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Learning Joyfully in 2nd Grade

One of my most joyful memories as a Waldorf class teacher was the first day of 2nd grade with my first class. They looked at me, hands folded on their desks, wide-eyed and smiling quietly, expectantly, as if to say, “Ok, Mrs. Embrey, what have you got for us this year? We’re ready!” My 2nd graders, having been through the forming process of the 1st grade, knew just what to expect from me as their teacher. They knew the classroom and playground rules, they knew that I expected them to finish their work, and they knew they could come to me and other teachers at school for help on the playground and in their classes. In that sense, they were a little like sophomores in high school, feeling confident that they had “got this school thing down.” And they had! 2nd grade was not without its challenges, but it was a truly lovely year.

The 2nd grader has emerged from the exciting and new stage of 1st grade with a feeling of unity with the class, and is sensing a kind of pull both in the direction of the higher and lower selves. The 2nd grader wants to reach for the highest and best in themselves, but can easily be pulled into unkind or distracted behavior. The curriculum meets this with legends of the saints and morally upright people and with fables centering on animals who exhibit some of the less desirable characteristics. Hearing these tales, the child can think inwardly, “Yes, I want to be like that!” or “Oh, yes, sometimes I am like that.” This helps the child feel seen by their teacher and helps them want to strive to attain the best in themselves.

Language arts studies in 2nd grade extends at first to writing down verses and the lyrics of songs that they already have memorized, so that reading seems easy. This expands to writing compositions of a sentence or two or three, at first with their teacher and the help of their classmates, relating the most important events of a legend or fable they have been told in class, and later to writing brief individual compositions. Cursive writing practice is also begun in 2nd grade as a form drawing lesson in which the children create a line of writing loops, hills, castellations, etc. This work develops into writing in cursive over the rest of 2nd grade and into 3rd.

The sense of duality felt by the 2nd grader is also met via symmetrical form drawing, in which the teacher shows a line that goes on one side of a vertical or horizontal line of symmetry, while the children figure out how to draw the mirror image of that line on the other side. This involves lots of movement, walking in partners on either side of a line, and then drawing the whole form on paper with their beeswax crayons.

Math in 2nd grade continues the work with the four processes taught in 1st grade, adding the study of place value and learning how to add and subtract numerals with multiple digits. The introduction of new material is still accomplished through stories, songs and movement, as is much of the practice of the math facts already learned in 1st grade.

Music continues to be an everyday occurrence. Pentatonic flute mastery is accomplished in second grade, and the children confidently and joyfully play flutes together each day in class. Singing guides nearly every transition between activities and provides a means of bringing all kinds of new academic material in a palatable, fun way. At certain times of the year, such as the Michaelmas festival in the fall, every child learns and practices particular songs so that they can sing with the entire school, creating a feeling of belonging to the wider school community.

New jump rope games come into the movement class, as well as the traditional hopscotch and games that call on the children to do movement in rhythm with the rest of the class. Imaginative tag games are still a favorite, and beanbag work develops coordination between hands and both sides of the body.

Handwork concentrates on building the skills begun in 1st grade, and often little knitted animals will come home in the school bag to grace a nature table at home or to snuggle in a pocket.

The ambiance of the 2nd grade is one of busy-ness, the sense that there is always something good to do going on, lots of singing and making things! Learning happens almost unconsciously, as the children are excited and ready, and joyfully follow their beloved teacher’s guidance.


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