On the first day of school, the new first grader begins the day with their beloved Kindergarten teacher, who will send each child over the bridge to meet their new class teacher. Some children will skip and jump over the bridge, some may walk solemnly. They are taking their first step away from the play and imaginative imitation of Kindergarten to the organized experience of learning.
First grade can be thought of as striving to unite the class in a unified circle. The morning Circle is very important to the rhythm of the day and attempts unite and invigorate the class to carry them through the day. The class teacher works to give the class form with a strong sense of community and oneness. For the first grader, the Main Lesson begins with 30 minutes or more of circle time, movement, speech exercises, poetry, song, mental math and other exercises prepare the child for the Main lesson work.
After Main Lesson the first grader takes part in outdoor play, lunch, and specialty classes. In first grade, drawing precedes writing and 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, 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.
Learning the letters of the alphabet is done in a lively, pictorial way with the help of fairytales. The letter /S/ may be a fairy tale snake sinuously slithering through the grass on some secret errand; the motion of the sound becomes dynamic; the image becomes living. The teacher shows on the blackboard drawing how the letter is embedded in the picture, how perhaps the form of the letter W is hiding in the colorful drawing of the waves. The children draw the letter in the air with their hands, they make walk the form of the letter with their feet; their whole being participates in the writing experience. After experiencing the form in many ways, the children make their own pictures of waves, and then write the letter /W/, creating an illustrated book as each letter is presented.
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 main lesson books 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. Even children who have naturally learned to read by first grade find themselves thoroughly engaged, and experience a deepening of their comprehension and interest.
Exploration of numbers begins with solving riddles such as "What is one thing in the world that there can never be more than one of?" “Me!” So the characteristics of one, two, three, etc. are explored. Children take delight in counting, especially when the strong, rhythmic choral-speaking of the numbers is accompanied by stepping and clapping. Through these active experiences children learn recognition of numerals, qualities of numbers, number sense and flexibility, an understanding of the four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), the understanding of basic facts and initial steps towards their memorization.
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.
Nature Study and Science, take the form of an experience of hearing the world speak, talking of life and its adventures. The children learn the true facts of nature, but always in vivid, dramatic, story form. The children are told a series of detailed nature stories that embody science. These nature stories are illustrative pictures of the processes of plants, animals and the natural world. The elements of the natural world are also learned through songs, poems and games.
An integral part of 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 are developed that become the core of individual expression.
As part of everyday trips through the hall and in circle, the children sing. Singing songs together as is an important part of daily routines and seasonal festivals. The playing of tone and pentatonic flutes is taken up in first grade and fosters 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.
Fairy tales from around the world
Beginning phonics instruction
Alliterative verses and tongue twisters
Writing and reading simple sentences
Counting to 100
Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
Roman and Arabic numerals
Seasonal stories, songs, and poems
Main lesson illustration
Watercolor Painting and Drawing
Games and Movement
“The greatest scientists are artists as well. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”
-- Albert Einstein