The Waldorf Curriculum: Grade One

Block Rotations and Course Descriptions

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As he or she progresses through Grades One through Eight, the Waldorf class teacher must determine not only what will be taught, but also how and when. The “block rotation” presented here, as well as the descriptions of the subjects to be taught and the week-by-week approach to this teaching, will hopefully inspire class teachers to develop their own modus operandi for this challenging task.

This June, Eugene Schwartz will lead “The Essential Grade One,” a conference for teachers, in Kimberton, PA. For more information visit www.essentialwaldorf.com.
Note: Elements of Grade One, a CD-ROM with many images of student work from this grade, as well as verses and a class play, may be purchased at the millennialchild.com Online CD Catalog.

First Grade Main Lesson Block Rotation
Eugene Schwartz, class teacher

September 6 – September 29    Form Drawing
   
October 2 – October 20    Arithmetic
   
October 23 – November 22    Writing and Reading
   
November 27 – December 22    Form Drawing
   
January 8 – January 26    Arithmetic
   
January 29 – February 16    Writing and Reading
   
February 26 – March 23    Arithmetic
   
March 26 – April 12    Form Drawing
   
April 23 – May 11     Writing and Reading
   
May 14 – June 1    Class Play
   
June 4 – June 8    Year-End Review
   

FIRST GRADE MAIN LESSON BLOCKS

Form Drawing
(9 weeks, and once a week during other blocks)

    In some respects, Form Drawing is the most important subject that your child will study this year, for it provides a good foundation for the letter recognition that is so central to reading, as well as numerical/spatial relationships that are so essential in arithmetic. As you will see when we do some Form Drawing in our parent evenings, the drawings themselves could not be any simpler: all year we work with only two elements of drawing – straight lines and curves. On the very first day of school, the children will be presented with the polarity of these two kinds of lines, and throughout the year they will see the infinite variety of forms that can be created out of these simple elements. Form Drawing  awakens several capacities in the first grader:
•    Concentration: this elusive quality flourishes in Form Drawing. The forms we draw can’t be done well unless each child is focused and quiet.
•    Eye/hand coordination: the “model” drawing on the board must be copied onto the child’s paper, and, as the year goes on, most children learn to trust their eye’s guidance. This ability to trust in one’s own capacities helps instill confidence that in turn shows itself in other subjects.
•    Understanding the relationship of the part to the whole: the harmonious nature of the form drawings we will do helps both the scattered child, who is drawn too far into the “whole,” and the overly-contracted child, who lives too strongly in the “parts.”
•    Understanding forms that relate to numbers: the simple “geometrical drawings” the children encounter will help with numerical relationships and a whole range of geometrical concepts.
•    Neatness and balance: a Form Drawing can’t be beautiful unless it is placed in just the right way on the paper!
On the following page are examples of children’s work from another first grade that I have taught to give you an idea of the types of drawings we will be creating this year:
   

Straight Lines

      

Straight and Curved Lines

Running Forms

Symmetrical Forms

Circles

                                                  

Forms Inscribed in Circles

Arithmetic
(9 weeks, with daily times tables and “mental arithmetic” practice
throughout the year)

    Although the question that is usually on the tip of every parent’s tongue in First Grade is “Is my child learning to read?” an even more important question should be, “How is my child doing in arithmetic?” Reading and writing are “spectrum” subjects, that can be mastered over a wide range of years – there is hardly an age at which reading is amore easily mastered than at any other age. Arithmetic and, later, mathematics, are quite “age-specific,” and what is not learned during a given “window,” is far more difficult to pick up or master several months later. I say this not to inspire panic, but rather to point out that our culture tends to place too much emphasis on literacy and not nearly enough on numeracy.

    We will approach the crucial first year of arithmetic from a number of perspectives:
•    The Qualities of Numbers: The consciousness of the young child still experiences numbers as “qualities” at least as much as he or she understands them as “quantities.” For five to seven days, we will hear stories in which the numbers up to seven figure importantly (The Three Little Pigs, The Six Swans, The Seven Ravens, etc.) to set the stage for the increasingly quantifiable experience of numbers that constitutes arithmetic.
•    Counting: Six- and seven-year-olds love to count; the combination of rhythmical regularity and ceaseless change is very harmonizing! We will become familiar with the succession of numbers from one to one hundred – forwards and backwards!
•    Times-Tables: Once the children are comfortable with counting, it is a small but important step to count with strong rhythms, speaking some numbers quietly and others loudly – and suddenly the times-tables appear! Learning the rhythms of multiplication grows more difficult for children with each passing year, but it is crucial that children are comfortable with their tables up to 12 x 12 by the end of third grade. This year we will work with the twos, threes, fives, and tens tables. We will use recitation, song, movement exercises, form drawings, string games, and mental arithmetic to help us out, and you’ll experience it all at our parent evenings.
•    Numbers as Signifiers: This is, of course, the basis of arithmetic as we know it today; indeed, this is the basis of modern life. Working with numbers as units, using a number to tell us “how many” there are is a powerfully awakening experience – and not all first graders are ready for the rude awakening of number-as-quantity. The bags of counting shells that you helped to make this summer will serve as our archetypal tools to enter into this powerful new way of perceiving the world.
•    Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers: There is a profound difference between numbers that merely signify, e.g. I have three of those, five of these, etc. and those numbers that show places, e.g. I’m first in line! He’s the third child to get a book, etc. We will learn how a cardinal numbers become ordinal numbers.
•    The Four Operations: The more I teach, the more I marvel at the mysterious ways in which children come to understand the difficult concepts of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and diving. We help things along by teaching the operations through a story (of course!) in which they are treated anthropomorphically (that’s not the same as “anthroposophically”).  We’ll be examining this in detail in parent evenings this winter.

Writing and Reading
(10 weeks)

    Nothing has brought more notoriety to Waldorf schools more than the way in which we teach reading in the early grades. Yet it is interesting that no one has much to say about how well or poorly Waldorf students read at the other end of their education, when they are in high school and college. The fact is, most Waldorf students become excellent readers, enthusiastic readers, and intelligent readers – we must be doing something right! Our approach to reading is, indeed, slow, and I hope that you have had a chance to look at my book Seeing, Hearing, Learning, to see how the health of the child’s eyes is bolstered through such an approach. On the other hand, our approach is also thorough, rich, artistic, and, for the most part, joyful for first graders. Some of our methods include:

•    Movement from the STORY (which is heard), to the PICTURE, to the HIEROGLYPH or IDEOGRAM stage, to the final LETTER. This is certainly one of the Waldorf school’s most unique approaches – every time a consonant is learned, the child is recapitulating thousands of years of human progress. By going through the process of letter discovery, the child establishes a far deeper relationship with literacy than one who merely learns to identify the finished product, i.e. reading straight from a book.

•    Daily Recitation: Mainstream learning specialists are increasingly urging educators to do more with spoken language as a way to bolster children’s reading abilities; Waldorf schools have been doing that for decades. By reciting and slowly memorizing many examples of beautiful and meaningful poetry, children develop faculties for distinguishing the basic sound combinations (phonemes) that make up our language. I have found that, almost invariably, children who learn to enunciate well are also better spellers.

•    Form Drawing: The straight and curved lines that are the backbone of Form Drawing are also the basic elements of our letters. By learning first in Form Drawing the difference between a curve that “faces” right and one that faces left, or where a curve ends and a straight line begins, a child becomes better able to perceive and recollect the forms of the letters.

Here are two examples by former students of the transition from picture to letter:

                             

                                                  

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