Effective Practices : Pedagogy
Pedagogy Section 7
1. Students in Waldorf schools are typically involved in a variety of classroom chores. What activities do students typically perform to support the classroom environment?
Lower School (Grades 1-4)
Middle School (Grades 5-8)
2. How were these particular chores chosen for each age group? In what ways are these chores supportive of the child’s development?
3. In what ways are these chores assigned to individual students? With what frequency are they rotated?
4. Are students regularly assigned to chores in areas of the campus outside the classroom proper? Please describe who is involved and what the activities are.
5. What is your school’s philosophy regarding classroom chores?
6. Is there some aspect of your school’s approach to classroom chores that is working particularly well? Please describe what it is and why it is so positive.
7. Is there some aspect of your school’s approach to classroom chores that should be changed or improved? Describe what it is and why?
Students in Waldorf schools are typically involved in a variety of classroom chores. What activities do students typically perform to support the classroom environment?
Lower School (Grades 1-4)
Middle School (Grades 5-8)
Students in the Waldorf early childhood area are involved in a number of chores throughout the classroom. However, at this age the chores are not differentiated from the curriculum - the chores are the curriculum. The classroom is a homelike setting and everyone participates in preparing the mid-morning snack. Students scrub the vegetables such as beets and carrots, and use special chopping tools that are safe for children. The teacher will measure ingredients for a cake and then give the measuring cup to a child to pour and stir in. The children knead bread, and love to set the table, taking it very seriously. There is joy in getting everything just right - placemats, napkins, utensils and flowers. After the meal they clear and wipe the table, perhaps help wash the dishes, and napkins, and then help with putting them away.
In the play area the children learn to fold the play clothes in a proper and deliberate way. They also sort the play materials such as stones and wooden blocks, and then store them away. Students may be involved in cleaning paint brushes and returning painting boards to the rack so pictures can dry undisturbed.
Many of the kindergarten classrooms have a place for boot scrubbing just outside the classroom door so that mud is not tracked into the classroom. Students may also join the teacher in sweeping or in planting flowers outside.
At this stage of development the teacher is teaching to the child’s physical body. The environment is kept clean and a sense of care and reverence for the physical environment is developed.
Lower School (Grades 1-4) Students in the lower school are involved in a variety of chores that support the classroom environment. These chores are now explicitly assigned to the children, with the responsibility for a particular task usually lasting a week before the tasks are rotated. Oftentimes substitutes are named so that if someone is sick or has to leave early the chore can be covered by a substitute.
Every classroom teacher has a list of chores that must be done in the classroom every day. These may include:
- Taking out the trash and coordinating the recycling of garbage for compost, clean paper trash and recycling. Often compost collections from each classroom are done by the students of the 3rd grade as a part of their farming curriculum.
- Sweeping and vacuuming.
- Watering of plants in the classroom.
- Erasing and sponging the blackboard. Older students also love writing the new date and day of the week on the blackboard.
- Straightening of the book shelves, including wiping of the shelves and dusting of the books.
- Painting helpers fill up the paint jars and water the sponges for wet on wet painting.
- Sink and countertop cleanup.
- The Helper of the Day is a teacher emissary who manages various tasks like putting the daily attendance slip outside for collection or running to the office with messages, to pick up needed supplies, and to accompany sick children to the nurse.
- Sorting of classroom supplies, including pencils and crayons by color.
- Some teachers include a “free” spot on their chore list. When a student is “free” he is given a week off from all chores.
All students put away balls and sleds they have used during recess time. Jump ropes are put away also; they must be wound up nicely, not just thrown into the basket. Desk cleaning is done by all students as dictated by the teacher. At the end of the year everyone moves to a new classroom, and the children clean and pack the room and desks are cleaned and restored where needed.
Middle School (Grades 5-8)
In some schools a community service element is added to the list of classroom chores. The students all help younger children with various needs such as fingering help with the recorder or memorization of the multiplication tables. Students are involved in taking down old art work and putting up new items for display, both in the classroom and the hallways. They love to use the ladder for this and to create beautiful, balanced displays for all to see and enjoy. Students at this age are asked to sort books alphabetically by title and to do some classroom filing.
High school students continue to be involved in all aspects of maintaining their classrooms. They are able to work independently, and are also assigned responsibility for cleaning some of the special subject classrooms as well on behalf of the whole school. They may also be involved in setting up chairs for assemblies and with plantings in front of the school and elsewhere on campus.
How were these particular chores chosen for each age group? In what ways are these chores supportive of the child’s development?
In the early childhood area the students’ will capacities are developed by imitating the actions of adults (mothers, fathers and teachers). All of the normal household chores are suitable actions for imitation by our youngest students. Any sort of cross lateral chore like sweeping, wiping and dishwashing is great for the young child.
Chores create a reverence for things in the child’s physical environment. The child learns to be a good steward of the things he is responsible for, even though they are the property of the school and not his own. This sense of reverence for the physical world marks Waldorf education throughout the grades.
The addition of community service activities in the 6th grade is an appropriate outlet for the child’s emerging astral body. Students at this age can apply their feelings to things they know, learning empathy for the younger child while taking pride in their own mastery of a skill like the recorder or the times tables.
Students in the middle school and beyond are capable of sanding and refinishing desks at year end, an activity that develops a sense of preparing the way for those who will come after. This and other physical work is a good outlet at a time when students often feel self-conscious about their changing bodies, allowing them to take pride in the things they are now able to accomplish. In the upper grades and the high school the chores develop the student’s sense of being a responsible human being and contributing to the well being of all. The chores also help develop rhythm in the older child and help him wake up to his responsibilities.
