Waldorf-Inspired Middle School Science
Our family is in yet another state of transition. One child is approaching nine, one is about to enter the teen years, I am in the middle of my seventh 7-year cycle of life, and both my husband and I are experiencing growth with work. Add in the constant state of flux due to the pandemic and it feels big. And these tween/teen years? Wow. I could write a novel about what that's like, but I'm not sure it would helpful to anyone! What I am sharing about and what I hope is helpful, is our Waldorf-inspired plan for middle school science. I've put a lot of care into how we are approaching science with this blossoming boy and his growing intellect and I'm (cautiously) excited to share our plan with you.
In Grades 1 - 5, Waldorf-inspired science is about observing and experiencing natural phenoma - the seasons, the path of the sun, the phases of the moon, how plants grow, comparing structures of plants and animals. As we learn about these things, we don't necessarily explain the reasons behind what the child is observing and experiencing. The goal is for the child to learn how to be an excellent observer, reporter, and questioner and to preserve the wonderf of childhood.
For example, when we studied seasons for the first time in Grade 1, we noticed what changes occured throughout the year. What was happenig to the plants? The birds? The wild animals? What did it feel like in autumn and how was it different in winter? What foods were readily available locally - and which ones weren't? It is not until Grade 6 that we get into the why behind those seasonal changes - i.e. the rotation of the Earth on its axis and its orbit around the Sun. Waldorf provides a lovely, gentle, holistic way to dive into science while preserving some of magic and mystery. It also allows for an emotional connection rather than just an intellectual one, one that I hope means my children will be adults who care deeply about our planet. Marveling at clouds, birds' nests, and the awesome variety in a handful of sand will certainly serve them well. I wouldn't change a thing about it!
We've finished up our Grade 6 year, our first year exploring the why. Why does the moon seem to change shape? Why do we see different stars at different times of year? Making this transition from wondering to knowing has been challenging.
This child I'm teaching has as strong inclination toward science and engineering. He always has. When he was a toddler, no object with moving parts went without examination. His toys, the wheels on the feeding chair, my household appliances - he wanted to flip them over, take them apart, etc.. He needed to know what they did and how they did it. One of his favorite outings was to go to "The Vaccum Store" (aka Target) and take a spin through the vacuum aisle. He wanted me to read him the features of every single machine, examine the hoses, cords, and switches, etc. It is no surprise that his current shortlist of possible careers includes several fields of engineering as well a astrophysics!
Steiner told us to "Teach the children before you," and to me, that means adjusting and adapting the content and methodology to help my child follow his life path - right to Mars if he wants!
For him to be able to pursue his goals, he needs a solid math foundation (which he certainly has in large part due to the Waldorf approach) as well as a solid foundation in hard sciences - physics, chemistry, astronomy, and more. All of these are introduced in Grade 6 and deepened somewhat in Grade 7 in our Waldorf curriculum, but I do not think they go deep enough.
This child wants more than a bare-bones explanation. He wants to chew on scientific principles - real meat. The resource I originally chose for Grade 7 chemistry has just a few pages of experiments, a few bullet points for each subject area, and that's all. The other disciplines as included in our purchased curriculum - physics, geology, meterology - all have some great content, but are just not enough. Astronomy is much like Astronomy for Grade 6 - some great scientific principles, but also pages and pages of Greek mythology and astrology. It is a perfectly sound Waldorf curriculum, but this kid needs more depth.
And here comes an unpopular opinion: I think astrology is very interesting and I know it is important to many folks, but it is not part of our family's science curriculum. Astrology is part of a Waldorf-true curriculum, however. Steiner was an Anthroposophist and his understanding of the relation between human beings and the cosmos is integral to all that he did. So, I understand why astrology is in this Waldorf curriculum and that many Waldorf homeschoolers desire that, but we are merely Waldorf-inspired .
So what am I going to do going forward? What am I going to use?
And what will my lessons look like?
