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First Grade: Academic Beginnings

First grade in Waldorf schools acts as a bridge between the dreamy rhythms of kindergarten and the experiential, art-infused, more dynamic world of Waldorf elementary education. Not only is it a magical transition for graduates of Waldorf kindergartens, it’s a fresh start for new families striving to get more from their child’s schooling than other educational models provide.

Waldorf education places an emphasis on cultivating the whole child—emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually. In kindergarten, this means a focus on play-based learning and imaginative imitation in the homelike environment of the early childhood cottage. In first grade, however, the educational focus shifts to more explicit academic instruction.


Waldorf’s Solid Foundation

First-grade teachers lay academic foundations that they build on throughout the year and in each subsequent grade. Great care is taken to tailor the schoolwork to be developmentally appropriate for the age of the child and to encourage a lifelong love of and enthusiasm for learning.
Ideally, this passion for learning is nurtured by the same teacher from first through eighth grade. At Minnesota Waldorf School, we encourage an educational practice common to most Waldorf schools where the same teacher remains with a class as they rise through the grades. Allowing teachers to “loop” through all eight grades with the same group of students helps them to better understand and meet the needs of both the class as a whole and individual students. Looping is just one piece of the beauty, intentionality, and focus on relationships built into the Waldorf curriculum. The actual transition from kindergarten to first grade reflects this emphasis as well.

On the first day of school, new first-graders spend the first part of the morning in the familiar care of their kindergarten teachers. At a ceremony that parents attend, the kindergarten teachers send each child over a symbolic wooden bridge to their first-grade teacher. Some children skip and jump over the bridge; others walk solemnly.

But regardless of the manner in which each child crosses the bridge, an important transition has just occurred. Entering first grade symbolizes a new beginning in a child’s educational journey. Developmentally, the first-grade child has newly acquired capacities emotionally, socially, and intellectually, that the Waldorf curriculum recognizes and nurtures.


First Grade Curriculum

Taught by the class teacher, Morning Lesson lies at the heart of the Waldorf grades curriculum. Core subjects, such as history, language arts, science, and mathematics, are the focus of each daily two-hour period. Subjects are taught in blocks that last from three to eight weeks, allowing teachers to dive more deeply into each topic.

In first grade, Morning Lesson begins with 20 to 30 minutes of circle time. This transitional period of movement is filled with songs, rhymes, mental math, and other exercises that prepare the children for the rest of the lesson. Once the children take their seats, ready for the day’s lesson, they hear stories that will make up the content of their work. The class discusses and finds meaning in these stories. Led by their teacher, they delve more deeply into their understanding of what they just learned by expressing themselves through writing and drawing. Class teachers encourage children to not only seek proficiency as they acquire these skills, but to seek quality, beauty, and pride in their work.

After Morning Lesson, they eat snack and play outdoors before transitioning to their subject classes, including handwork, movement and French. First-graders typically have two 45-minute subject classes each day before transitioning to lunch and more recess. They end the day with a rest period and story time. Afternoons in the first grade are kept deliberately relaxed to support the developmental need of first-graders to still have intentional periods of play while growing academically.


Language Arts 

The young child’s imagination and experience of the world are at the heart of the Waldorf first grade language arts curriculum. Class teachers introduce concepts in an intentional manner designed to engage the intellectual curiosity of the first-grader.

Form drawing precedes writing and writing precedes reading. Children begin by imitating the teacher’s straight and curved lines. Throughout first grade, the physical shapes of letters are taught and reinforced in a variety of ways, ranging from physical activities to painting with watercolors.


Each letter of the alphabet is presented individually. The lesson for each letter involves both artwork designed by the class teacher and an archetypal story. For example, the teacher may relate a tale about a king brandishing his sword as he strides throughout the countryside. The teacher then draws a picture showing this, and in this way the children recognize the letter “K.” This pairing of vivid imagery with fairytales creates meaningful, lasting connections with the shapes and phonetic sounds of the alphabet.

Verses and stories involving the first graders’ active participation are written by the teacher on the board and copied into each child’s morning lesson book. In this way, students physically create the primer from which they’ll learn to read. Reading and writing grow organically from the seeds planted in the first grade curriculum. Class teachers show children the way and allow them to proceed at their own pace. Children develop an appreciation for the natural beauty and rhythm of language and an innate understanding of story structure—skills they’ll use later in upper grades creative writing and literature blocks.


First grade math blends the magical with the practical. Mathematical concepts are brought to children through a variety of methods tailored to their developmental level and designed to spark their imaginations.  The quantitative aspect of numbers is experienced through real objects, like acorns, glass “jewels,” and other manipulatives, all beautiful, and many taken directly from nature. Games and rhythmic physical movement, such as clapping and jumping rope, reinforce concepts like counting, numerical patterns, and the times tables. The art of form drawing familiarizes students with simple geometric shapes as they become proficient at drawing straight lines, curved lines, circles, triangles, squares, and more.

Children are introduced to the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) through imaginative stories. Images from nature and practical situations allow children to actively practice the concepts they’re learning.  At every stage, Waldorf math moves beyond rote memorization of facts and relates back to the child’s place in the world and what it means to be fully human. Lessons about friendship, sharing, flexibility, and personal agency are interwoven with instruction on the mathematical concepts needed for mastery of algebra and geometry in later grades.

Science, History, and Geography 

Reading, writing, and mathematics are the primary focus of first grade, but science, history, and geography are naturally woven throughout the school day. Children are introduced to the cultural history of humanity through myths, fables, and fairytales. They are told detailed nature stories that embody the science they will be directly exposed to in later grades. And every day, Waldorf first-graders spend multiple periods outdoors, directly experiencing and exploring the natural world with their teacher.


Art, Music, Handwork, and French

Specialized subject classes complete the Waldorf curriculum, building upon and enriching the work done in Morning Lesson. In addition to providing a richer educational experience, subject classes also give Waldorf students the opportunity to develop relationships with teachers other than their class teacher. At Minnesota Waldorf School, first-graders are eased into these specialized classes. They receive instruction in handwork, movement, and a foreign language (currently French) several times a week. In later grades, woodworking, choir, string ensemble, and more specialized fine arts classes are added into the students’ schedules. In first grade, however, it’s the class teacher who provides most instruction in art and music.


Singing occurs organically throughout the day; the act of singing together continues the daily and seasonal rhythms established in kindergarten. Pentatonic flutes are also gradually introduced, giving students the experience of playing music together. Painting with watercolors is a weekly activity in first grade. Working with this technique, children develop a range of growing skills that become the core of individual expression.

Drama is another key part of the Waldorf curriculum that begins in first grade. Toward the end of the school year, the class presents a play. The play is developed through the morning circle work and is often presented to parents in a circle format rather than as a traditional staged play. Parents are invited to the performance, but it is not performed for the school.


Building Community

Parents and guardians will find their own presence at the school is warmly welcomed, for it is seen as a valuable component in the education of their child. Even before the first grade play, the teacher may find ways to invite parents into the classroom to help with special projects or field trips. More formal activities, such as seasonal festivals and all-grades assemblies known as Friday Gathering, are also open to parents and other family members. In this way, Minnesota Waldorf School seeks to lay a foundation for the first-grader that is steady and spreads beyond its doors.

Waldorf education is not just about learning, it is an experience, and it is shared joyfully with all. If you would like to learn how our school can share this experience with your child—in first grade and more, please contact us.