In our Zoology block, also sometimes called in Waldorf “The Human Being and the Animal World,” we have been carrying out our studies through the framework of the Medicine Wheel. With attention to the Native American traditions held within the Lakota Sacred Hoop, and with help from Native American stories and information from our source materials, we are exploring each directional animal (four North American animals important to the Lakota Sioux people) both symbolically and scientifically. We have also been connecting what we learn back to ourselves, and to other aspects of life as it may be understood within the Wheel.

We began with the wolf (spirit of the south, childhood, playful, loyal, fearless) and moved into the eagle (spirit of the east, adolescence, the rising sun, sharpening eyes). Fourth graders, still being children, practiced human-animal connections through compare/contrast exercises with the wolf. We were a bit more scholarly with the eagle. With stories, drawings, and group activities, we learned how to research, write, and diagram factual information about the golden eagle, focusing specifically on its gift of flight and special care for young. We then reviewed what we learned in Norse Mythology by using paragraphs to write about multiple points on the topic of eagles. The children are now doing the same thing independently in their animal reports.

Last week we heard stories about bears, which on the Wheel represent the spirit of the west, adulthood, strength, and sure-footedness. We paid particular attention to the bear’s limbs, which, when compared to the human being, opens a key Waldorf concept for fourth graders: Animals have highly specialized limbs and bodies for doing what they must. Humans do not have the same kinds of specializations that animals do, but we have incredible hands that make what we need to thrive!