The Art Curriculum in Waldorf Education

Our artistic philosophies, goals and practices

By Marcia Seymour

The Waldorf curriculum is fundamentally an artistic curriculum. It seeks to engage the developing child as his or her capacities for thinking, feeling and creating unfold. Teachers strive to imbue the rich and varied curriculum, which addresses these predictable stages of child development, with art and music, movement, and a true connection to what it means to be a human being living responsibly and actively on the earth. From Grade One through Grade Eight, the children create their own lesson books for each subject they study. Close attention is paid to illustrations, handwriting, and the artistic composition of each page, whether it is learning the alphabet in Grade One or studying organic chemistry in Grade Eight. Some highlights for the children include creating detailed colored maps, learning calligraphy while studying the Middle Ages, and shading beautiful geometric forms.

The Qualities of Color: Painting

The world of the child is full of color and activity. In Grades One through Three, watercolor painting is a means to introduce to the children the qualities of color. We begin with an experience of each primary color: red, blue and yellow. Areas of deep luscious color move into thin veils of shining luminosity on the wet page. After an introduction the colors then begin to relate to one another. The teacher may tell about a day that boisterous red stamped into the room, how yellow skipped off to a corner and blue slipped silently under a table. The children watch as the teacher paints the story, just with color. Then each child re-enacts the story on his or her own paper. By Grade Three simple figures and forms out of the main lesson work are incorporated into painting. While the children learn about how people build their homes in harmony with their environment, their painting and drawing will incorporate these themes. During the study of animals in Grade Four, the teacher finds an excellent opportunity to begin mixing the browns, tans, and grays of the natural world. Watercolor painting continues through Grade Eight as the children learn new techniques which include painting on stretched dry paper and using thin veils to build up color and form in a composition.

Developing Technique: Drawing

Drawing begins with beeswax crayons in first grade. Block crayons are used to create washes or planes of color, and stick crayons are used to draw with line. Writing usually begins with thick colored pencils; as the children get older, they write with fountain pens. Thinner pencils with rich, creamy color are then used to create stunning illustrations and drawings to compliment their writing. In Grade Six, work with charcoal and drawing the simple three-dimensional forms begins. Techniques of perspective and careful, accurate drawing are taken up during Grade Seven, and the study of the Renaissance with its changing view of the world. In Grade Eight, the drawing of portraits complements the study of historical figures.

Conversing In Form: Sculpture

Throughout the grade school years, children are working with modeling forms. In the early grades, colored beeswax is molded into the many characters of fairy tales and fables. To the delight of the older child, clay and plasticine are introduced and used to model houses, animals, plant forms, platonic solids, and free form sculptures. A free form sculpture may have the theme of a conversation. How do we speak with one another, how do we listen and engage ourselves with others? The teacher will use the arts to address the social arena of the classroom, to draw out and develop sensitive, courageous and compassionate students.

Appreciating the benefits art brings to children and using art in every aspect of our curriculum, allows Waldorf schools to help children become independent, socially conscious individuals capable of healthy, productive and creative lives.