Teaching physics, the Waldorf way

Gopa Malaker David
With inputs from Shailaja L & Ameer Khan

In the early years, in a Waldorf school, the kindergarten is spent in free play and listening to stories. Here, learning takes place primarily through imitating and repeating what the teacher does. As we move on to the grades, children learn more out of love, trust, and respect for the teacher. Around the 12th year of the child, there comes a realization in the children that the adults around them are not all-knowing. Now there is a tendency to question everything around them. This automatically paves the way for critical thinking. The time is ripe for physics to be introduced to children in class VI.

waldorf-school-students To put it briefly, the teaching of physics in a Waldorf school can be described as totally sense and phenomena based. Rather than the concept being given first and followed by an explanation later, the children are made to observe and experience an experiment and then asked to recall the sequence of events and their observations of the phenomena. They are given time to write and draw the experiment. The act of drawing helps bring clarity to their observations and highlights the main theme of the experiment. The level of detail in the description and observation and also in the drawings is indicative of their individual capacities of perception and observation. However no conceptual explanations are done on the first day. The following day, the teacher does a ‘review’ through a carefully planned questionnaire that tries to elicit from the pupils what they understood and learnt from the experiment the previous day.

It is also a time for questions from children and discussions of individual experiences. The language used in class VI is more of what the children use to explain in simple terms what they have experienced and understood from the experiment rather than technical or theoretical words which name things that they cannot yet see or directly experience. The experiments are planned sequentially to enable a step-by-step understanding. Effort is made to place these experiments in the context of daily life and how the laws of nature can be applied in our lives.

The topics covered in the class VI curriculum are Sound, Light, Heat, Static Electricity, and Magnetism. The chosen experiments highlight different aspects of sound – the factors determining sound production and its quality, where sound travels best – through water, air, wall, wooden door, or a string? Sound is experienced through the playing of different instruments by the children – the piano, the drums, the guitar, and even the violin.

The author has been involved with the Waldorf system since 2000. She teaches Class 7 at Abhaya Waldorf School, Hyderabad. She can be reached at gopamd63@gmail.com.

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