The Journey Begins
The first grade curriculum at Highland Hall meets the children who have come "up the hill" (literally and figuratively) from the kindergarten program. The kindergarten teachers, who have known these children well, have looked carefully at developmental readiness before lovingly handing them on to the first grade teacher. By the age of six and seven, the young child has usually shed some teeth. Rudolf Steiner saw this development as one of the indicators of the child's readiness for more formal learning. A sense of individuality is apparent in the child at this stage; and they are ready to accept a different relationship with the adult teachers.
Academics and Movement
In first grade the morning lesson begins with a circle, providing the children an opportunity to move as they recite various verses, poems, songs and rhythmic number patterns. The circle time in first grade is generally 30-45 minutes long and is led by the class teacher. Clarity of speech is developed as the children learn many different qualities of speech and movement - loud/soft, fast/slow, silly/serious, and outward/inward in gesture.
Circle time is also a wonderful antidote to long car rides to school and the need most children today have for more physical activity. The teacher helps the child develop body integration by observing carefully how the child moves during the circle activities. Exercises to strengthen the child's body geography are employed playfully and imaginatively. The teacher seeks to understand any special needs the child may have and helps to address imbalances.
Engaged and Ready to Learn
The experience of circle time engages the child's will forces, and by the time the children sit down at their desks, they are ready to review material from the previous day, listen to the day's new material, and work in their main lesson books. By moving in unison, singing together, and learning to speak verses, poetry and speech exercises, first graders begin to sense themselves as a class. This "class identity" develops throughout the years.
Language Arts: Recitation, Storytelling and Verses
The bulk of the first grade language arts curriculum is presented orally. The letters of the alphabet are introduced through stories, usually fairy tales, providing a rich source of imaginative images for the child. The class teacher illustrates these stories on the blackboard, and then brings letters from the pictures. In this way the children learn the sounds of the consonants (i.e. "G" for goose, "B" for bear). Consonants are considered forming letters. They seldom have more than one sound in English. Vowels have a feeling quality; teachers often introduce them in a different way from consonants, drawing attention to the vowels' capacity to make several different sounds. As the children mature and move up the grades, they will be introduced to more complex vowel blends (diphthongs and digraphs).
Ready for Reading & Writing
The major approach used to teach reading is "whole language," which entails introducing reading through writing, sight word recognition, and phonics awareness. Sight words are words that occur often in both written and spoken language (e.g. and, the, was) and do not usually follow phonetic patterns. Word families such as fat, mat, hat and cat may also be introduced as a phonetic approach to language learning. Throughout the year the children copy familiar short poems and verses. They also act out stories that have been a basis for learning letters, and they may model the characters in beeswax. Thus, every aspect of the child - head, heart and hand - has absorbed the story and its nuances. When the children write familiar verses and sentences carefully and beautifully, they naturally begin to read what they already know.
To learn writing, students initially copy their teacher's writing from the blackboard. By beginning with copying, children learn proper sentence structure; organization of thought, and beautiful language, while imitating well-formed printing. While all teachers introduce upper case letters in first grade, some also introduce lower case.
The first grade curriculum introduces the children to form drawing, an activity developed by Rudolf Steiner and taught primarily in grades one through five. During the form drawing lesson, the children reproduce patterns presented to them by the teacher. This helps them to form a sense of uprightness, a sense of rhythm, and an orientation to right/left and up/down. The form drawing exercises may be walked initially, drawn in the air or on the blackboard, created in rope, or moved through space in other ways. In addition to developing spatial orientation, form drawing lessons also help develop skills necessary for writing and reading.
Mathematics – The Four Processes
In the arithmetic curriculum, the numbers 1 to 12 are introduced through verses, stories, and drawings. The living qualities and characters of the numbers may be related to naturally occurring elements: for example, one sun, two eyes, the four seasons, or ten fingers, etc. Again, maintaining a picture quality that is imbued with imagination is important in teaching first graders. Counting objects and writing the numerals may cover the order of the numbers from 1 - 100. The four processes are introduced through stories, movement, and manipulative objects. The children are given imaginative and tactile experiences that help cultivate relationship with the numbers. The teacher introduces several times tables, and some teachers also introduce Roman numerals.
Importance of the Arts
Waldorf education recognizes the importance of beauty: all work is imbued with color, form and texture that should be pleasing. This is obvious in the weekly painting lessons. The teacher uses stories to introduce the qualities of the colors as well as to develop new skills such as handling of the brush, paint, and paper. The children also learn to become helpers in the set-up and clean-up, another important aspect of painting lessons.
The children begin to play the interval and pentatonic flutes. Singing together and playing the flutes helps to develop the children's musical ear and supports the social life of the class.
Weaving the Social Fabric of the Classroom
In the first grade, children begin to learn how to work in a group. The challenges of getting along, listening to one another, learning to be kind, and taking turns are all important parts of the social work of the classroom. Pedagogical stories (in which the teacher creates stories with moral and ethical foundations that reflect the current challenges faced by the students), as well as the fairy tales told by the teacher, support the developing social awareness of the children. Under the direction of the teacher, the children may take turns with chores and learn how to support other members of the class.