1st grade at Camellia Waldorf School is a gentle but invigorating start to “real school”. Realizing that 1st graders are full of energy and excited to learn, we let the children begin the day with rhythmic movement, songs, and poems, sometimes standing in a circle with our teacher and classmates, sometimes standing behind our desks. The children are brought into the classroom with a welcoming smile and handshake (the latter in non-pandemic times), then go to their desk where a quiet activity awaits them. Once all the children are at their desks, the teacher greets the whole class. Then the fun begins as all stand to say the morning verse, do a few movement games, and play out gestures given by the teacher that accompany the poems or songs. After the children are warmed up in this way, they are ready to give some of their ebullient energy to learning academics.
The year begins with a two to-three week morning lesson in form drawing, a subject unique to Waldorf schools, which prepares the children for learning to read and write. They learn how to hold a pencil properly, how to sit up straight in their chairs with their feet on the floor so that their backs are properly supported to do this new kind of activity. The teacher tells a brief story about the gesture of the form or design they are to draw, and the children practice drawing it in the air and on their desks with their writing finger, on the floor with their foot, and walking it with their friends. Once the form has been well-practiced, the children draw it with a crayon on paper, making a beautiful color image of the form.
With the following block of lessons, the 1st grade begins its odyssey into the land of letters, of writing and reading. Fairy tales told by the teacher introduce each letter to the children, and they learn about the letters in their capital form first, which is presented pictorially and which they eventually draw in their lesson books. For instance, the teacher might tell the fairytale of the magic fish to introduce the letter “F”, drawing the “f” in such a way as to show how the letter carries the shape of the fish. Introducing the letters in this way makes the very abstract idea of putting symbols on paper that represent sounds much more accessible, and even the children who already know how to read find the process delightful and get to know and appreciate the letters in a new way. During this block, the children begin to put the letters together into words and the learning-to-read process is off to a successful start!
The children are then brought to meet the numbers from one to ten or twelve in a similar way. Stories are given that emphasize the archetypes of the numbers, and the numbers are then drawn in colorful ways. The bright sun might be drawn for number one, or the sun and moon for the number two, for instance, relating the numbers to real and familiar things in the world. In this first number block that the children learn to count everything: their fingers, the marbles or beans in their counting bags, the number of children in the class, classes in the school, pebbles in the basket, steps it takes to walk all the way to the restroom! Soon, they will be learning all four arithmetic processes through stories of King Plus, Queen Minus, Prince Times, and Princess Divide, who work magic with numbers via their special gifts which the children make their own.
Throughout the school year, the children go on walks by the river with their teacher, developing their powers of observation as they learn to appreciate the natural beauty around them. Nature blocks serve as the science curriculum of 1st grade, and the children bring back to class the observations they have made while outside of the changing seasons, the trees, and the plant and wildlife they have seen. Their main lesson books are filled with their drawings of these things and little descriptions or stories about nature as they practice their newfound ability to write their thoughts on paper.
1st graders at Camellia are given the kind of introduction to school that encourages a love of learning which will carry the children into the upper grades with a strong will and desire to learn. Waldorf education nourishes the body, soul, and spirit of the children so that they are eager for more and can’t wait to see what will happen tomorrow! 1st grade is a time to learn to play cooperatively rather than competitively, and the games for these younger students emphasize cooperation.