“The heart of the Waldorf method is that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and his will must be reached, as well as the mind.” -Rudolf Steiner
In first grade the children are presented with the archetypes of the human being through fairy tales and folktales from around the world. The characters in each story represent positive attributes such as courage and honesty, alongside the lesser human qualities, offering a holistic picture of the complex world into which first graders are entering. These stories have existed across time and culture as a means to teach emotional intelligence and social development and are as accessible and relevant today as they were centuries ago.
Writing is taught by introducing the alphabet through pictures, stories and sound symbols. Students learn the proper way to hold and use a variety of writing instruments. Children produce vibrant, full-page lesson books, filled with letters, words and pictures.
Children memorize and chorally recite verses, poems and stories which relate to the curriculum or the natural world and seasons. Reciting rhymes, poems and tongue twisters develop their ear for language and small recitations at school assemblies and festivals allow them to become increasingly comfortable with public speaking as they advance through the grades.
Literacy is built through listening, vocabulary development, poetry and story – essentially employing a Whole Language approach to reading. Writing and illustrating poems and text learned “by heart” allows the children to then learn to read from their own writing as a natural extension of speaking. Spelling and phonics are practiced through word games and activities.
The world of numbers is first introduced through an exploration of the qualities of the numbers 1-12. Students look at what each number “means” (aloneness, duality, etc.) and also look around their environment, nature and even the human body, to find where these numbers exist. This is also when the written forms of the numbers are introduced though quantity, roman numerals and standard Arabic numerals. When we have studied the whole, we then move to the parts. All four basic math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) are introduced simultaneously through characterizations that demonstrate their essential qualities through stories, manipulatives, rhythmic games of hand-clapping, jump roping, stepping, and jumping. Visual activities and written exercises are also introduced to round out their math experience.
In early grades, science is taught through the natural world – where children this age are most at home. Walks in the surrounding woods and wetlands, as well as gardening activities, develop the children’s observation and curiosity, building a relationship to their living environment. In the classroom, stories that personify nature and relate its processes and qualities in experiential terms are most meaningful to the first grader and awaken a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world. These experiences provide a basis for scientific inquiry in the upper grades.
Following the morning Main Lesson, students move between 40-minute subject classes which engage them in a variety of ways. A more in-depth general description of these subjects can be found in the Specialty Classes section of the website.
Students have multiple recesses throughout the day, in almost all weather, to energize their bodies, let their academic studies rest, and activate their minds through social play, group dynamics, and exploration of the physical environment. Students have access to a large playing field, woods and a stream, natural climbing structures and digging spots, all which encourage them to engage them in unstructured and imaginative play.
Physical Education is specifically taught by the Movement and Games teacher, and the focus for Grade One is on circle games, cooperative games and skill-building (jump rope, coordination games, body geography, sportsmanship opportunities, etc.). In the winter, students participate in cross country skiing/snowshoeing and travel to a local ice rink for our Learn to Skate program.
Students in first grade are introduced to foreign language through German and Spanish classes, which meet twice per week throughout the school year. In Grade One, we are most concerned with providing cultural exposure and developing memory, language and vocabulary skills. These languages are taught mostly in the native tongue to familiarize students with the sound and cadence of the particular language and use games, stories, guided drawings, song and movement to engage students with the language. It is not until the older grades when writing and grammar are explored.
The focus for first grade is on the coordination of right and left hands and building the inner strength to both learn a new skill and follow through to complete projects. Knitting is a very rewarding skill for this age and also engages the mind and limbs for more integrated coordination, cognitive development, math skills, focus and attention, and pattern recognition.
Art is part of every class, every day and the aesthetic focus of all subjects is a hallmark of Waldorf education. While no formal art classes are taught in the lower grades, students learn beeswax modeling, form drawing, wet-on-wet watercolor painting and traditional drawing and crafts. These are led by the class teacher and are often accompanied by stories or related back to something the students have recently learned or experienced.
Music, like art, is a part of almost every class, every day. Singing and musical games are an excellent learning tool for first graders, both in their Main Lesson studies, as well as in special subject classes. Students in the lower grades have General Music classes as well, which focus on the introduction of musical concepts through movement and games, rhythm instruments, and singing. Musical vocabulary and written expression will come later in the grades once the foundation of hearing and experiencing music has been laid. Flute playing (Interval and/or Pentatonic) is a combined effort between the class teacher and the Music teacher.