was sad at the sight of their arguing.

“Have patience dear children. It is important your playing days are shorter now and you will soon know why.”

“When will we know why Grandmother Wind?” they uttered back.

“You will know soon enough,” she answered reassuringly.

And so it was that the leaf children kept playing and trusted that Grandmother Wind knew why their playing days were getting shorter and shorter. As the days continued many of the leaf children noticed they were tired more easily and did not want to play as long. The leaf children felt content to lie on the earth’s floor, because it felt soft and warm to them. They watched Silvia the Squirrel gather nuts and hide them in strange spots all over the meadow. The leaf children’s game now was to count all of the places Silvia hid her nuts. So, their play changed from that of the sky to that of the earth. When Grandmother Wind saw they were all comfortable lying on the earth she knew it was time to talk to them.

“Your blanket over the earth is very important,” she whispered to them. “Now Father Winter will know it is time for him to come. And soon enough he will tell the snow fairies it is their time to come. Without your help he would not know. Thank you leaf children, you are so dear to me.”

Just then Grandmother Wind moved more strongly about as she felt Father Winter approaching.