The Seven Lively Arts: Part 1

Last year at Taproot, Jean Miller handed out an article entitled “The Seven Lively Arts.” I remember thinking it was rather interesting, but somehow those pages were filed away and not discovered again until this past spring. When I came across them for the second time, I thought, “This is exactly what I need!” I was stuck in the draw-a-picture-write-a-summary rut and these ideas were like a breath of fresh air. Below you will find Part 1 of Jean’s article. You can find Part 2 here. Enjoy! (PS Jean is currently offering a planning webinar that starts next week. Find all the details here.)



The Seven Lively Arts

Drama, Drawing, Movement, Music, Modeling, Painting, Speech

By Jean Miller, 

The Seven Lively Arts evolved from the concept of the Seven Liberal Arts of ancient times; these were the key subjects one would master to become a scholar.  Rudolf Steiner felt that these liberal arts, once considered high arts, had become abstract sciences and that teaching needs to be alive rather than abstract. Steiner encouraged teachers to foster what is artistic in the child because the artistic element strengthens the will. This is the core of the Waldorf hands-on approach to learning.

The Seven Lively Arts are very helpful as touch points for planning Waldorf-inspired lessons, along with Steiner’s concept of “bringing about the working together of thinking, feeling and willing.”  We want to incorporate the Seven Lively Arts as well as material from each of these aspects into every lesson:

  • Thinking – teach imaginatively
  • Feeling – engage for connection and motivation
  • Willing (Doing) – promote practical and artistic activity

In this article, I offer a description of the Seven Lively Arts and how they might be incorporated into lessons. I have grouped them into the five areas of teacher training that Steiner described as necessary for all teachers to pursue. I have expanded and renamed the five categories slightly to include all of the arts that Steiner covered in his lectures, including storytelling. The five categories form a pentagram (a five-pointed star): the Literary Arts, Movement Arts, Poetic Arts, Musical Arts, and Visual Arts.
LITERARY ARTS (Storytelling)

Steiner talked about the importance of finding stories for telling and retelling that have a “free and narrative style.” This lays the foundation for speech and then writing. Since the Waldorf curriculum is delivered through stories and presentations of new material by the teacher, the importance of finding the right stories and resources is clear. Steiner also talked about the “imaginative process of creating” our own stories for our children. With storytelling, knowledge is passed on through narrative rather than direct instruction.

  (Eurythmy, Ring Games, Gymnastics)

From a Greek word meaning “beautiful rhythm,” Eurythmy is Steiner’s own movement art that he created with his wife. Eurythmy strives to make visible the soul and spirit of language and music through human movement. Steiner suggested that parents learn simple Eurythmy with their young children.

Ring Games & Gymnastics
Steiner never talked about the concept of “circle time;” that came from American nursery schools when the Waldorf movement came to the USA. Steiner did speak on the importance of children engaging in “ring games” where groups of children are singing and moving to a poem or story in a large “ring” or circle. Steiner suggested these games, as well as gymnastics exercises, to help develop confidence, concentration, balance, control and coordination, a sense of rhythm, direction, and form in space. These ring games allow children to breathe out after doing concentrated head work. Large circle songs and dances are great for Festival celebrations as well.

Thom Schaeffer, a Spatial Dynamics practitioner, commented that “the one thing homeschoolers lack most is movement skills.” So do make an effort to get movement into your lessons in as many ways as possible! Use rhythmic activity in warm-up each morning before the main lesson. This is harder at home because our children are often self-conscious and there is no power of the group. Consider convening a group or incorporate movement activities at other times throughout day.

  • Gestures to a poem
  • Stepping to the rhythm of a verse
  • Circle Games
  • Learn a poem one line at a time with bean bags
  • Clap a rhythm (one claps, the other echoes the rhythm back)

Morning Circle or Warm-Up Time
Warm-up Time can incorporate many of these lively arts: movement, music, and speech through verses. Begin the day with rhythmic activities – anything of a rhythmic nature has to do with feelings. Rhythmic activity involves the whole body, warms up children to prepare for conceptual work, wakes up sleepy children and calms over-excited children, helps children remember the work of the day before, and deepens concepts the teacher has been working with.  This can be up to 30 minutes, but in a homeschool setting, it is sometimes best to keep this shorter, even 10 minutes is helpful (gauge this to your children). Here is a simple structure to follow:

  • Song calling everyone to the circle (keep the same all year)
  • Verse (seasonal)
  • Song (seasonal)
  • Bean Bag passing to a simple verse
  • Math games or material related to the specific block
  • Song
  • Opening Verse to begin lessons (keep the same all year)

  (Speech & Drama)

Research shows that children who are exposed to rhyme, alliteration (beginning sounds) and phonics (single vocal sounds) at an early age (such as ages 4 to 5) develop reading skills more quickly and effectively three years later. The earliest literature in every culture was in verse form, often heavily rhymed to aid oral transmission from one generation to the next. Like music, speech has shaping and healing power. Recite verses every day, and learn a new poem once a week. Verse recitation can be used for many purposes:

  • Movement
  • Setting mood
  • Language and literature

Steiner: “Poetry is conceived only through a solitary soul; but it is comprehended through human community.”

Drama & Role Play
Drama and Role Play both help to develop recall and ease with speaking in front of a group. Drama can aid children in “acting out” temperaments, and helps a group work together socially.

  • Make up simple tunes and simple verses from main lesson pictures or scenes
  • Create a puppet play
  • Act out a story you have read


JeanHeadShot3-13-13Jean Miller is the mother of three children and has been homeschooling inspired by Waldorf education for almost 20 years. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband of 25 years and their youngest child, who is still on the homeschooling journey and going into high school; their two sons are now in college. Jean has a Master of Arts in Teaching and has taught in both public and private schools, has tutored, homeschooled and taught small groups. She has been involved in and spearheaded several Waldorf-inspired groups over the years including Bridgeways, a charter school initiative, and Rainbow’s Edge, a small cooperative grades group. Her knowledge of Waldorf education comes from attending workshops, extensive reading, and planning and implementing many lessons. For the past seven summers, Jean has been one of the teachers presenting at the Taproot Teacher Training, organized by one of her mentors, Barbara Dewey, of Waldorf Without Walls. Jean finds inspiration not only in teaching and building community, but also from nature, poetry, the creative arts and singing.


5 thoughts on “The Seven Lively Arts: Part 1

  1. Dear Jean, Once again you bowl me over with your ability to condense and simplify a very large topic into a format that both instructs and inspires. Way to go!!! I love how you focus on simple ways to bring the Seven Lively Arts into our home schools on a daily basis. I had forgotten about those bean bags – memorizing poetry with bean bags is such a great idea.:) Love to you, friend:)

    • Thank you all! Love those arts and Sheila even took this a step further and created a chart listing the arts in boxes so that she could plan/keep track of which artistic activities she wanted to do/did in each block. A great way to vary the activities and keep it “lively.” That was Steiner’s main objective – to avoid abstract learning and keep it alive!

  2. Pingback: Lovely Links to Ponder | The Parenting Passageway

  3. Pingback: The Seven Lively Arts: Part 2 | Sure as the World

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