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.
Grammar study includes review of the parts of speech, direct and indirect objects, active and linking verbs, 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, dictation, individual writings, and informal letter writing. Correction skills, thesaurus work, descriptive language are honed. Listening and speaking skills are honed through poetry from ancient cultures, oral reports on a book and a main lesson theme, and a class play with individual roles and some choral roles. Reading is improved through good literature supplementing ancient history, a focus on learning vocabulary through context, practice of good oral reading, library skills, and summer reading assignments.
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. Freehand geometry is introduced through the Pythagorean theorem.
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. The class is given an assignment to report on a state of each child’s choosing. 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 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 class studies photosynthesis. 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. 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.
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.
German and Spanish
The students engage in simple dialogue, or perform grammar exercises. They conjugate verbs and 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 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.
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. For an experience with a material that contrasts with wood, they move on to making clay pinch pots. The second half of the year emphasizes the convex form of the egg, initially measured and marked, finished by feel.
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.
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 of which they might not have thought themselves capable.
Painting and drawing
The students continue to refine their skills and 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 continues through the year and refines 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 and are introduced to new concepts while reviewing, subjects learned previously, The children also have a chance to study sight singing, and often perform in the School production of Handel’s Messiah.
The fifth grade orchestra meets regularly. They are able to prepare pieces for performance in assemblies and recitals, and learn about the complexities of playing in an orchestra.
The inner movement, lawfulness, wisdom, characteristics, and beauty of spoken language and music can be approached and appreciated through eurythmy. The lessons 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.
The children play team games 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.