Supported by their growth in Grade 4, Fifth Grade students begin the year with a strong foundation. Many subjects explored are familiar but will now be approached from a new and more in-depth perspective. History and Geography become individual Main Lesson blocks, giving students the opportunity to devote even more time to their study.
The history and the mythology of people are studied so that students begin to see how myths rose from reality. The study of geography takes on not only the form of the land but now how the inhabitants have adapted their lives to their experience of it. Grade 5 is an important year of transition, preparing the child for the new challenges and experiences of Middle School.
MAIN LESSON SUBJECTS
ART, HANDWORK, AND SPECIAL PROJECTS
HISTORY and GEOGRAPHY
The students study the physical geography of North America, exploring Canada, Mexico, and the United States through lessons on the various regions, map studies, and consideration of cultural and economic factors. Each student keeps a geography journal and sends it to a pen pal in another part of the country, receiving a journal in return. The class is given an assignment to report on a state of each child’s choosing. The report takes the shape of an entry in the geography journal sent from the chosen state. Interpreting and drawing maps forms a large part of this block.
Greek, Indian, Persian and Egyptian mythologies form the bases for the history studies in grade five. Greek myths form the backdrop for the study of language arts, and the class play is taken from a story from one of these cultures. The class hears the story of the Olympics, about the wars with Persia, and other stories. The class explores the contrasting cultures of Sparta and Athens. A typical assignment could include each child forming an opinion about the relative value of each culture and then writing a composition about their theories. This is part of the formation of critical thinking and theoretical writing that becomes more important as the students progress through the curriculum
The classroom offerings are supported with a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or other museums that afford a first-hand look at sculptures and paintings as displayed on classical pottery or other artifacts. With notebooks in hand, the students sketch extensively and then develop these sketches into beautiful drawings in their notebooks back at school.
The class studies photosynthesis, a fairly complicated concept. They follow this with a detailed examination of several of the lower plants, from mushrooms to lichens, mosses, ferns, and algae. The classes are often able to make trips to our woods and sketch plants growing in their environment. The blossom and its parts are examined and drawn, and the various flower families are discussed. Other activities in the classroom include planting flower seeds in individual pots, bringing budding branches inside and noting their blooming, as well as observing how pinto beans sprout and shoot up in a short period of time. A wildflower walk with a local naturalist brings lovely discoveries in our woods. A trip to the New York Botanical Garden at the end of the year shows the students vegetation of the tropics and the desert, as well as allowing them to see the beauty of flowers and plants.
Students choose a tree for seasonal observation. Starting with bare branches or tight buds, the students are able to observe the unfolding of flowers and leaves in the spring, following the cycle of late summer, fall, and winter tree life.
Grammar study includes review of the parts of speech, and the concepts of subject and predicate are introduced. Students also learn about the active and passive voices of the verbs. Writing assignments continue, with themes chosen from various topics out of the main lessons. Each child has a spelling workbook, and they practice spelling weekly through a variety of word games. The challenging but worthwhile class reader, Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer, is often used. Several book reports are assigned throughout the year.
Spanish and German
Foreign language lessons begin with music and poetry. The students then engage in simple dialogue, or perform grammar exercises. The students conjugate verbs. They work with age-appropriate readers. The short chapters provide impetus for conversation, vocabulary building, and work with basic grammar concepts. There are ample opportunities to read aloud. Comprehension questions are answered orally and in written form. The introduction into the structure of the foreign language deepens. The students work with pronouns and verb conjugation in the present, past, and future tenses. The vocabulary centers on personal information, such as home life, school, time, and weather.
Practice of math facts continues through the year. The topic of decimal fractions is introduced, together with a review of the decimal system and the higher numbers. Decimals are added, subtracted, and multiplied in simple mental math problems. A natural sequel to decimals is metric measurement, with practice in measuring in meters, centimeters, and so on.
