First Grade is a bridge between the Kindergarten and The Denver Waldorf Elementary School. The loss of the milk (baby) teeth indicate children have completed the formation of their physical bodies and are ready to begin to work with their minds. An important task for the teacher is to create a rhythm for the children’s school lives to enable them to grow and learn in a healthy way. Towards this end the teacher designs a rhythm not only through the season’s festivals and holidays but also within each day and within each lesson during the day.
The year begins with the discovery that behind all forms lie two basic principles: The straight and curved line. The children find these shapes in their own bodies, in the classroom and in the world beyond. The straight and curved line are then practiced through walking, drawing in the air and sand, on the blackboard and finally, on paper. These form drawings train motor skills, awaken the children’s powers of observation and provide a foundation for the introduction of the alphabet.
Through fairy tales and stories the children are introduced to each letter of the alphabet. In this way the children experience the development of language in a very concrete yet creative way: Instead of abstract symbols the letters become actual characters with whom the children have a real relationship. “S” may be a fairy tale snake sinuously slithering through the grass on some secret errand; the “W” may be hiding in the blackboard drawing of waves.
When the children have mastered the sounds and can name and write them, they are ready for their first reading experience. The episodes of a story are illustrated by a series of pictures drawn on the blackboard by the teacher and in notebooks by the children. The class composes short descriptive sentences to accompany each picture. The wording is then copied from the teacher’s model. Through these activities the children learn word and sentence structure without conscious effort and have the joy of creating their own illustrated books for reading material.
In a similar way, the children first experience the qualities of numbers before learning addition or subtraction: What is “oneness”? What is there only one of in the world? (“Me!”) So the characteristics of one, two, three, etc., are explored in the children’s inner experience and in nature. Stones, acorns or other natural objects are used to introduce counting. Children take delight in this, especially when the strong, rhythmic choral-speaking of the numbers is accompanied by stepping and clapping. Through these activities the children befriend themselves with the form and movement of the number element. Only after considerable practical experience in adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing are the written symbols for these operations introduced.
Children learn best at this age by entering with love, sympathy and wonder into the world they are studying; the imaginative pictures and stories help to inspire the love and sympathy and wonder they will need for the task. Nature study takes the form of an experience of hearing the world speak, talking of life and its adventures. The child learns the true facts of nature, but always in vivid, dramatic, story form.
First graders enter the world of music through the pentatonic scale. In this scale all the notes have a harmonious sound in any order they are played. Songs are based on seasonal themes: the playing of the pentatonic flute develops finger coordination, concentration and breath control.
Knitting is an indispensable first-grade activity as there exists a close relationship between finger movement, speech and thinking. Some classes may choose to make scarves or perhaps knitted squares to be joined into a blanket.
Painting in the first grade is intended to give the children an experience of working with color rather than attempting to create formed “pictures.” The children’s feelings for form are encouraged through honey-fragrant beeswax modeling and crayon illustrations. In coloring, the children imitate the teacher’s work, attempting to draw whole shapes rather than filling in outlines.
The imitative genius of early childhood makes this an ideal time to learn through hearing and speaking another language (often two languages) chosen for their appropriateness to the time and the school’s location. Eurythmy, an art of movement developed by Rudolf Steiner, is taught by specially-trained teachers. Exercises affect the children’s grace of movement, sensitize hands and fingers, heighten drawing and modeling ability, relieve strain and tension, and stimulate musical, poetic and dramatic senses.
The concentrated nature of the first grade work makes new increased demands on children’s energy levels. They may require more rest than before, a more consistent routine at bedtime and more nutritious snacks and meals. Any of these changes are common and should not alarm parents. However, children may exhibit some resistance to changing home routines (e.g., bedtime). Parents may need special encouragement from one another and suggestions to achieve the desired changes which they know will benefit their child.