Developmental Picture of the Child
As they leave the dreamy mood of Early Childhood, students in Grade One begin to awaken to the world around them, experiencing it still as a unity, but ready to learn in a new way. They are developing independent and pictorial thinking, eager to bring focused concentration to learning.
How the Curriculum Meets the Grade One Student
The curriculum provides rich imaginative pictures and activities, which lay the groundwork for future critical and conceptual thinking. Each new concept is presented artistically through movement activities and stories, drawings, drama, music, or poetry, thus engaging children with varied learning styles (ranging from those who benefit from a multi-sensory approach to children who are already coming with academic skills). The curriculum is also built on daily routines that provide form, structure, rhythm, and a sense of security: the calendar and its festivals; the monthly change of main lesson blocks; balance in the lessons between quiet focus and active movement; the day rhythm of main lessons, subject lessons, snack and lunch periods, and time outdoors.
“Reverence for children and childhood requires you to stand back, look at the world, and remember what the children just know instinctively – that there is magic and wonder, and that life is beautiful.”
Class Teacher, London Waldorf School
Clear forms, rhythms, and routines define the flow of the day and the week help the children with the transition process. Every day provides a structure for the children to gradually bring consciousness and awareness to what they are doing, to build up an inner connection to their teachers, classmates, and the work of the class, to engage the will, to stretch their artistic sensibilities, and to stimulate their curiosity. These formative activities continue to provide a crucial basis for becoming healthy human beings physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively for years to come. The dreamy sense of oneness with the world that was present during the child’s Kindergarten years is now starting to fade, and the child is becoming his or her own person. It is time to gradually wake up.
The Grade One child still lives strongly in imitation, and this is, therefore, the teacher’s starting point. The child’s powers of imitation are harnessed in a healthy way.
Fostering the imagination plays a crucial role in the learning process, particularly at this stage of childhood, as the children still rely on the fluid process of picture thinking to understand their world. Over the grade school years, the curriculum is structured to allow for this picture-thinking to gradually metamorphose into logical linear thinking by Grade Eight.
Grade One is a time of working with balance, harmony, and centeredness, of knowing when to be boisterous and lively and when to be still, quiet, attentive, and ready to learn. The setting up of forms where there is a definite flow to the day, the week, and the seasons helps the child establish a right and comfortable relationship with the world.
Movement activities in the morning circle focus on lateral integration, building up a sense of rhythm and sequence, fostering a directional sense, strengthening the sense of touch, developing sound body geography, and again, requiring cooperation. Moving to poems, tongue twisters, and songs, the children practice rhythmic walking, stamping and clapping, bending and stretching, and throwing and catching, building up their stamina.
Indoor games and body geography exercises challenge the children in terms of their gross motor movement, strengthening balance, coordination, sensory integration, and spatial awareness. Movement journeys are couched in imaginative terms (e.g. a journey across the water, balancing over hot lava, climbing up the mountain, and jumping across lily pads).
The Qualities of Numbers
Working with numbers is done in a qualitative, imaginative way. Thus “one” is not just a unit, “two” twice many units, etc. but rather each number is a unique entity, connected with archetypal relationships and geometrical shapes (three is the sun, moon, and earth as well as a triangle, five is the hand with fingers but also a star, etc). This approach is closer to the child’s natural experience of the number realm and enables a strong transition to a quantitative approach, which is the basis of arithmetic.
Number Land with its never-ending number line plays an important role in building math skills. The children enjoy predicting who will be first, whether they will meet at the same resting place, or how many hops they need to make in order to get home. These visual/spatial experiences are complemented by the physical experience of numbers through movement (walking, skipping, clapping, passing bean bags back and forth, moving across the classroom on the number line), building up the children’s number sense; at the appropriate point in the year, counting is transformed into skip-counting, laying foundations for the times tables in Grade Two.
The Four Processes
Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are introduced through characters in order to make them come alive for the children, for example, characters such as Gnome Plus who loves counting and collecting, while Gnome Minus is happy to share. Gnome Multiply is so much faster than her brother and has a knack for putting gems into beautiful piles while her brother, Gnome Divide, always makes sure that people are treated fairly and get the same amount. In every math lesson, the children encounter questions that challenge them to figure out which of these math characters could help them solve a problem, encouraging flexibility in thinking.
In addition to these more imaginative and experiential forms of working with numbers, the children also search for number patterns in addition and subtraction and begin to establish an awareness of number bonds and even and odd numbers. Movement and the use of manipulatives (blocks, gems, beans, Cuisenaire rods, dominos, cards, dice) are integral parts of the methods the teacher chose to bring number sense alive.
The basic mathematics skills of Grade One are as follows:
Counting to 120
Recognition of the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
Comparing numbers (greater than/smaller than)
Solving of sentences of the four processes
Solving simple problems with numbers up to 30 with manipulatives
Knowing the basic number bonds to 12
Rhythmically counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 10s and 11s
Fairy tales, folk tales and nature stories from different continents, as well as poems and verses, provide the context for all our work in language arts, nourishing the children’s imagination through archetypal storylines while surrounding them with beautiful oral language, offering a treasure trove of images and ideas. The children make these stories their own when they recall them the following day, some remembering poignant details or surprising events, others pointing out the storyline, all strengthening their listening comprehension, memory, sequential thinking, expressive skills, and imagination in the process.
Stories about gnomes who live on the other side of the fence at the far side of the playground create an immediate connection to the rhythms of nature: they help the plants to sprout and blossom in the spring, fruit over the summer, go to seed in the autumn, and lie safely in their beds through the winter. “In my garden, there is a seed; I’m the one who put it there. Who will help it now to grow? Earth and sun and rain and air.”
