I’ve heard in Waldorf homeschooling circles that teaching second grade can be tedious or boring because it doesn’t feel as magical or inspiring as that first grade year. Moms can get stuck in a rut of story – main lesson book – story – main lesson book week in and week out.
But it really doesn’t need to be that way!
Second grade can absolutely be magical.
There are interesting threads running through the curriculum (the light and dark sides of human nature, animal stories and natural science, the surprising geometry and symmetry of times tables) that can be integrated into a more meaningful whole than the standard story, draw, write, repeat. There’s a lot to cover in second grade math (and all of it fun to teach), plus for many children this is the year of learning how to read. The story content is also wonderful and lends itself to all kinds of artistic exploration beyond main lesson bookwork.
In Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, the academic curriculum begins in first grade (around age 7) and all the subjects are taught with the balanced, multi-sensory approach of head, heart, and hands.
Second grade is in many ways an extension of first grade. Play is still very important at this age, and so are lessons full of story, movement, art, and imagination. The subjects themselves are the same (math, language arts, form drawing, nature, handwork, painting and beeswax modeling, recorder, and foreign language), but second graders are ready for more challenge, focused academic work, and skill-building.
In this post we’ll cover the essentials of second grade homeschooling and a bit of what’s covered in each major subject area this year. If you’re new to Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, please see this post on First Grade Essentials for lots more in-depth background on holistic teaching in the grades!
Essential themes of Waldorf-inspired second grade
Second grade main lessons are brought through stories, primarily fables, animal stories, and legends. The stories meet the second grader’s developmental needs on a soul level, but you can easily adjust the pace of academic learning to your child (one of the great advantages of homeschooling!).
The major theme of second grade is the duality present in human nature. We have higher and lower selves. People can be saintly and they can be cruel. The second grade stories focus on human attributes such as greediness, laziness, deceit, and foolishness, as well as generosity, industriousness, perseverance, and cleverness. These traits are often embodied in animal stories found in cultures from all around the world (such as the famous Aesop’s fables).
The eight-year-old also loves to hear stories of people who transcended the baser side of human nature to become saintly or heroic. These stories are more biographical than the fairy tales but have a legendary quality to them. They describe an historical person whose good deeds and connection to the spiritual world (and often the animal kingdom as well) was remarkable and inspiring. Waldorf schools often use stories of Catholic saints, which are great examples of this genre, but legends of saints and heroes can come from all over the world.
Second Grade Main Lessons
The main academic lessons are taught in blocks. Teachers usually spend about 2 hours in the morning (less than that for homeschoolers in the early grades) for about 3-6 weeks at a time on each main lesson block. Main lesson topics for second grade can include form drawing, language arts, math, and nature.
New material is presented in a 2-day or 3-day rhythm so your child can deepen her experience with it over time and process everything in her sleep. Sleep is considered a critical tool for learning in Waldorf schools (and modern neuroscience backs this up). I would also add that play is an important part of the learning process!
Form drawing is a subject unique to Waldorf education. It’s a will-building activity (hands) that promotes balance and trains the hand in preparation for writing and drawing. In second grade this can be a main lesson subject and/or a weekly lesson. The form drawing lessons reflect the theme of duality as students work with mirrored forms on both the horizontal and vertical axis.
Second grade is often the year of learning how to read, but teaching the mechanics of reading is just one aspect of a rich language arts curriculum. Reading progresses at the child’s pace so there is a wide range of abilities among students this year. Regular practice and making progress is the goal, but there’s no predetermined timeline that children have to conform to.
The Waldorf curriculum meets children all along the range of the reading spectrum with rich language arts lessons in stories, writing, reading, poetry, and a gentle introduction to grammar.
There is so much great story material for second grade that it can be very hard to choose! You won’t be able to cover all the stories you want to in main lesson, so you’ll always have plenty to choose from for reading aloud. Stories can come from all around the world and can include:
- Animal and nature stories
- Trickster tales
- Jataka stories
- Legends of saints and heroes
- Native American legends
- Folk and fairy tales
Second grade is a big skill-building year in arithmetic. It’s a time to introduce all the times tables and memorize several of them (using movement, rhythm, and repetition). The second grader also has lots of practice with arithmetic, getting more comfortable and fluent in four processes problems, moving away from manipulatives, and emphasizing mental math and story problems. This is the year to teach place value, work with numbers up to 1000, and many teachers also introduce the calendar and telling time.
Second grade science is an extension of first grade and the early years. The focus is on experiential nature lessons, especially stories about the plants and animals that live all around us, spending plenty of time actually being in nature (observing and interacting), and gardening. This can be a good year to start learning the names of local animals, trees, and plants and learning more about their characteristics, habitats, and behaviors through the seasons. The second grade language arts content is full of animal stories which provides a good lead-in to incorporate nature study.
Arts and Handwork
Second graders spend lots of time learning through movement, music, speech, drama, poetry, drawing, painting, and beeswax modeling. You can continue on with knitting (and learn the purl stitch), more complex crafts (such as paper folding and hand sewing), and recorder.
With the huge number of wonderful, classic, and funny stories this year, the excitement of learning how to read, and the endless ways you can work with the arts in all your subjects, second grade does not need to be a boring year!
Now it’s your turn!
What are your thoughts on second grade? If you’ve taught this grade or you’re planning for this coming year, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!