The Seven Lively Arts: Part 2

Jean Miller is back with Part 2 of her article “The Seven Lively Arts.” You can find Part 1 here. She is also available to answer questions and comments, so don’t be shy!



The Seven Lively Arts

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

By Jean Miller, 

MUSICAL ARTS  (Singing & Recorder)

Steiner described the musical and poetic arts as bringing people together and having a harmonizing effect. Music creates the right mood. Steiner: “Music tunes and heals the soul life of the human being.”

One can bring music to young children in two ways: through singing, or leading simple melodies on simple instruments. Pentatonic songs harmonize what children feel inwardly; the pentatonic scale leaves out the 3rd and 7th notes in the octave – the sharps and flats. Until age nine, the pentatonic scale fits with child’s inner being.

One can use music for a variety of purposes:

  • To wake up children
  • To meet the mood of the season
  • To get them into the mood for work they’re about to do
  • To deepen feelings about work they’ve done
  • Singing in K; Recorder and Singing in G 1 & 2; Recorder, Singing and Instrument in G 3

Steiner: “Every child is a musical instrument and inwardly feels a kind of well-being in sound.” Steiner believed that the very forms of our bodies are made out of music.

Sing the melody in the early grades; children are naturally musical and imitate. Lead children into an experience of beauty and purity of tone through singing in unison. After age nine, rounds are appropriate and create harmony. Between the change of teeth and puberty, when the astral body is slowly being liberated, music is particularly important as an aid in this emancipation. In the upper grades, children can sing three and four-part songs.

Steiner: “If you can, you should choose a wind instrument…it is a wonderful thing in the child’s life when this whole configuration of the air…can be extended and guided.” Choices include recorder, choroi flute, or penny whistle.

 (Painting, Drawing, Modeling)

Steiner explained that the pictorial and sculptural arts (visual arts) deepen our experience of ourselves as individuals, and that the musical and poetic arts bring people together and have a harmonizing effect.

Painting is a way of exploring the beauty of colors on paper and gives us the experience of the quality and moods of different colors. We experience the harmony of colors inwardly.

Steiner: “Throughout the grades, painting primarily serves as a form of expression rather than a means of representation.”

Accompany painting with a simple story. Mondays are good days to paint (water day – also good for laundry). Tell a color tale or integrate painting into the main lesson.

Steiner said: “If there is a lot of flu going around and the children are not well, a painting lesson will renew their forces for their work in other subjects.”

Steiner suggests that if children can be taught how to draw so that they let forms arise out of color and let lines arise out of the meeting of colors, they will be enlivened and will develop a truer relationship to the external world. Drawing is a skill we can all learn.

  • Drawing isn’t arithmetic, there is not one right answer; pictures will look more similar in grade one and become more individual.
  • Drawing is an expression of feelings and images in your heart and head.
  • To get away from outline drawing, draw lightly at first and then that can easily be changed.
  • Colored pencils after age nine (because pencils force children to draw outlines).

Steiner: “In the sculptural and pictorial realm, we look at beauty, and we live it; in the musical realm we ourselves become beauty.”

Modeling with various materials enhances a child’s experience of the curriculum and has a vitalizing effect on the human being. Working with the hands in this way trains observation and awareness. Modeling can be incorporated during or after a story, and often goes well with nature stories; the scene can then be set out on the nature table. Beeswax gives qualities of warmth, color and fragrance to suit the light and airy nature of the child. The progression of modeling materials begins first with beeswax in the early grades, then moves on to clay, then wood, and stone in high school.

When Steiner describes the first day of school in Practical Advice to Teachers, he describes a conversation with the children about the importance of their hands – using their hands to work and create things. In the fourth grade block on the human being and animal, there is an important distinction about how our hands allow us to help bring goodness and beauty into the world. There are so many ideas for handwork, just remember to push through to finish!

Handwork ideas: knitting, crocheting, weaving, hand sewing, embroidery, paper crafts, felting, woodworking, carving and so much more. Handwork projects can also be tied to the seasons and incorporated into Festival celebrations.

Good luck and have fun bringing the Seven Lively Arts into your lessons! This will help to enliven your teaching and your time with your children. At the end of his life, Steiner talked about taking Waldorf education in a “drastically different direction” and was referring to grounding all teaching more fully in the arts! There are so many ways to do this that serve to inspire both our children and ourselves. Goethe believed that through art, human beings could reveal the secrets of nature that are concealed from our sense perception and consciousness.

A Brief Background on the Seven Lively Arts
The Seven Liberal Arts come from ancient times and grew out of the Four Branches of Knowledge in ancient Egypt: astrology, geometry, arithmetic and music. These Branches of Knowledge became the Seven Liberal Arts in ancient Greece, a time when spiritual and intellectual pursuits were intertwined. The Seven Liberal Arts included: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, geometry, astrology, arithmetic and music. In the early part of the twentieth century, around the time Steiner opened the first Waldorf School in Germany, the history of western art was characterized as incorporating the Seven Lively Arts: literature, dance, drama, architecture, sculpture, music and painting. There is a massive mural depicting these Seven Lively Arts at the Center for Performing Arts in Toronto! In his time, Steiner was concerned that teaching had become too abstract and strictly intellectual, and so created Waldorf education to bring the elements of feeling and willing (through the arts and hands-on activity) into all lessons to accompany thinking. The Seven Lively Arts give us a great scaffolding for bringing the arts into all of our learning.


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.


4 thoughts on “The Seven Lively Arts: Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Seven Lively Arts: Part 1 | Sure as the World

    • Glad to provoke thought, Siobhan! I encourage folks to pick one idea from here and giving it a try, bring it into your fall and see how that goes. Here’s to a lovely and lively year!

      • Thanks for the reminder Jean! To just try one idea. I love your saying “Go deep, not wider.” It goes hand in hand with the counter-cultural view that “Less is more.”

        Since I’m still finishing up yesterday’s to- do list this morning, my intention is to
        cut back to the essence of things, including art and what is most soul nourishing to me and my family. That makes it a little easier to choose from the vast variety of activities and homeschool options in the Philadelphia area.

        On a more practical note: What do you think of Dennis Klocek’s Drawing from the Book of Nature? Would you highly recommend it as a resource? Or just so so?

        Have a great day.

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