Grade Five is referred to as the “golden year” because students at this age are enthusiastic about learning, eager for new challenges, and capable of hard work and creativity.
Most students have good learning habits and are able to begin more detailed independent work. The language and history curriculum lets students explore ancient civilizations including India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Students hear the mythologies of these cultures and discuss their philosophies of creation, life and death, and religion. This year marks the change from prehistory and mythic representations to formal Western History (classical Greece).
“Waldorf education has for seventy years been putting into effect what major brain researchers and educators are discovering about the human mind.”
Professor, San Jose University
Through study of the ancient Greeks, students develop an appreciation for the balance between skill and beauty, art and science, earthly life and spirituality. In the spring, students participate in a five-event Greek Olympiad with Grade Five students from other Waldorf schools, allowing them to test their skills in a celebratory environment.
Geography is viewed in terms of how it influenced civilizations’ world views and connections to other cultures of the time. Working with early forms of writing, geometry, and architecture, students experience some of the roots of modern Western culture.
Botany is also introduced, bringing in concepts of the balance between beauty and nature, awareness of the natural world, and the connection between scientific observation and appreciation of beauty.
It is now possible for children to look back in time and develop the seeds of historical awareness. Looking forward in time, they are beginning to understand causality and to postulate how something might unfold.
The heart of the fifth-grade curriculum revolves around the great stories and history of the Ancient Indian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek civilizations, focusing on the different approaches complex ancient cultures have taken in developing ways of living and thinking in their unique environments. These stories include tales from the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Gilgamesh, the life of Buddha, the Illiad and Odyssey, as well as Egyptian and Chinese myths.
This look into the past is complemented by the study of North American geography, geometry, and botany, which offer glimpses of laws or patterns that exist in the world independently of human actions.
Throughout the fifth-grade curriculum, these two strands weave and connect, feeding the soul life of ten/eleven-year-olds at this stage of their development.
The study of ancient history explores the emergence of complex societies in different parts of the world.
Building on our understanding of Indigenous cultures in North America, the students move their focus to the fertile region between the two great rivers of Mesopotamia to understand the transition from nomadic to sedentary agrarian cultures.
They also look at how complex cultures developed in India, Egypt, and China: Great rivers with seasonal flooding created a landscape that allowed a greater number of people to live together, making the development of hierarchical city-based societies possible. The mythologies of these ancient cultures help us to gain a picture of what was important to these people, in life as well as death. Their inventions and innovations provide the basis for many scientific and technological developments in European civilizations much later.
We end the year with a look at Greek civilizations, which developed in the rocky landscapes and islands around the Northeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea–not far from Egypt or Mesopotamia, and not far from the overland trade routes to India and China. In Greece, the art of asking questions–about the way knowledge is gained as well as the ways of the world–gained great importance, which resonates in our Grade Five students as they are becoming more independent in their thinking. This introduction to the ideas and innovation of great thinkers in ancient times forms the basis for understanding our way of approaching and comprehending the world today.
Geography: North America
Building on last year’s Local Geography morning lesson blocks, students will extend their horizon to the whole continent and plunge headlong into the multitude of contrasting landscapes and ways of life. We start with a look at the bare bones of Turtle Island: the ancient rocks of the East Coast, the relatively young mountain chains of the West Coast, and the big basin of the prairies with huge bodies of water in the middle. Learning to make a map of North America takes a lot of work, but it really brings home the sheer size and physical geography of this continent, while individual projects about the provinces and territories of Canada forge a more personal connection to specific landscapes.
Last year the students studied animals, looking at the special gifts of each one and contrasting them with our own species. This year they move one step closer to the earth itself, studying the world of plants and building up a picture of the processes and relationships that characterize that world.
We explore the development of plant life on the earth over time and try to imagine what life as an alga, fungus, lichen, moss, fern, or coniferous tree would be like. Slowly the students are able to build up a picture of a natural world where each type of plant develops in a very specific context and contributes something very specific to its environment in turn. We will also explore flowering plants and trees, as well as the role of the pollinators that are such a crucial part of their world.
Around the school, there are many opportunities to experience, observe, and draw some of the plants we are studying. The children are encouraged to make close observations of a specific tree and how it changes over time. The classroom is covered in flowering plants which allows the students to forge a personal connection to the plant world as well as to the world of geometry.
With the study of fractions last year, the children’s work in “arithmetic” has begun to metamorphose, and what they have learned from this point on becomes “mathematical,” involving less manipulation and more conceptualization. There are three goals in this year’s math work: solidifying those skills learned in the previous grades, learning to express fractions as decimals, and seeing the beauty of geometry as well as learning some basic geometrical concepts. Students continue with the metric system of measurement and work with money problems to provide practical applications of decimal concepts. They continue to work on math skills and mental arithmetic most mornings throughout the year.
The practice includes:
Number Sense I: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers (including long division with two-digit divisors and vertical addition, subtraction, and multiplication)
Measurement: Length, time, and money
Geometry: Angles, polygons, freehand rendering
Number Sense II: Fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
Order of Operations (PEMDAS)
Geometry is all around us, particularly in the natural world. Geometry can be found in the stars and orbits of planets above and in the formation of crystals in the depths of the earth. It is found in leaf formations or in the petals of a flower, in the work of animals such as the honeycomb, and lastly within the human form, the golden mean.
The emphasis of this subject is for the children to be introduced to the “language” of geometry and to have an artistic experience while drawing geometric shapes. To achieve this, the students do not use instruments such as the ruler or compass. Instead, the children draw circles, lines, and other forms freehand. The intention is for the children to learn geometry through their hands and hearts first and later through their hands and head or intellect.
