Waldorf First Grade At Home

Teaching a Waldorf-inspired first grade at home is so much fun!  For those of you who are new to Waldorf homeschooling, Waldorf first grade is for children who are close to the age of seven.  This works in conjunction with Steiner’s observations of child development according to seven year cycles, so yes, a six year old is still typically in their second year of kindergarten at a Waldorf school.   Academic work is not directly taught until the first grade.  At home especially, I encourage parents to view first grade as a bridge between the kindergarten years and the other grades to come (more about this in a minute).

The Waldorf grades work in conjunction with “blocks” where subjects are taught daily for a certain length of time – from three weeks to a month, for example.  This is called a “main lesson.”  The children have main lesson books that they draw summaries of their lessons into and try to showcase their best work.  Main lesson work is considered work of the HEAD and typically involves good morning verses (memorized), a seasonal circle time that is very active (also memorized verses and songs and may include playing a recorder or pennywhistle), and then the main lesson on whatever subject the student is learning about.  The teacher memorizes the material presented and the students write summaries in their books, so there really are no textbooks or worksheets involved in this active learning method. 

The Main Lesson has a three part rhythm to it that involves the child using sleep as an aid to learning.  No other method of education uses sleep the way that Waldorf does, as a true help for memorizing and living into subjects.  For example, on Monday, a concept is introduced through a story that may involve puppetry or other props.  Tuesday may then  involve re-visiting the story and something such as art, drama, modeling, going outside to look for something in the story; essentially expounding on some part of the story that has been already been told.  Wednesday then involves a re-visiting of the story with the academic piece drawn into the main lesson book.  Some families, for first grade, do a three day rhythm for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then do wet on wet watercolor painting on Thursdays.  Some families fit in two main stories a week with two three-day rhythms. 

The HEART portion of school may involve foreign language practice, being outside and playing organized games, eurythmy (something special to Waldorf education which has been called “visible speech”), or music.  The HANDS portion of the lesson may come in the afternoon and may include knitting for first graders, wet on wet watercolor painting, drawing, woodworking or other types of handwork.

In our home, I chose to do one block a month for first grade so our outline for main lessons for the year looks like this:  September –Form Drawing based off of Nature Stories, October – Language Arts, letters A-J based off of Fairy Tales, November – Qualities of Numbers block, December – Quantities of Numbers where all four math processes are introduced and a once a week form drawing block, January – another one week form drawing block and A Look at the Four Seasons and the Four Elements, February – Language Arts based off of Fairy Tales, letters K- Q, March- Math Block Number Three, April – Language Arts based off of Fairy Tales, letters R-Z with a review of AEIOU – (vowels are often taught separate from the consonants), May – two  weeks of a Backyard Nature Block with form drawing and two weeks of writing based off the Fairy Tales, one week of review in June and a show of all main lesson book work for family.  Many families also will do form drawing on one day of the week during other blocks of subjects. 

Our daily rhythm looks essentially like this – A walk in the morning through our neighborhood with our dog, morning verses and the lighting of a candle, finger plays and a story for my Kindergartner, circle time and bean bag games and rope jumping rhymes for both children but more geared to my older child, main lesson work for my First Grader.  The HEART portion of our daily rhythm looks like this – Mondays, German tutor comes to our home; Tuesdays, practice Spanish or go hiking with a local group; Wednesday, Spanish tutor comes to our home, Thursdays, practice German; Fridays, special songs for whatever festival is upcoming.  After we have lunch, reading books aloud and quiet time, we have the HANDS portion of our day.  This part of our rhythm looks like this – Mondays, wet on wet watercolor painting; Tuesdays, bread baking and modeling while waiting for bread; Wednesdays, handwork/knitting; Thursdays, gardening or drawing and Fridays, housekeeping.

Many parents consider learning the letters and sounds of the alphabet and perhaps starting to read a very important part of first grade, along with an introduction to the four math processes.  Master Waldorf Teacher Eugene Schwartz (www.millennialchild.com)  contends that the most essential part of first grade is really form drawing and math.  For many reasons, I agree with Mr. Schwartz.

(For those of you who are not familiar with form drawing, form drawing is a way of working with lines and curves that Rudolf Steiner outlined in three of his lectures as a way of working with children of different temperaments (in Waldorf education there are four temperaments identified).  Form drawing is a precursor to handwriting, geometry and also observation of nature for future scientists).

