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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One thought 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

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