Geography in Lower School
Home Surroundings Block
The goal of the “Home Surroundings” block is to help the children to see both the differentiation of the natural world and the integral way in which every aspect of an environment contributes to a unique whole, ie. interdependence. It is an important and magical milestone in our 8-year study of science and geography. Dr. Patrick Wakefor-Evans, a teacher at the Sacramento Waldorf School, writes:
Geography is a very important aspect in the original curriculum of the Waldorf School. It links, binds, and integrates all of the other subjects into a unity. Unique also to the Waldorf curriculum is the sequence of subjects in geography. Geography begins as local geography and expands out from there. It is taught alongside cultural studies from 1st Grade through 8th Grade.
Geography in grades one, two, three, and four begins close to the child. It acquaints the child with home surroundings, proceeds to local geography, and by the end of grade four, expands to include the geography of the whole region, whether it be a state or a unified micro-region.
Prior to the nine-year change, children need to be taught through the teacher’s imagination. These imaginations inspire the children to have their own feeling-imbued experience of knowledge. This inspiration is achieved through the telling of stories. Stories convey pictures of all things students should know about.
The geography curriculum of grades one and two calls for lessons in home surroundings. What is meant by home surroundings? In public schools, children are taught about their neighborhoods as civics lessons. They take field trips to a local fire station, for example, and explore the neighborhood. While this type of lesson is certainly important, Steiner’s indication was to acquaint the children with the land, the plants, and the animals in the region where they live. Home Surroundings means becoming acquainted with the ecosystems that surround the children. In biology, one might say they need an awareness of the various habitats and their inhabitants. These stories are the first lessons in ecology and nature awareness.
In both urban and suburban environments, the wonderful beings of nature dwell and visit the children. There are noisy mockingbirds, squirrels, spiders, and all manner of insects. In addition, there are all kinds of flying creatures like red tail hawks. Depending on where you live, there may even be deer, wild turkeys, and butterflies. In the Sacramento region, you can also hear mysterious tree frogs and coyotes yipping in the distance, spy possums, and even smell skunks.
In Waldorf education, one of the important maxims is “characterize, do not define.” Waldorf teachers are encouraged to present nature to the students by crafting stories that are true to the facts yet glowing in imaginative portrayal.
In our 1st grade classroom, the students hear about the sun and moon, dirt and water, bugs and animals, and many other things that comprise our urban ecosystem. They will not only learn about these things through story, they will also be getting their hands dirty, exploring our neighborhood on “Wonder Walks”, asking questions about the world around them, and hopefully realizing that they are an integral part of this ecosystem as well.
At Urban Prairie, we nurture the child’s ‘sphere of interest’ which grows in size over the years. This makes place for their own ‘sphere of influence’ to grow and develop in the upper grades. As Wakefor-Evans mentioned, our studies begin very close to the child; through observing and wondering about the things they can see, feel, hear, and smell in their daily environment, these first graders are taking a great step into a wonder-filled and amazing world.