For years Waldorf Schools have had “Games Class.” But what is “Games Class?” Some people have described it as Waldorf Physical Education. However, the reason it was named “Games Class” was to differentiate it from traditional Physical Education. The challenge this presents for those who teach Games Class as well as for parents, students, and even the rest of the faculty is that in our common use of the word “games” it sounds like something less serious, less intentional, less conscious than Spanish Class or any other special subject the children take in a Waldorf School.
So, what is Games Class? And why is it an integral part of any full Waldorf School Curriculum?
In The Study of Man, Rudolf Steiner said, when we use our limbs, whether it be for useful or useless work we are “always splashing about in the spirit and (we) are connected with the spirit.” The spirit he refers to here is the external cosmic spirit, not our individual inner spirit-soul. He goes on to differentiate between senseless and purposeful activity. When activity is purposeful it connects us with the spirit in a deeper way, a way that allows for a healthy balance between sleep and wakefulness to develop. “We can guide a child’s external movements towards purposeful movements … so that the child does not splash around in the spirit, but follows the spirit as a goal” (1919, Steiner).
The above paragraph speaks directly to my goal as the movement education teacher. My goal is to bring the children’s movements into coordinated, purposeful movements that can support them in connecting with the outer world. To accomplish this goal, I plan lessons that include building specific movement skills, like catching a ball, jumping rope, running towards a goal, throwing towards a target, etc. and games that allow children to explore their social connections. Sports can only come into this equation once everyone has a sufficient level of skill required for the specific sport, and the social fabric of the class is strong enough to support healthy competition. Otherwise sports too soon serves to disintegrate healthy social relationships among the children.
Sometimes it is easier to define what something is by first describing what it is not. Games class is not only games. It is not only traditional PE. It is not strictly cooperative games or PE, nor is it strictly competitive. Like the rest of the Waldorf curriculum it changes with the age of the child and includes elements of traditional PE, cooperative games, competitive games, and movement exercises for the sake of bringing the child into harmony with his surroundings.
Games class is a full, developmentally appropriate movement education program through the grades. Here is a glimpse of the journey through the grades in movement education.
1st grade - circle games, cooperative games, hand clapping rhymes, jump rope (long rope) rhymes, individual jump rope, Mother May I, Simon says, hopscotch, ball handling
2nd grade – dissolving and reforming the circle, moving towards line games, hand clapping, jump rope (both long rope and individual), cooperative games, hopscotch around the world, ball catching
3rd grade – more line games such as Lemonade and Sharks and Minnows, tagging games, jump rope (starting to add more jump rope “tricks”), non-competitive relays, roundelays, ball games
4th grade – more ball games and line games, tag games, team goals, beginning of competitive relays, jump rope (building more tricks and work with a group), Roundelays, and game creation, beginning orienteering (on campus)
5th grade – team games, ball games, sport skills, jump rope (moving towards fitness activities), pentathlon events (running, wrestling, long jump, javelin, and discus), Spacial Dynamics exercises
6th grade – team games, sport skills, jump rope (drill), circus skills, archery, javelin, discus, running, marching drill, Spacial Dynamics exercises
7th grade – team games, team sports, jump rope (drill and fitness, double dutch), fitness, circus, archery, track and field events, orienteering (outside event), Spacial Dynamics exercises
8th grade – team sports, jump rope (drill, performance, and fitness), circus, archery, track and field, Spacial Dynamics exercises, fitness
Note: I have excluded tumbling, acrobatics and equipment gymnastics from the above lists only because at The City School we do not currently have the necessary mats and equipment to do these activities safely. In an ideal situation with a proper space and proper equipment I would include tumbling, acrobatics, and equipment gymnastics in every grade as well.
I believe I have answered the question, what is games class? Now let’s tackle, why is it an integral part of any full Waldorf School curriculum?
Once again, I’ll reference Rudolf Steiner’s The Study of Man, lecture thirteen. “The more we alternate physical education with eurythmy, the more we can bring the need for sleep and for wakefulness into harmony.” Furthermore, he says, “excessive mental work destroys sleep the same way excessive physical work makes people drowsy,” (1919, Steiner).
The whole Waldorf curriculum is designed to work together to bring the children the right amount of mental work combined with the right amount of physical work to harmonize the inner and outer forces working on the human being. Class teachers work to create lessons that will arouse the children’s interest and intellectual curiosity. This is the mental work. Handwork, Woodwork, Games, and Eurythmy teachers work to bring the children purposeful movement activity. This provides the physical work. Music and Foreign Language classes go back and forth between physical and mental work in a harmonious weaving. Together we strive to accomplish the goal of assisting the children to develop themselves into whole human beings full of intellectual and physical capacities as well as compassion for all of humanity.
Finally, let’s connect all of these thoughts back to the title, “Movement Education or Games.” Knowing what goes into planning the “games” curriculum and how it integrates with the whole Waldorf Curriculum, I’d like to suggest that games class is perhaps a misnomer. What any games teacher is really striving to bring to the children is a full movement education. We include experiences in all forms of purposeful movement to help the children develop their full capacities as human beings. And as Waldorf Teachers, we strive to help the children develop healthy rhythms and habits in their physical bodies to support them for the rest of their lives. This includes strengthening the physical body, building endurance, paying attention to one’s form during movement activities, and connecting with others in the space. It is a tall order, and yet it is exactly what Waldorf teachers trained in Spacial Dynamics do every day.