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Understanding the Waldorf Main Lesson: New-Do

Updated: May 25, 2023

This is the fourth part of a series of articles dedicated to exploring the Waldorf main lesson as a whole and its four primary component parts. In the last newsletter, we looked to the morning "circle" or rhythmic work. (If you would like to see the previous articles you can find them in the Simply Waldorf blog).

As a reminder, there are four primary parts of the main lesson:

  • The Circle/Rhythmic Movement

  • Review

  • New-Do

  • Story

Notice that this part of the main lesson, comes after the active work of Circle/Rhythmic Work which really engages the will forces in the body, and it also comes after the Review work in which we creatively re-awakened the themes from the previous day's lesson. The child has been active in their bodies in meaningful ways and they have been active in their feelings by engaging in artistic processes during the Circle as well as the Review.

Let's pause for a second and highlight that thought: "...they have been active in their feelings by engaging in artistic processes..."

This is actually important for us to realize. The artistic process obviously involves physical movement, in some art forms more than others. Dance, drama, and marble sculpting are examples of art forms that require a great deal of bodily will force. On the other hand, we see that the artistic process also involves some thinking forces to be used. We have to remember our lines in a play or we have to remember how to mix colors in a painting or we need to understand, at some point, how to "read" music. These are "head" or thinking activities. Nevertheless, with all this being understood, what makes a process artistic, rather than a physical or mental exercise, is the engagement of the feeling forces. Jumping around with one's body or hammering a chisel into marble--these alone will not render anything artistic. Nor will the mere recitation of lines or blending of colors. We raise our efforts into the realm of art when we bring our feeling lives, our souls, to expression. We all know it when we experience it in others. The wonderful singer, the incredible actor, the brilliant dancer, the genius sculptor--we recognize their talents in the largest measure because we experience the expression of their souls. They engage their feelings in their given art forms and achieve wonderful things. Just so, the teacher can know that the artistic process engages the child's feelings. We are not attempting in any way to create future artists. We are engaging the child, just as they are, in a very human way and thus we help them experience more of their own humanity. What a wonderful daily experience for a child!

So, having engaged in these ways, we bring the "New-Do" portion of the lesson. Having re-enlivened the previous lesson(s), we bring in something new. This part of the lesson is the most similar to a traditional school lesson. It often yields work on the main lesson book pages. We write words, sentences, paragraphs and/or passages. We do work with numbers and equations. Etc. So, let's say we are in third grade and it is Tuesday. On Monday we heard the story of "Joseph in Egypt". On Tuesday, for Review, we do a little skit acting out the moment when Joseph interpreted the pharaoh's dream and was placed in charge of storing grains for the coming years of famine. Now we come to the New-Do portion, still on Tuesday, and we make a page showing the division of grain bags in storage sheds. Maybe we are working with long division; so we work the problem of dividing 96 bags of grain among 6 storage sheds to learn that this would put 16 bags of grain in each shed. Because we have done the previous work of telling the story (which engages the child's inner will by helping them build their own imaginative pictures) and of the skit (which engages the child's feeling life by helping them act out a character in the scene so that they "feel" what that perspective is like, then the more head/thinking or abstract work with long division is integrated with what has come before. Rather than it being a random, abstract exercise, the math work is connected to their experiences. It has meaning.

Certainly, this portion of the lesson is the closest we come to engaging the head-thinking but we do all that we can to balance this engagement by first engaging the will forces and the feeling forces within the child. They are still learning how to do long division, of course, but they have a much deeper and integrated experience of why we would learn it at all. It is not just a matter of creating context with a word problem. The context we create with them is that of immediate experiences which activate the human being on three fundamental levels: will, feeling, and thinking.

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