Learning to learn: this is the purpose of the first grade. The teacher’s task is for the teacher 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 the 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, on the chalkboard 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 actually characters with whom the children have a real relationship.
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 chalkboard by the teacher and in main lesson books by the children. The class compose 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 and 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 are 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 of 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 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. First graders also knit, paint and color. The concentrated and varied nature of work in first grade makes new increased demands on a child’s energy levels. They may require more rest than before, a more consistent bedtime routine and more nutritious snacks and meals.
Parents of first-grade age-ready children are invited to join the Bridge to First Grade Evening. Contact the Director of Admissions, Alex Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to RSVP.