Writing and Reading
Letters are introduced, first through a story, followed by a pictorial representation of a central image or character beginning with a specific sound, and finally, the letter symbolizing that sound. This process of developing a letter from a story allows the children to connect to each letter through their feeling life (heart), through drawing and tracing (hands), and finally cognitively (head).
Throughout the year, we work on phonemic and phonetic awareness—the basis of reading and writing—learning to notice and differentiate sounds, syllables, and rhymes, and finally matching sounds to letters and letter clusters. Word families provide aural and visual patterns to support the recognition of common word elements and “good friends” (e.g. th, sh, ch). Poems with rhyming words allow the children to connect to rhyming through images and, humour. Regular dictation of short words, phonics readers, and reading games provide an opportunity to deepen the awareness of how words are made.
In summary, the language skills for Grade One include:
Memorizing a variety of poems and verses
Listening to a story and re-telling it in sequence the next day
Recognition of sounds, syllables, and rhymes (phonemic awareness)
Recognition of the relationship between sounds and letters (phonetic awareness)
Recognition and formation of letter shapes (written on one’s back, written in the air, written on the board, written on one’s chalkboard, and in the main lesson book)
Knowing the sounds and letters of the alphabet in sequence
Recognition of some short words, beginning to sound out letters
Ability to accurately copy from the board and into the main lesson book
Children begin writing their own sentences in their own spelling
Good pencil grip
Performing or participating in several short plays (Michaelmas pageant assemblies, class play)
In Grade One the class begins by painting colour stories, using various combinations of colours without formed imagery. Through exploring the quality of each colour and its relationship to other colours, the children live into moods and explore inner experiences in paint. The students practice the mixing and control of watercolour paint on wet paper, working on dexterity and building up basic painting skills.
Drawing in terms of artistic expression is part of most main lessons. Through guided drawings, the children become familiar with different ways to use block crayons. The emphasis is on the use of broad strokes rather than lines to define the character of the objects, as well as the use of different layers of colour to create beauty and coherence.
We model with coloured beeswax. Slowly warming the beeswax in their hands, the children model objects found in nature as well as various shapes from stories. An important requirement of modelling is the quality of warmth brought about in the hands.
Form Drawing is a specific form of drawing inspired by movement—also called dynamic drawing. It involves experiences of straight and curved lines in space, brought to the children through observation, movement, touch, and finally drawing. Both straight and curved line drawings require concentration, control, and a sense of spatial proportion. These drawings help the students to find their orientation in space, to harmonize the relationships of the eye and the hand (from perception to willing), to track from left to right, and overall to develop skills in preparation for writing and reading.
The skills practiced in form drawing include:
Correct pencil grip
Accuracy and strength in fine motor control
Spatial awareness on paper
Directional norms (right to left, top to bottom)
Translation of whole body movement to hand movement
Recorders come into the classroom after Spring Break. The students begin working on good habits in sitting properly, holding their recorders properly, proper blowing technique, and instrument assembly and care.
Crafts for Grade One focuses on creating objects of beauty, using fine-motor skills. Some projects are meant to be completed in one class, while others take two or more classes to complete, allowing the children to develop the capacity for deferred gratification. Each project involves a number of steps, which strengthens the students’ sequential thinking.
The Handwork curriculum in Grade One is designed to support the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, together with the children’s creativity, imagination, and cultivation of a personal relationship to colour. The children are encouraged to grow in will, observation, thinking, spatial perception, aesthetic feeling, and perseverance, together with nurturing a sense of numeracy. Through practical tasks, the children relate to the world around them. The activities and skills for Grade One involve winding wool, making a pair of knitting needles, learning a slipknot, finger knitting, and learning the basics of knitting and sewing. Children make several small projects before proceeding to knit a recorder bag. This project is typically taken seamlessly to finishing in Grade Two. When appropriate, enrichment projects are offered to reinforce the learned skills and foster a development of children’s autonomy .
In Grade One, the main goals of teaching secondary languages are to familiarize the children with a different sound system, to create the experience of being able to understand or guess what is said in another language, to develop a level of comfort with using this language within the space of the classroom, and to experience the mood of a different culture by immersion in the language. The children’s inner sense of language is still very much intact, and the teacher’s facial expression, gestures, and tone convey the meaning without the need for translation. The language class is full of activities and movement, as well as beautiful visuals and stories. The French language is learned through imitation, and the children get an experience of the folk soul of French.
The vocabulary and content are all brought in a subconscious way through this approach and cover topics such as counting, colours, animals, simple prepositions, and simple actions.
Free play during recess and outdoor play in the landscape of the playground provides many opportunities to practice and test movement skills in the context of individual as well as group play– building, digging, running, throwing, balancing, and drifting in and out of group games. The children also have the opportunity to practice their skills during different seasons. Nature provides sensory experiences which cannot be replicated in the classroom and that the children crave: wind, rain, sun, snow, scents, the texture of mud, the feel of pebbles, and the weight of rocks.
Free play also creates immense opportunities for social learning in terms of an awareness of others in their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and, in a way, the need to control one’s own movements and emotions and to follow the agreed-upon rules in order to have positive interactions with one’s peers.
The children are able to experience the many lessons that organized play has to offer. Through structured games, the children develop their capacities of patience, listening, proprioception, sense of boundaries, fair play, and sportspersonship. This class focuses on the joy of play and its benefits, particularly related to working with the larger group of their peers. Because of its physical demands, Games class brings children into their bodies and gives them the opportunity to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Resilience, cooperation, spatial awareness, teamwork, and the joy of childhood are just a few gems we polish along the way.