Important and necessary parts of first grade besides the above really do include knitting and other types of handwork, wet on wet watercolor painting and its polar opposite of  modeling, drawing and coloring with block crayons and beginning to learn to play a recorder, pentatonic flute or pennywhistle.  I personally would also include foreign languages as a necessary part of the first grade but we are a very  foreign-language oriented family.  Fairy tales and nature stories are the soul nourishment of this age and it is a beautiful year.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that first grade can be viewed as a bridge from kindergarten and the other grades.  This means that while first grade is indeed important with lots to learn and do, it also important in the home environment for first grade to be fun, to know when to take the day off and head to the park and to be sure to allow lots of time for free play and outside play along with time for preparation for festivals. In mind’s eye, the child in the early grades is forming association with subjects through experiences.  Everything in first grade should be active, rhythmical, musical, artistic and inter-related.  The Waldorf curriculum keeps building and building and growing more and more in its intensity; there is no reason to make yourself or your child insane with heavy, dull work in the early years!

Having a Waldorf-inspired homeschool means the ability to really create and choose stories that speak to your child’s temperament and experiences, to work indirectly through the curriculum with the things that are challenging to that child, and to be able to provide the child with a lot of time to be outside and dream! Homeschooling is an excellent way for siblings to connect and be together and for families to leave peacefully together. Waldorf within the home is a beautiful sigh of wonder.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

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9 thoughts on “Waldorf First Grade At Home

  1. I have 2 daughters my oldest went to Waldorf for 9 years thru 7th grade, my younger daughter is in public school and doing very well. While I like where she is there are many things lacking in the depth and beauty that Waldorf brings. I would like to do verses, form drawings, flute and story telling @ home – any recourses you can recommend without buying a full homeschool program?

    Thanks – Julie

  2. Just like Julie’s child, my daughter goes to a regular/mainstream school as there aren’t any Waldorf Schools where I live. However, when I teach her at home, I would like to incorporate Waldorf Principles and teaching techniques. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Priya,
      School is rather taxing on its own for a first grader, so I think at home afterschool or on weekends the priority for a first grader from a Waldorf perspective would be outside play in nature, bodily movement, knitting, and preparation for festivals for the cycle of the year. Fairy tales would be the choice in terms of reading aloud or telling from memory if you can. Drawing, painting and modeling could be worked into your preparation for the festivals of the year. There are many posts on here about those things. So could singing and pentatonic flute.
      Outside of that, reading literature that reflects this developmental stage would be helpful for you and your inner path. “Will Developed Intelligence” for handwork/crafts, reading the fairy tales yourself, “Knitting for Children”, and books about development about the seven year old would be great. Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore and Bob and Nancy’s bookshop, Meadowsweet Naturals, all have a lot to offer.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  3. Thanks Carrie. But the problem is that the learning/teaching is not effective in school. (We are planning to move her to a better school, the next academic year)
    a. She doesn’t like writing in class. So, I have to get stuff from her classmates and make her write down in the evenings, after school. That leaves us little time to ‘revise’ what has been taught that day in school.
    b. The assessment is examination/test based. Since she doesn’t like writing, her performance isn’t great in her tests. While I am not worried about scores in the tests, I am definitely worried that there isn’t much learning happening at all. If her fundamentals are weak, she is only going to find it harder as she moves up grades.
    c. Interestingly, her oral/communication skills are excellent.

    My husband and I feel she has discipline issues. She is 6.5 yrs old. She is the happiest when is dancing and painting and listening to stories. She’s almost in a trance when she dances! She is also making her baby-steps into Theatre. I’ve tried to get my sister (a spl educator) assess her for ADHD or anything else but my sister doesn’t think she has any learning or developmental issues. She is otherwise quite an intelligent and a happy child. Her screen time is around 1 hour on weekdays and a little more on weekends.

    I am in a position where I cannot change the education system in our country. Neither can I move to a town where there are good Waldorf Schools. I don’t want to take up homeschooling because she never listens to me anyway.

    I am sorry about this rant. But we are really distressed.