In what ways are these chores assigned to individual students? With what frequency are they rotated?
In the early childhood area chores are not assigned per se. Instead all children are expected to work together to clean up what each has been involved in during creative play time, and to mimic the teacher as she cleans up from baking or painting activities.
When the children are in the grades chores are assigned on a weekly basis. Teachers use some sort of chart to assign chores. Some teachers write them on the blackboard, and keep track of things in their own book. A number of different styles of charts are also used by teachers:
One common method is to create a rotating circle with all the students’ names on it. The various chores are written on a larger paper underneath. The circle is rotated so that a student has new chores each week. If a new student joins during the year he or she is just partnered with another student.
Another approach is to use clothes pins. All the chores are listed around the edge of a large piece of paper. Every student’s name is written on a clothes pin, and then the pins are clipped to the chart next to the chore that is assigned for the week.
Some teachers use boards with hooks. The chores are listed underneath each hook. The students’ names are on key tags and they are hung on the hooks to indicate the student’s assignment for the week.
In the upper grades they may be listed on a white board or on a sheet posted on a bulletin board.
In all grades a particular chore may be assigned to a child to meet a specific developmental need. For example, a child with physical limitations may be encouraged to use a ladder to change art work, building confidence by stepping up and down a ladder. This is an economic approach to teaching in which multiple benefits are received from an assignment.
Are students regularly assigned to chores in areas of the campus outside the classroom proper? Please describe who is involved and what the activities are.
Students are responsible for cleaning the walkway in front of the classroom, and often for the garden area in back of the classroom. Students through grade 8 are not assigned outside tasks beyond the areas which are an immediate extension of the classroom on a regular basis. However, a teacher may assign a particular chore beyond the immediate classroom at her discretion. High school students are better able to view the entire campus as their own, and may be involved in service tasks throughout the school.
Some schools use a “three strikes” rule for misbehavior, after which a student may be assigned to assist school personnel with janitorial or office work after school. Students do not receive these assignments for academic reasons, but only as a result of repeated behavioral problems.
What is your school’s philosophy regarding classroom chores?
We recognize that students develop reverence for the environment by caring for it.
There are opportunities to use chores as a therapeutic opportunity when they are consciously assigned to a particular child.
Doing work such as chores together builds human contact between students. Empathy and colleagueship and developed, and the shared work allows students to truly meet each other in a karmic way.
The chores must be brought to the students with a positive intent. They are a joy to do and fun and can’t be felt as a burden. The students feel that it’s great to clean and have things look beautiful. Teachers must be trained to approach the chores in this way and bring the better part of themselves to this activity.
Consistently high standards are very important. We must ask students to redo things that are not done properly, rather than permitting sloppy work. We must also allow enough time so that the chores can be completed as expected.
The students must be asked to do chores that are safe and appropriate.
Chores are an opportunity for the children to take responsibility for their environment and to develop a love for the material world. They can also be helpful in meeting various developmental needs of the child, both physically and socially.
Is there some aspect of your school’s approach to classroom chores that is working particularly well? Please describe what it is and why it is so positive.
Schools in our study made the following observations on things that were working particularly well for them:
The regularity of assigning new chores each week is an important and successful part of the program. Often times a student will be asked to read the new chart out loud to the class.
We have had the same janitor and facilities personnel for many years. They are well known and are loved by the children. Whenever we need to bring up the level of cleanliness in the school we remind the students that if we don’t do this then “Bob” or “Karen” will have to do it. We talk about these people and their work with the children, and the students always prepare cards at the end of the year thanking them for their service.
The students love using a beeswax-based furniture polish on their wooden desks.
While all of the young children enjoy doing chores, the children in the third and fourth grades seem to just love this responsibility. This enthusiasm is a direct reflection of their changing awareness of the world and their need to have an influence on it.
The addition of a service component to the classroom chore list in the 6th grade is wonderful, serving the needs of both the 6th graders and the younger children.
The youngest children love doing any sort of chore that supports the teacher in his or her work.
Is there some aspect of your school’s approach to classroom chores that should be changed or improved? Describe what it is and why?
We can always improve the amount of consciousness that teachers put into the assigning and doing of classroom chores. This is especially true in our urban environment in which so many services are performed for the children without their needing to be conscious about them at all.
From time to time parents are annoyed when their child hasn’t completed his or her chores when they come to pick up the child. The education of parents about the value of this activity is an ongoing issue. Sometimes parents forget that the chores are just as much a part of the curriculum as the academic work that the students are asked to do.
The dismissing teacher goes downstairs with most of her students at the end of the day. A few students are sometimes left in the room to finish their chores, and from time to time they act up, perhaps throwing the blackboard sponge across the room or getting another student wet with the water for the house plants. Nothing serious goes on but we would prefer that students treat the room and each other with respect. The difficulty is primarily with students in grades 3 through 6. Perhaps we need to assign hall monitors to supervise children who are still in the classroom doing chores, while the teacher is outside dismissing the rest of the class.
It would serve teachers to have more opportunities to discuss various approaches to chores. Students would be helped if the school could present a shared picture of the value of chores to parents and engage their support in seeing that this work is also done at home. Many students are untrained in basic chores at home. Teachers are spending time today teaching children how to sweep and how to wring out a wet cloth, basic skills that are requiring too much supervising by the teachers. Teachers and parents need to be partners in the work of developing capacities in the young child, and we could help parents to understand the developmental value of this work rather than letting them think it is just busy work that should be done by the housekeeper or others.