We are finishing up our second block of first grade this week. This is my third time teaching first grade, and I am discovering I have some set patterns about the way I go about presenting the material that I thought might be of interest to other homeschooling parents starting out. In teaching Waldorf First Grade, we know our material, we do our inner work, and we look at the child in front of us and ask for spiritual guidance as to what this child needs.
So, first of all, I like to schedule form drawing and qualities of numbers as the first two blocks before we get to our first letter block. This gives me plenty of time to work with movement and rhythm, to really see developmentally where gross and fine motor skills are as we work. I can see what skills and capacities are emerging as we go through singing and ( in our second block) with an introduction to pentatonic flute, painting and modeling, form drawing, and even cutting and pasting in the qualities of numbers block. I can look at working memory and how the child is with bodily geography as we work with verses and rhymes, fingerplays, songs, pentatonic flute, rhythm, and I get a general sense of temperment and how this child reacts to something new and uncharted. It give me an idea of the level of joy and humor this child finds in his or her work. In other words, it gives me A LOT of information about the child in front of me that I can use when we move into our letter block and into subsequent math blocks.
Form drawing is a block that is unique to Waldorf Education. To me, this block (and all of First Grade and all of Waldorf education) is about taking the capacities a child has and bringing them under conscious control. It takes time, and it is not about perfecting the forms, but it is about self-awareness and following instructions and trying and how that ties into memory, fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination. Our first block also included a lot things from Movement for Childhood, a seasonal circle with gestures, lots of fingerplays and games that involved rhythm (great preparation for math – get rhythm in the body, in the feet, in the hands!). We always paint on the first day according to Rudolf Steiner’s indications and we also paint a few more times in this block and do some modeling with beeswax and clay too (yup, clay. Send out the Waldorf Police. I like clay, although we also beeswax modeled every week as well, especially in the qualities of numbers block). The modeling exercises are usually archetypal transformations from one thing to the another thing but our math block included numbers, transitioning forms from three sided things to “how many things with three sides do we need to make nine sides all together” – that sort of thing.
I also always include within our form drawing story opportunities for acting out different gestures with movement and rhythm – walking like a giant, walking tiny and fast, walking slow. How many steps does it take to get to the door, the window, the kitchen? These things start to move into mathematical thinking of estimating, counting, size differences. We also work on rhythmically walking/jumping/hopping to include counting of ones, by twos, by threes, by fours, by fives. We work on counting forward and backward. Again, this is all done orally and just as part of our form drawing story. And, of course we work on movement and forms in space and on paper! We also knit, mainly because our son already knows how to knit with needles. So off we go.
And I just keep observing. What is hard, what is easy, what is needed, how is behavior with each activity – that gives one a lot of clues. And I think what do I need to do for this child?
Our second block has been a quality of numbers block. For the numbers 1-9, I made a new container story based upon a greatly expanded version of the story “Robert’s Harvest Loaf” from the back of the book, “All Year Round”. For the numbers 10-12, I used individual stories. This block also included things from Movement for Childhood, a seasonal circle with gestures, and lots of seasonal fingerplays and songs. We have been painting and modeling as I mentioned above. We have done so much rhythmical movement with counting, counting backward, skip counting, and even informal adding and subtracting (We have a math-oriented little guy who loves little oral games or games with nuts or jewels) We have done a lot of searching in nature for numbers and shapes, cutting and pasting of three and four sided figures (and multiples of these figures to make more sides all together!), making circles and arranging jewels or nuts on the circle to make stars for the number five and other number patterns, finding the star in our own body for the number five and moving in a circle together fast and slow and listening to each other’s feet so we can move together (remember, rhythm is math! patterns are math!). We also did counting and sorting – I like to see how children move objects when they count (or do they? do they put them in groups at all? ) I looked to see if my student uses words like “more”, “less”, etc. It is all playful, fun. We laughed a lot. And we did some writing of numbers and how to spell “one”, “two”, etc.,and modeling of the numbers with beeswax. I also introduced more rhythmic musical games and pentatonic flute because I think math and rhythm go together. And we keep knitting and cooking and carrying that Michaelic spirit throughout September and this month.
I think if you approach these blocks with the purpose of gathering information about bodily rhythm, movement, gross and fine motor skills, you will walk away with a much fuller and rounder experience and picture for both you and your child.
Some children are more resistant than others. I actually find this is usually the more phlegmatic children, but it can also be children who have learning challenges. In my experience, children with learning challenges also have incredible trouble with rhythmical movement and working memory, yes, even as early as the first and second blocks of first grade. So, that could be something to keep an eye on if that is an area where your child struggles. Yes, all children unfold in their own time, and some do not unfold until the nine year change, and yes first and second grade are gentle, but some children really do have learning challenges that deserve to be addressed as well and it is important to not discount that. Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is a later unfolding of capacities or if it really is a learning challenge, but I think observing with attentiveness is so paramount. What is this beautiful soul telling you?
I really am sharing this all with you to say this is all first grade is! You can do it! It is not hard to do first grade – keep thinking movement and rhythm, gross and fine motor skills, strengthening the will and the memory. I really don’t want people scared away by the “Waldorf” part of homeschooling – jump in and give it a try! I hope it feels “do-able”!