Who doesn’t fondly remember the hallowed moments when with the ring of the little bell the door to the Christmas room opened: marvelling children’s eyes admire the decorated tree, the children can hardly wait to open the Christmas presents underneath ... Celebrations and rituals certainly exist in every family, in every cultural region and at every time of year. Waldorf schools and kindergartens should foster them. Why? Rhythms have an influence on the development of the human being. There are short rhythms like breathing in and out, the heartbeat, just for the moment, mostly perceived only unconsciously. We experience rhythms above all in language and in music. There is the cheerful iamb that wakes us up, the dactyl with its calming and at the same time invigorating effect, the hexameter that plays a major role in class five, harmonising the rhythm of breathing, and a few more. Three-four time has a completely different effect from four-four time. And: what does an upbeat do to us? Then there are the ever-larger rhythms: the hourly rhythm, the daily rhythm, the weekly rhythm, the monthly rhythm and the annual rhythm. They can be continued into the rhythms of the seven year periods, the lunar nodes, the ages of life – all the way to the cosmic Platonic Year and even further.
The yearly rhythm and its organisation in the education of the class teacher period
In the lecture series Disease, Karma, and Healing. Spiritual Scientific Enquiries into the Nature of the Human Being, Rudolf Steiner describes how the rhythm of the day with the alternating states of consciousness – waking and sleeping – is related to the human I. The astral body – the soul – goes through a cycle of one week. On Sundays we are relaxed, on Mondays we start our work still dreaming a little, on Tuesdays we are full of energy ... every day of the week has its own special quality that we can feel. The monthly rhythm is the rhythm of the etheric body, the carrier of our life forces and memory. The female cycle is related to it. A cure for healing illness used to last four weeks but for cost reasons it is now usually reduced to three – is that sensible? In order to ensure that lesson content is well assimilated and securely retained in the memory, Rudolf Steiner introduced the main lesson in Waldorf schools, which was meant to last four weeks. Unfortunately, this approach is increasingly falling victim to pragmatic considerations. The development of the physical body corresponds to the orbit of the earth around the sun within a year.
Year by year, a new first class is given a festive welcome. Year by year, the classroom is changed. Year by year, festivals are celebrated and experienced. At the beginning of the school year, all classes ideally gather together to be welcomed by the teachers. At Michaelmas, we all need to be courageous, and there are various actions for this. The silent, dark season begins with the lantern processions. During Advent, we prepare for Christmas in an evocative way. How gracefully the New Year is greeted! Carnival is cheerful, Passiontide is contemplative, the Easter sun is awaited with joy. At Whitsun we let paper doves flutter and dance around the maypole with its ribbons. Regrettably the liberating St John’s fire is increasingly falling victim to fire safety regulations. On the last day of school, the whole school community gathers once again. The song “Dort bläht ein Wind die Segel …” (The sails are billowing in the wind ...) is sung in some places. Anyone who has been a Waldorf pupil themselves is moved when their own children belt out the song at home... Holidays! Every year again! Waldorf schools in other regions of the world naturally adapt to their customs. Children who belong to other religious communities must be treated with sensitivity. Nevertheless, the qualities of the seasons remain the same.
A seasonal table visualises the course of the year, at least in the lower classes. In autumn there are golden harvest bounties and sunflowers, soon after a sword of Michael, a harvest thanksgiving loaf, maybe there is even a dragon to be discovered somewhere. Lanterns dominate the scene around St Martin’s Day. During Advent there is, of course, an Advent wreath, a lovingly felted or sewn Mary sets off on a journey with the little donkey until they finally arrive in a stable with a manger. All class teachers are allowed to let their imagination run free.
As a class teacher, I take great pleasure in creating these seasonal tables. The children look forward to them and how they change. However, it is at least as important to me to incorporate the seasons daily in my short stories at the beginning of the lesson, even before the morning verse, in the form of a meaningful story. It can be entirely focused on the seasonal happening in nature and as required can also contain a little moral lesson in pictures. Rudolf Steiner attached great importance to meaningful stories that should awaken joy in the surroundings, love for them and for our fellow human beings.
During my time as a class teacher, I also made a habit of telling certain stories at certain times of the year. In autumn, I am completely guided by nature or the mood of the class right at the beginning of the lesson. From St Martin’s Day to Advent, they are always star stories. The basis for me up to class three is Erika Dühnfort’s book Vom größten Bilderbuch der Welt (The Greatest Picture Book in the World) with the matching poem (see below). More stories can be found in Dan Lindholm’s Wie die Sterne entstanden (How the Stars Were Made) or Edda Singrün-Zorn’s Das Ogham-Buch der Legenden (The Ogham Book of Legends). I am also not afraid to draw constellations on the blackboard from class one onwards. Many of my pupils from last year’s class one quickly recognised Orion or Pegasus.
“Das größte Bilderbuch der Welt,
am Himmel ist es aufgestellt,
wenn still auf nächtlich blauem Grunde
die Sterne ziehen ihre Runde.
Sie schwingen um im ew’gen Kreise
und wandern die uralte Reise,
einander freundlich zugesellt
im größten Bilderbuch der Welt.
Wer mag die gold’nen Blätter wenden?
Wer hält das Buch in seinen Händen?”
(The biggest picture book in the world
in the heavens is unfurled,
when silent in their night-blue ground
the stars keep going on their round.
They circle on their course eternal
and wander on their ancient journey,
companions with a friendly look
in the world’s largest picture book.
Who will turn the pages gold?
Who in their hands the book will hold?)
This poem by Erika Dühnfort ushers in the starry season for us year after year, starting on St Martin’s Day. In class four, the constellations are described from the point of view of the Germanic peoples (the Fenris Wolf devours the moon), and the Twelve Star Houses, based on Elke Blattmann’s book Geheimnisvolle Sternenwelt (Mysterious World of Stars), are portrayed in pictorial narratives. In class five there are many stories from Greek mythology. Then, when astronomy appears as its own main lesson in class six, the children already have a great deal of prior knowledge; indeed, I can even continue it in the rhythmical section and have also bought myself time and space, for example for entomology.
The four weeks of Advent take us briefly into the fourfold world of stones, plants, animals and humans. The Christmas holidays are followed by the time of Epiphany, which is also called the time of the Three Kings. The Three Kings follow the Star. And the stars were already the content of my stories. Since the six-pointed star plays a role in this, I begin with narratives about crystals, whose structure is often based on the hexagon. There are valuable stories once again in the above-mentioned book by Edda Singrün-Zorn. I was particularly gratified when, in class six, the amethyst was being discussed in the mineralogy main lesson and a pupil asked: “Isn’t that the four-element stone?” I had told this story in class one and two! A possibility for deepening would also be at the same time to plan form drawing or later freehand geometry relating to the six-pointed star, or petrology for this period. This can then be followed by bee stories. So I am always on the lookout where and how I can also cultivate the yearly rhythm as a healing rhythm for the physical body. According to Rudolf Steiner, the “joy in and with the surroundings” is a “force that has a formative effect on the physical organs. This joy literally incubates the form of the physical organs.” May the yearly recurring pictures, stories and celebrations awaken this joy in the children and support their physical development!