Organic Gardening in the Waldorf 3rd Grade Curriculum

3rd grade garden at Sanderling Waldorf School

Jeffrey was really excited at school pick up this afternoon because his class harvested some organic goodies from their garden today!  He filled his basket with spinach, kale, butter lettuce, speckled lettuce, arugula, fennel and calendula flowers. He let me sample some of the spicy arugula and it was divine!  There’s nothing quite like fresh organic produce the same day it was picked. 🙂

My little “Farmer Boy” Jeffrey bean with his basket of organic produce
Organic leafy green goodness! Those 3rd graders are great gardeners!

Gardening is a big part of the 3rd grade curriculum in Waldorf schools around the world, and not necessarily for the reasons you might think. 3rd grade is a big year of transformation. It is during this stage of development when children start to view the world through a vastly different lens and begin to feel a deeper sense of being separate beings in the world. They are experiencing a very significant shift in consciousness where they are leaving behind the dreamy, magical realm of childhood and entering into a very different world, like Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, refers to this period as the “9 year change.” When they leave that carefree space of taking everything at face value and questioning nothing, it can be very jarring for many kids. It can be a time of loneliness and insecurity, and there can be many thoughts of mortality and emerging fears that weren’t there before, like fear of the dark or monsters under the bed. It’s during this time when many 9 year olds will start to feel very alone in the world and begin to question things that were once taken for granted. There can be tears—LOTS of tears—and moodiness, but it’s different for every kid.

Going back to the Adam and Eve metaphor, the 9 year change marks a “fall from grace” and the third grade Waldorf curriculum is designed to meet the children right where they are.  The curriculum gives the 9 year old (or in Jeffrey’s case, almost 9 year old) the gift of meeting the world that he has come to acknowledge with the tools he will need to live in his new home, the earth.

3rd graders learn about three essential, practical requirements for all of humankind—how we work with nature to provide ourselves with food, clothing, and shelter. So far Jeffrey and his classmates have created their garden which they care for each week, they’ve built a sukkah from bamboo, they’ve built their own one-legged wooden stools and they’ve done quite a bit of food preparation.

This is the sukkah built by Jeffrey’s 3rd grade class earlier this fall. It is a hut or temporary shelter from the Hebrew tradition.

These kinds of activities are just what is in order and turns this year of turmoil into a rewarding experience. The 3rd grader goes forth with gusto, tools in hand—literally, to conquer the world. By the end of the year the third grader has the confidence in their abilities to navigate their way through life with a true sense of knowing that, if need be, they could make it on their own.