As the children become familiar with the language of geometry and have lived into it artistically, they will have the opportunity to solve problems more formally in sixth grade and beyond. Students will use the compass and ruler in sixth grade for more precision and then be introduced to Constructive Geometry in seventh grade.
Language Arts Skills
Summary of Language Arts Skills:
Recitation/Articulation, Public Speaking
Written Expression (summarizing, answering questions, descriptive writing)
Reading and Reading Comprehension (class readers, books about animals)
In Grade Five, students focus on consciously exploring aspects of French grammar and expanding comprehension skills in oral and written French. Verses and songs remain an important element of the lessons. The work on conversational skills includes simple questions and answers about everyday topics like weather, hobbies, food, and pets.
Students continue working with stories that are first presented orally and then in written form, in order to develop reading and comprehension skills. Reading out loud is practiced in small groups, using scenes and dialogues from the stories.
With the children being more exposed to written language, we are able to venture into spelling this year. In many, often playful exercises, the children have the opportunity to put their spelling to the test, by writing down familiar French words and phrases from memory. In terms of grammar, we work specifically on verb conjugations, as this is a challenging concept for English-speaking students. Recitations, pattern drills, and grammar exercises help them to retain the verb forms and to develop an understanding of their use in spoken and written language.
While most of the class is conducted in French, we switch to English whenever grammar or content needs to be explored in more detail.
In Grade Five, art lessons aim to reflect the themes of the Main Lesson topics to support the children in their developmental stage. As the children’s awareness and interest in their environment increases, drawing lessons move to more precision in observation and technique while emphasizing the artistic connection with the subject. Like the harmony and beauty brought forth in Greek culture, we seek aesthetic beauty and balance in our work. The focus on tonal value becomes a more common element this year, along with a more conscious use of colour. The main mediums the children work with remain wet-on-wet painting and drawing with pencil and pencil crayons.
Fifth graders are ready to embrace a more complex project of knitting on a round- typically a pair of knitted socks, alternately a pair of wrist warmers or leg warmersThe children are actively involved in their sock designs, including the calculations of stitches and the shaping process. They learn the new skill of knitting in a round, forming a ribbing pattern, and a different way of increasing and decreasing knitting to shape their socks to fit.
The children are guided to understand the complex pattern and to navigate through individual steps so that their independence, like their socks, grows. Mistakes call for corrections, and the class leans on the experience of their peers, often seeking and finding support within the group. At the same time, the emphasis is put on the functionality and beauty of the product in order to further a sense of work well done and the satisfaction of producing socks that work!
In Grade Five, the children have more ownership of the way they work together. They develop pride in the amount of work their group gets done and become aware that the division of labour allows for greater effectiveness.
Fall activities include weeding, harvesting, and spreading wood chips on the path to prepare the garden for winter. In the spring, the group helps prepare pathways around the gardens of younger grades and organizes themselves into weeding or planting groups. The students are involved in making choices about crops to be grown, provided they plant a root crop, a fruit, and a leaf crop as well as flowers (the traditional ingredients of an organic garden). They learn about companion planting, crop rotation, and “soil fatigue”. Increasingly, students also take on stewardship tasks around the playground.
The children explore parts in singing and recorder playing and learn valuable skills by listening as well as making music.
They continue to develop their ability to sing in tune with and without piano accompaniment, thus challenging their listening skills. Many songs are learned by rote, but the students also practice following along in a musical score, noticing musical terms and symbols. The ukulele continues to play a pivotal role in the music program.
Students continue to work on aural awareness by reviewing the major and minor modes studied last year. Violin and viola students continue to learn music in first position. Cello students learn more advanced applications of the extended hand as well as second and third position. Students continue to count, clap, and read rhythms in simple meters: 4/4 and 3/4 with an introduction of 6/8 time while adapting their bowing styles and articulation. In addition to the above technical aspects of playing, students study elements of music alongside musical terminology and begin to apply this knowledge when conversing about their repertoire. The students also have an opportunity to observe their own progress through the discipline of practice, while building up their confidence, and gaining a better understanding of their instrument. In the weekly ensemble class which accompanies individual lessons, the students are able to experience the special joy that comes from making music together as a group.
In choir, students sing together in unison and in harmony, practicing seasonal songs, rounds, performance pieces, and rhythmic singing games. Singing together in a larger group provides the children with the opportunity to expand their musical interests and talents and to practice controlled self-expression and self-discipline. The children continue to develop their ability to sing in tune with and without piano accompaniment, thus challenging their listening skills. Many songs are learned by rote, but the students also practice following along in a musical score, noticing musical terms and symbols. Participating in choir provides students a chance to experience the inherent beauty that exists in the collective study of music, while also practicing important skills such as perseverance, sense of responsibility, cooperation, focus, respect, and leadership.
In Physical Education, we continue to strive to develop positive attitudes toward physical activity through working on personal progress. Our focus is on becoming aware of one’s own skills, abilities, and attitudes, and how they are developing. We encourage empathy for self and others as well as self-discipline and the willingness to reflect on one’s progress. These qualities are important preconditions for creating the ability to cooperate within a group.
Team sports take centre stage: volleyball, basketball, soccer, and floor hockey.
In spring, our students meet with those of other Waldorf Schools for the traditional Greek pentathlon or Olympiad. In preparation, the disciplines of javelin, running, discus, Greek wrestling, and long jump are practiced. At the Olympiad event, the students are judged on the Greek ideals of athleticism, grace, and good sportsmanship.
LWS also provides opportunities to participate in larger team sports and individual sports events through recreational programs by the London District Catholic School Board. In September, the students participate in our annual Terry Fox Run, and at the beginning of October, we train students for cross-country running. In the spring, practicing for the annual Track and Field Meet (sprints, long distance and relay runs, long jump, softball, shot put, and accessible events) provides opportunities for the students to test their athletic skills.