Here is how we are going to remain Waldorf-inspired.
Things I'm Keeping
Most of Steiner's General Topics: Grade 6 was Astronomy, Geology, Mineralogy, and Physics. Grade 7 calls for Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Meterology, Physiology, Mechanics, and Ecology.
Phenomenological Approach: We will start with observing and wondering about those observations before we seek to understand the scientific concepts at work. This means we will do the labs first. He will observe and reflect before we discuss the concept. I started doing this earlier in the year with our not-Waldorf curriculum and it has worked beautifully. He is thinking deeply and wanting to know more before the information is even presented. When he's right, he's gleeful, and when he's wrong - it helps keep some of that magic and mystery alive a little longer.
Sensory Experiences: We will continue doing hands-on at every opportunity. He will be doing experiments several times a week.
Whole to Parts: We will be focusing on the "big picture" before we move to the details. This means that as we study biology, we will not just study unicellular organisms on a microscope slide, but as part of the rain drop, the puddle, the stream. The surroundings, the elements, the man-made effects that work on that organism are just as important if not more so than learning the structures and the innerworkings of that being. As Steiner explained, if you do not learn about the plant in its setting, you are not really learning about the plant at all!
Artistic Expression: Science without feeling creates mad scientists (That's a paraphrase, but an apt one!) I want my children to feel connected to what they are learning about, to feel compassion and responsibility to use their knowledge wisely. Learning poetry and music about key concepts, reading biographies of important scientists, and creating beautiful main lesson book pages to record our learning softens the "hard" part of "hard science.
Some Content: We can use many or all of the experiments our curriculum provided. I don't need to completely replace everything we've purchased - just supplement.
Moving Things: We will spend a little time on astrology, humorism, etc., but in our social studies curriculum. Some dovetail well with the historical periods we are studying. For example, humorism and alchemy fit beautifully in our history of the Middle Ages main lesson.
More Explanation: We will be doing more math models, more formal lab reports, and the like. My intuition tells me he needs to be doing these things now so that he is not having to catch up in high school or even college with traditionally schooled peers.
As for our resources, I am still deciding. Here is what we are considering for these remaining middle school years, including some kits.
Chemistry - The free course from the American Chemistry Society
Astronomy - R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2
Biology - R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2
Physics - Simple Machines (Thames & Kosmos), Safe and Simple Electrical Experiments (Rudolf F. Graf), Snap Circuits, Optical Science (Thames & Cosmos), Acoustics section of Earthschooling Grades 6/7; Structural Engineering Bridges and Skyscrapers (Thames & Kosmos)
Finally, I want to acknowledge that teaching science can be a loaded topic. Whenever I post on a science-adjacent topic, I get unfollows (and new follows!), strongly worded emails, etc. That's okay.
This happens because we intuit what Steiner knew - everything is connected.
Science isn't just a stand-alone discipline. It is tied to math, history, literature, art, political science - a person's worldview. And when someone make choices different than our own, we can feel like our worldview is being judged and that our deeply held beliefs are being devalued or threatened. This post isn't a judgment of anyone else's worldview; it is simply about how we are navigating a Waldorf-inspired education that works for our family. I know that there are many Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers doing things similarly, particularly in science, but very few share in detail. (Maybe because we know it is a touchy topic?)
I'm sharing because I think it can help people. Sometimes we feel like we need "permission" to do things and maybe my post will give someone a sense of freedom in finding their own path. And people looking for a strictly Steiner approach to the sciences may decide to look elsewhere for their resources. That's okay, too.
I want to be a person who encourages people to find and follow their own paths.
That's the takeaway, really. Everyone must choose their own path. Having the freedom to do so with our children's education is one of the greatest benefits of being homeschoolers. Whatever path you have chosen, I trust that you make the best decisions for your own family - and I wish blessings on every step.
Are you taking elements of a Waldorf-Steiner approach and blending or replacing them with something else in your homeschool? I'd love to hear about it!