First Grade

The Earth is firm beneath my feet
The Sun shines high above
And here I stand so straight and strong
All things to know and love.

Children cross a threshold when they transition into the grades program, slowly making their way across the bridge from dreamy early childhood into what one might call “organized learning”. With a first handshake with their teacher the group sets off on a collective journey during which they will expand their capacities while becoming keenly aware of the treasures waiting to be discovered in themselves and each other. Imagination and story nourish the child and become seeds for the free, independent thinking to emerge when they cross their next bridge, into adolescence.

Each morning the first grade begins their day with their morning verse. With reverence, it draws the children into the daily work ahead and honors the thinking, willing, and feeling nature of each child. From this moment of stillness and grace, the work of the first grader unfolds, learning to work with their hands, hearts, and heads to enter the adult world of symbols, numbers, and thought.

First grade is a time of learning form and passage from the play-based day of the kindergarten classroom to the structure of the fully scheduled day of the grades. In this progression, it is helpful to cultivate an atmosphere of a large family that will work and play together for many years.

Rhythms, large and small, permeate their work, while also providing a sense of safety and structure for the children. By creating a rhythm that alternates between outward and inward activities, we support the children developing rhythms which in turn support a healthy life and reasonable expectations of how humans should live and thrive.

Larger school rhythms tie the children into the greater community, such as Forest Fridays and performances presented by older classes. Rhythms of the natural world, such as autumn equinox or kite flying in March winds, provide further opportunities to mix with children throughout the school. A sense of inner harmony permeates the children when the world around them ebbs and flows in a regular, predictable way, allowing them to breath calmly into the experience of the class and fully take in all that is offered.

In first grade, children think in pictures, and are nourished by stories – primarily fairy tales and nature stories. Through nature stories, the teacher is able to imaginatively connect the child to the greater world and how nature works.

Children of this age live deeply in the images of the fairy tales and the language of poetry. This image-building ability is the precursor to abstract thinking. Stories address the facets of the universal human experience: suffering redeemed, light conquering darkness, goodness and truth prevailing, the parts being made whole.

Through these stories, we work to develop the skills necessary for writing, reading, and comprehending the world of words. Working through the progression from story to picture to letter, the alphabet letters are introduced to bring a strong association of symbol and sound. Throughout our language arts blocks, we work to experience language from the whole to the parts; a process where letters are not simply individual sounds and symbols strung together to make words, but rather elements of entire stories, verses and words.

With this method, children develop not only an understanding of the letters of the alphabet, but also a love for story and image. This love will bring them naturally to reading in the months and years to come. The recitation of verses and poems are an integral part of reading preparation. Here, oral and listening comprehension skills are developed. The children grow in ability to listen and recall details as well as whole inner pictures of the stories.

It is important to note at this time in the development of reading and writing, that each child moves at his/her own pace, and this is healthy and natural at this age. Some children read already; others show signs of readiness; there is a “normal” or “right” time for your child to begin reading…and that is when your child is ready. Above all else, the goal of early literacy activities is to cultivate a love for reading, writing, and learning for our students.

Children live with an intimate, though unconscious, sense of numbers and rhythm— in their breathing, in their mothers heartbeat, in music and so on. In the early grades, the study of mathematics is a journey that brings that innate but unconscious wisdom to consciousness and under one’s control. Our work with numbers awakens the children to what is inherent in them and in the world.

The focus in math in first grade is the quality of numbers and the four processes of arithmetic which are introduced through imaginative stories, games, physical activities, rhymes and then transcribed into their main lesson books.

The healthy child is learning all the time in the context of daily life, playing, exploring interests, and well as formal lessons. We use creativity in teaching all subjects and carefully match both the content and the teaching process to the child’s stage of development. Subjects are woven together in an intricate web, academic, artistic and practical, all at once.

Learning is not rushed in our classrooms, and neither is childhood, as we strive to preserve its magic and wonder, rather than merely train children for adulthood. We look for beauty and joy in life in everything we do, and we are rewarded each day when we discover it!

The First Grade is led by Ms Amanda Suter


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