The study of language at the Waldorf School of Princeton begins with the spoken word. Before the first grade there is no formal instruction in the alphabet or writing; however, the oral exploration of language that takes place through stories, puppet shows, songs, creative play, and social interaction is a strong precursor to the literacy that is emphasized in the grade school curriculum.
In the first grade, the alphabet is introduced through a series of stories that kindle the imagination. In these early years, tales and verses—heard, retold, and recited—lay the foundation for writing and reading instruction. Instead of following along in commercial textbooks, each child creates personal books, which they illustrate themselves, writing down the stories they have heard from the teacher. These become their first primers. The spoken word is still emphasized in verses, choral readings, and songs, but there is more time spent on strengthening the children's reading and writing abilities.
Handwriting in the main lesson books begins with uppercase letters in the first grade, with lowercase and cursive writing following shortly thereafter. Original compositions and grammar are a part of the curriculum through the upper grades, with all parts of speech, punctuation, and simple verb tenses introduced by the fourth grade. As the children become independent readers, books are assigned that enhance the curriculum, whether fiction, history, or biography, and allow the students to broaden their experience of world cultures. The assigned literature can be challenging, and the children are asked to write reviews and think deeply about the content. In their writing, stylistic concerns become the focus as increasing demands are placed on their reports, stories, poems, and essays. Oral presentations are also a part of the upper grades curriculum. By the eighth grade, Waldorf students are experts in the written word and have no equal in their ability to memorize, recite, and speak in front of a group.
Another aspect of the language curriculum is the class play, one of the highlights of the year for the children. Typically each class will perform one play each year, which in the case of the first and second grades is a simple choral reading of a fairy tale with a few children taking a solo part. The eighth grade class celebrates the end of their many years together with the production of a classic play, often a Shakespeare comedy.