The Waldorf main lesson curriculum is traditionally taught to each grade individually, each grade-level experiencing a set of blocks is intended for their specific age group based on the correlation between the block content and the developmental stage of the child. The Bay School’s combined-grade classes group two ages -- eight and nine year olds, for example— in each classroom. Though this long-standing approach departs from the Waldorf convention, the Bay School is recognized within the community of Waldorf schools as an expert in this area, and we often receive requests for guidance from other schools with combined grade classes.
Far from merely a necessity, there is much to celebrate about the combined grades model, which has been an important part of the school’s historic sustainability and unique ethos. Combined-grade classrooms allow Bay School classes to reach healthy sizes of 18-24 students, allowing opportunities to develop sensitivity to group work, varieties of friendships, and an appreciation for a differentiation of tasks and expectations based on each student’s unique learning journey.
Classes feel like families with siblings of various ages, strengths and challenges that contribute to a rich social mix. This demands alertness in the teacher, movement against complacency in curriculum, and flexibility in block design. Older students can mentor younger classmates, and the younger students help the older classmates to stay fresh and curious.
Class Teachers adjust the traditional main lesson block schedule of delivery to meet both ages within their class. As each mixed grade class has its own “character”, there is no universal formula that all teachers use to adjust the schedule, but every Bay School teacher consciously works to meet both age groups within his/her class and plans each year accordingly.
Practically speaking, working with combined grades allows for a smaller, concentrated group of teachers who can collaborate and communicate easily and, as a direct response to the demographic realities or coastal Maine, is the only financially sustainable model for the school.