At Minnesota Waldorf School first grade symbolizes a new beginning in your Child’s education journey. First grade marks a time when a child has developed the new capacities needed for learning and absorbing knowledge and for seeking out friends with whom they can develop deeper, more long-lasting relationships.
On the first day of school, the new first grader begins the day with their beloved kindergarten teachers, who will send each child over the rainbow bridge to their new first grade teacher. Some children will skip and jump over the bridge made of wood, flowers and draperies, some may walk solemnly. They are taking their first step away from the more dreamy and imaginative imitation in the homelike environment of kindergarten to the organized experience of learning.
At Minnesota Waldorf School, as in most Waldorf schools, teachers remain with the same class from 1st to 8th grade, allowing for growth and a deepening sense of class community.
This continuing connection allows teachers to better understand and meet the specific needs of the class as a whole and of individual students, without having to reestablish relationships each year.
First Grade Curriculum
Each day begins with Main Lesson. The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and mathematics are taught in blocks of 2 hours per day, with each block lasting from 3 to 6 or even 8 weeks long.
For the first grader, the Main lesson begins with 20–30 minutes of circle time, a time of movement filled with songs, rhymes, mental math and other exercises to prepare the child for the Main Lesson work.
Next the children come to their seats, ready for the day’s lesson. It is here that several important activities take place. The children will hear stories that will make up the content of our work. The children discuss and find meaning in these stories and are also led more deeply into their learning through expression in their writing and drawings. Care and discipline develop through techniques of drawing, form drawing and writing, ever seeking quality and beauty as they learn and practice these skills.
After Main Lesson the children have a hearty snack (brought from home) and time to play outdoors.
The afternoon consists of subject classes including handwork, movement, french, music and art. Each grade’s special subject curriculum is specifically designed to meet the needs of the children at a particular point in their development.
In mathematics the goals are recognition of number qualities, flexibility, an understanding of the four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), the understanding of basic facts and initial steps towards their memorization, noting patterns in the verbal and written form of basic facts, and an approach to the concept of place value experienced through comparison of Roman and Arabic numerals. There is much activity in the lesson and in the circle that involves counting and counting games, identification of numerals, and the writing of numbers.
Images from nature and practical situations provide the basis for active practice with the four processes. These stories serve as the introduction to the processes and as a place to find inspiration for story problems. With story problems the children are engaged in the imaginative activity of carrying out the process, at first with manipulatives and then in drawings. These story problems are connected with the rhythmical number work of the circle and the written numbers and symbols for the four processes.
The formal introduction of reading begins in first grade when the teacher draws on the archetypal moral images of the fairy tales to illustrate the consonants. For example, the king steps forward, brandishing his sword, and we recognize the letter K. Vowels are related to soul gestures and are also expressed in pictures.
We engage the child in movement: walking, tracing the letters on backs, in the air, with our feet, etc. Writing precedes reading, which is a far more abstract activity. The children learn to read by reading chorally and later individually what they have written or what the teacher has written on the board. The content is familiar and meaningful. Several methods of reading education are integrated: phonics, whole word recognition (sight words) and contextual clues. The children master the alphabetical order of letters.
In first grade, drawing precedes writing as writing precedes reading. Through form drawing the children experience the use and expression of the straight line and the curve out of which all letters are formed. Once this has been established, then the actual forms of the letters are derived out of story-based, orally presented world imaginations; thus the children experience them as being part of the world, not as mere abstractions. The teaching method is from whole to part. Thus from story image, to alliterative verse, to specific image word, to abstracted representative letter, the child is led to a comprehension of the word and the alphabet. Typically, the printed capital letters are introduced first and later the minuscules at the end of the year or the beginning of the next.
The children write through imitation of the teacher’s writing.Verses as well as story summaries involving their active participation are written into morning lesson books. Formal grammar is not taught but is experienced through the articulate speech of the teacher and the retelling of stories by the children. Both vocal and consonantal sounds and blends, and their representative letters are worked with in alliterative speech exercises, body gestures and movements, and drama. Emphasis is placed on posture, pencil-grip and neat letter formation.
Art and the Sciences
Reading, writing and mathematics are the primary subjects of the first grade.
During first and second grade the children are told a series of detailed nature stories that embody the science that they will later be directly exposed to. These nature stories are vivid, illustrative pictures of the processes of plants, animals and the natural world.
In kindergarten and the early grades, geography comes in the form of exploration and discovery of the world of nature, earth, water, air, seasons and natural processes. These processes are not named or brought to the child in an abstract or intellectual way but rather through nature stories and tales. The water cycle and the ecology of the earth are experienced through characterization of sprites, nymphs and gnomes and the elements of the natural world that express their nature through songs, poems and games.
Also integral to the first grade experience are the arts of painting and music. Painting is a weekly activity. Painting with the liquid color brings much to the children. Through the work with this technique, a range of growing skills is developed that become the core of individual expression.
As part of everyday trips through the hall, in circle, and with blessings, the children sing. Singing songs together as part of daily and seasonal rituals continues that element established in the kindergarten. The playing of pentatonic flutes becomes increasingly a part of the day—not for proficiency, but for the social aspect of making music together.
The first grade presents a class play toward the end of the school year. The play is developed through the morning circle work and is often presented to parents in a circle format rather than a traditional staged play format. Parents are invited to the performance, but it is not performed for the school.
Meet Moriah Mahlstadt, Minnesota Waldorf School’s Class of 2030’s first grade teacher and learn a little about her approach to teaching first grade.