    Best,
    Priya

    • Aw, I am sorry to hear this Priya. How stressful! Is homeschooling legal in your country? By Waldorf standards, a child who is now six and a half might be in the last half of kindergarten and not really expected to attend to an academic schedule at this point developmentally….. My own oldest daughter was fully seven when she started first grade at home. It is not uncommon for a six and a half year old to not do well writing, or sitting, etc. You can see the Gesell Institute book “Your Six Year Old” for more details.
      Is there a way to have her placement assessed at the school? what does the teacher say about her in class and her progress? Could the teacher be your ally? Is there extra help? I am so sorry – how hard when the school system is not meeting her developmental age and no way to really change the system. It sounds like you are doing all you can do to help her at home with what she needs assistance with to be successful in the school environment. Again, I don’t know if changing teachers is even an option in your country, but that happens in this country. Sometimes a different teacher can make a difference.
      Many families don’t feel they can homeschool their six year old because they don’t listen, but that is fairly developmentally normal and I do assure you it can get better and the child can be ready to do work that addresses their body, mind and soul. Your daughter sounds like a lovely, lively six year old!
      I don’t know if any of those suggestions help as I am certain you have thought of all of that…but please know I am thinking of you!
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  4. Thanks so much Carrie. Speaking to you by itself makes me feel so much better and hopeful. To make things worse, I am of late realising that her teachers, particularly her class teacher (as in, the main teacher in-charge of her class) has been ignoring her. Every meeting I’ve had with her teachers, they only think it is important for them to tell me about the problems with the child. One such a meeting, I looked squarely at the teacher and asked her what my DD’s strengths are and the teacher was dumbstruck. All she did was just shrug! So, that’s her teacher for you.
    While I look for better schools, I will only keep sending positive vibes towards my DD, her school and her teachers. That’s the maximum I can do for now.

    • Priya,
      Just like every other profession, there are wonderful teachers and not so wonderful..Teaching is an art, it is a passion for children and nurturing their potential. Keep sending out positive thoughts, prayers, vibration and keep yourself at the forefront with that teacher and develop a relationship. I would be in that teacher’s face every week and communicating and also telling her your daughter’s strengths and asking questions. Can you observe a class? Do they allow that? I wonder how much movement or games or singing they are doing…..Perhaps you could suggest. Bring in articles. Talk to the person above the teacher – is there a lead teacher for that grade? The principal? I wouldn’t be quiet at all. You are the only advocate for your daughter.
      You can do this! It can be a stretch out of comfort for us, but that is what our children call us to do.
      Blessings, hugs, wish I was there for a cup of tea with you,
      Carrie

    • Ah..thanks Carrie. Yes, a cup of chamomile tea is what it takes. Let’s share a comforting cookie too!
      Movement, games… they do have the Phys. Ed period once in a while. Singing? No. Meetings with the teacher? Only when the school says so. Suggestions? I’m smiling as I type this because I don’t know what to say. I tried it once and DD’s class teacher tells another teacher right within DD’s earshot “That girl’s mother thinks no end of herself.” DD heard this and was very upset.

      But yes, I am just waiting for this school year to end, so that I can up and run with my precious darling, away, far far away from any straight jacketed system.

      My only worry is how do I do academics with her until such a time? Doesn’t she have to learn what other kids her age are already learning? Or do you suggest I wait? Can she catch up next year?

    • Phew. So tough. I like to teach children that we honor our commitments and expectations to the best of our ability, so I would try to do some of the school work with her but I would limit the time. Twenty minutes is probably about all you are going to get out of a six and a half year old in terms of sitting. I don’t know if there is a way to review things in with more movement – spelling a word whilst tossing a ball back and forth, spelling whilst stepping up on a block of wood and down, etc.
      I will keep thinking…what are your options for next year? Will you be in the same place or moving? Will you homeschool? What are the homeschooling laws in your country? Is there a private school? I guess having a plan would also feed into how I was doing things. I would work my best to be on the good side of the teacher and tell her you do care and that you are working with your daughter at home. But I would be thinking other plans.
      It is sad that the educational system meant to “help” children in so many countries, including many schools in my own country, harms children as they do not seem to take into account multiple intelligences, movement, the arts, the short attention span of small children being different than high schoolers, emotional and social health, and reverence. Education is a an art, learning is a beautiful activity of reverence and it seems as if we have lost the ability to create reverence appropriate for different developmental ages. I feel very sad for what we are losing in humanity and worried about the future adult health of our children for their “non head/academic” lives, their emotions and feelings and physical health, which is so much a part of success, and yes, I dare say it, happiness in life.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

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