The competition of several Waldorf school fifth-grade classes in the Greek pentathlon or Olympiad is a highlight of late spring. The students practice skills such as archery, long jump, discus throwing, and relay races throughout the year. The actual Olympiad event is hosted at one of our sister Waldorf schools, and all the classes converge wearing white tunics and eager to go home with a laurel crown. The spirit is one of fun, team spirit, respect for the traditions of the past, and camaraderie with peers from other schools. The group often includes students from Canadian Waldorf schools, so the event has an international flavor.
Woodworking with the fifth grade focuses on the development of skills needed for both current and future work in the wood shop. Projects are age appropriate, and focused on the craft and process more than the final artistic result. The first project of the year introduces the students to the workbench, clamping, measuring, and cutting to a line. The result is a hardwood flower press or similar project. For an experience with a material that contrasts with wood, they move on to making clay pinch pots, both sawdust fired and glazed. The second half of the year emphasizes the convex form of the egg, initially measured and marked, finished by feel. Students work with the gouge and are introduced to carving. The hollow form of the egg holder and the beautiful plaques that result are a bonus to the experience of proper tool handling. The final project of the year is a fishing pole. The materials for this project are harvested in the woods and carved smooth with the knife.
In the fifth grade, the curriculum calls for knitting socks. For the first time, four needles are used in the round. The constant changing from knit to purl stitches on the cuff of the sock, maintaining the same knitting direction throughout, and the complicated shaping of the heel and toe require careful listening to instructions and attentiveness. Greater thinking capacity is needed to accomplish the various steps while the hands are busy refining the skills of knitting. The pattern for the sock is developed by looking at the students' own feet and imagining how the necessary shaping might be accomplished. All the steps learned previously need to be repeated when knitting the second sock.
Painting, poetry recitation, and recorder playing are undertaken throughout the year. A significant event of the year is the mounting of a play, typically drawn from the language-arts curriculum. Drama work continues to build class unity, uncover talents, and provide students with the opportunity to shine in unexpected ways they might not thought themselves capable.
Painting and drawing
The students continue to refine their skills and paint work with many of the subjects they are studying in main lessons – botanicals and subjects from Greece and Rome are often chosen. Free hand geometrical forms or “form drawing” continue through the year and refine students’ sense of space, fine motor skills, ability to see repeating patterns and mirrored patterns.
Students in the fifth grade sing part music and rounds, and play the recorder, sometimes sight-reading the music. They also study music theory, review subjects learned previously, and are introduced to the concepts of “key” and the “circle of fifths.” The children also have a chance to study sight singing, and to perform two movements of Handel’s Messiah.
The fifth grade orchestra meets once a week for most of the year. They are able to prepare pieces for performance in assemblies and recitals, and learn about the complexities of playing in an orchestra.
In eurythmy, we try to express through movement what we experience in speech and music. The inner movement, lawfulness, wisdom, characteristics, and beauty of spoken language and music can be approached and appreciated through eurythmy. Many classical eurythmy forms are moved to spoken language and music. All of these forms require spatial and social awareness to be successful, and the children move joyfully, gracefully, and harmoniously as a group. The lessons also include: complicated concentration exercises, rhythm exercises with music in two voices, contraction and expansion, musical scales, moving in a weaving in-and-out pattern around the circle, and the major and minor qualities of music.
In fifth grade, each physical education class begins with a stretching warm-up. Sometimes the children play games such as dodge ball and capture the flag. At other times, they work to develop in sports such as kickball, volleyball, and basketball. Much of the work is focused on preparing for the five disciplines of the Greek Olympiad. Throughout the year, fair play and mutual support are cultivated.
Faculty Perspective: History and Art in Grade 5
Greek myths form the backdrop for the study of language arts, and the class play may be based on Homer's Iliad. The class learns about the contrasting cultures of Sparta and Athens, and each child explains his or her own judgment of the value of each culture in a written composition. The class learns of the Olympics, about the wars with Persia, and other stories. A memorable trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art affords a first-hand look at sculptures and paintings as displayed on classical pottery, and participation in a Greek Pentathlon or Olympics is a highlight of the Spring.