The study of ancient civilizations in the fifth grade spans the time from the legendary continent of Atlantis some 10,000 years ago to ancient India, ancient Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and finally ancient Greece. The children delight in finding common threads in the creation stories and hero tales of the different peoples -- from floods and rainbows, to initiations and quests, to the intervention of the gods in human affairs. Most importantly, the students trace the evolution of human consciousness through millennia and across the globe, especially with respect to views of life, death, and the afterlife.
Finally, the students explore the life of the ancient Greeks, focusing on Grecian art, culture, language, and movement. The students learn about many ancient Greek contributions to the present day, including ideas about beauty, truth, courage, and the social order. The Pentathlon, done in conjunction with other Southern California Waldorf schools, is an important event. The children experience firsthand the wonderful harmony of body and soul that led the Greeks to feel themselves at home in the physical world.
In math, the students begin the year by thoroughly reviewing the four processes, long division, and basic fractions. To further strengthen the grasp on the basic arithmetic facts, students may work daily with speed drills. Students are expected to demonstrate mastery of the times tables by fifth grade, if they haven't done so in fourth. They may have math homework that supports the morning's class work, and work in periods outside main lesson to solidify skills in computation, simple fractions, and mixed numbers. Percents may be introduced and become part of regular practice.
The fifth graders continue with reading classes. Readers that are intended to support the curriculum of the year could include such titles as The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell, Bernarda Bryson's Gilgamesh, Isabel Wyatt's The Last Greek Home from Troy, and Big Tree by H.C. Holling. The students read silently in class and at home. Oral reading of main lesson work and reports reveals each student's progress in fluency and comprehension.
Emphasis on Writing
By the fifth grade, teachers are moving beyond providing a text on the board to expecting independent composition from the students. The teacher may model examples of good writing on the board in order to inspire the students' independent work. Some teachers may have students compose with partners, while other students write independently. Other writing may take the form of book reports, state reports, and thank you letters. Students may also write poetry. Spelling work continues, as does formal work on vocabulary. Daily recitation of poems, tongue twisters and choral reading are important facets of language arts.
The mythology or history curriculum may provide an impetus for the class play. The students experience greater social breadth through collaborating on lines, costumes, set building, lighting, and script revisions.
The Study of Plants
The botany main lesson block is an opportunity to see how the living earth is blanketed with plant life. The teacher strives to deepen the students' appreciation for the wisdom of the natural world. Students compare the plant's place in the four kingdoms of nature, comparing life cycles of plants and human beings; they are also led to observe the great differences in the plant world itself. Students may sketch in the gardens on campus, collect leaves from home, and discover through direct observation how, as Plato observed, "God geometrizes." The children's dramatic chalk drawings of the geometric patterns found in flower forms resonate deeply with them. The culminating event in this block may be a field trip to the sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park or to another place where the plant life is notable. The children usually hike, work, cook, and have the opportunity to see the local plants and animals.
Geography: North America
In the study of North American geography, the students begin where they left off in fourth grade, picking up the story-thread given us by the indigenous Californians. The students experience the two great spines of mountains on the continent -- the Rockies and the Appalachians -- the huge "bread basket" of the Great Plains, and the directional flow of our river systems. Canada and Mexico may be similarly explored. Since geography is inseparable from history, students may learn about Christopher Columbus, the pilgrims, explorers, and pioneers. Finally, the students study the states and their boundaries, and often write and present individual state reports. The students come to appreciate the varied wonders and gifts of the land through maps, scale models, demonstrations and, perhaps, delicious food.