First Grade Homeschooling: The Essentials!

July 22, 2013

Are you thinking about Waldorf-inspired homeschooling for first grade?  Waldorf-inspired methods might be exciting and intriguing when you first encounter them, but it can also feel overwhelming to figure it all out.  So today I’ll get us started with some of the essential themes of first grade homeschooling.

In Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, the early years curriculum is all about inspiring play through movement, imitation, and imagination.  Starting around age 7, children are ready to start first grade and an introduction to academic lessons.  But play is still crucial at this age, and lessons are all inspired by story and brought in an artistic way with movement and full-body learning.

In Waldorf education, academics are never divorced from a holistic perspective on child development.  In all grades, students study subjects which teach their heads (such as reading), their hearts (such as painting), and their hands (such as woodworking).  But even more importantly, every subject is taught in a holistic way!  So every lesson topic has academic, artistic, and active parts to it.  Umm….Can I tell you how much I love that?!

Essential themes of Waldorf-inspired first grade

As in the early years, play is still important and so are rhythm, outside time/nature, and imitation (purposeful work).

Teachers present lesson material and new skills in an artistic, active, and imaginative way so the children are engaged with their heads, hearts, and hands.

Lessons are brought through stories, primarily fairy tales.  Children around age 7 need to hear fairy tales where the heroine/hero faces great obstacles but overcomes them through their own good deeds and character.

The stories meet the first grader’s developmental needs on a soul level, but you can easily adjust the pace of academic learning to your child (one of the great advantages of homeschooling!).

New material is presented in a 3-day rhythm so your child can deepen her experience with it over three days and process everything in her sleep.  Sleep is considered a critical tool for learning in Waldorf schools (and modern neuroscience backs this up).

The goal is not to cram in as much information as possible before the year is over (and then chew our fingernails worrying that it will all be lost over the summer)!  The goal is to go deep with the material, to have it work on your child’s soul, to be pondered and processed in his sleep, his play, and his art.

The main academic lessons are taught in blocks.  Teachers usually spend about 2 hours in the morning (less than that for homeschoolers in the early grades) for about 3-6 weeks at a time on each main lesson block.

Form Drawing

Most teachers begin the year with two weeks of form drawing main lessons.  Form drawing is a subject unique to Waldorf education.  It’s a will-building activity (hands) that promotes balance, trains the hand in preparation for writing and drawing, and provides an excellent introduction to lesson work for the first grader.  Many teachers consider form drawing the most important subject in first grade (see what Eugene Swartz has to say about it here) and often lessons continue weekly after the first block.

Language Arts

Your first grader might already be reading or she might not be ready to read for another year or two.  The Waldorf language arts curriculum adapts to both of these children with rich language arts lessons in fairy tales, writing, reading, and an introduction to word families.

Arithmetic

First graders spend an entire block learning about the quality as well as the quantity of numbers.  What is one?  How is oneness, twoness, fiveness, expressed in the world around us?  The next first grade math blocks jump into arithmetic, learning all four of the basic processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) at the same time.  The four processes are all related to each other and they are taught through story and lots of hands-on concrete work with manipulatives.

Nature

First grade science focuses on nature lessons, especially stories about the plants and animals that live all around us, spending plenty of time actually being in nature (observing and interacting), and gardening.

Additional lessons:

First grade is also a wonderful time to learn to play the recorder and to knit!  First graders spend lots of time learning through movement, music, speech, drama, poetry, drawing, painting, and modeling with beeswax.

If you want to read more about first grade, definitely read this post by Carrie Dendtler first!

Now it’s your turn!

What are your thoughts on first grade?  If you’re planning for first grade or considering Waldorf-inspired homeschooling for the future, I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon July 22, 2013 at 7:59 pm

I am headed into first grade next year with my youngest. We did a lot of folk tales and fairy tales last year and plan to continue on into this year. He loved them all! He is also working on finger knitting right now-maybe we will venture into knitting with needles if he wants to go in that direction. I usually present material in a 2 day rhythm with the option to do a third day if needed. So far, this has worked well for our family. I look forward to starting the new year!

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Kelly July 23, 2013 at 7:24 am

Sounds great Sharon! It’s funny, Steiner never actually suggested a 3-day rhythm – he suggested presenting material, then allowing children to take it into their sleep, and revisiting that material on the next day. Entire subjects are also allowed to drop for periods of time so children can “sleep on it.” So the 3-day rhythm is actually something that arose later and it seems to work well for many homeschool families (and not others of course!). Really, the important thing is that feeling of not rushing, allowing time to go deep with the material. Yes, I’m excited for the new year too! :)

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Karen Hess July 23, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Thanks! This is such a great synopsis of 1st grade, Waldorf style. We are using your Kindergarten in the Fall and hope that there will be a 1st grade version by next year… I’m incorporating a few circle songs already during our summer circle so it blends in when fall arrives.

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Kelly July 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Thanks Karen, and I’m really glad to hear it! Yes, first grade is in the works….it’s kind of crazy how much I love writing curriculum! I’m very happy to have you in my kindergarten group. :)

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Karen Hess July 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm

We’re happy to be here!

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T July 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Thank you for this summary and great ideas! I will be homeschooling for the first time. My son will be entering 1st grade.

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Kelly July 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

You’re welcome, I’m so glad it’s helpful and I wish you a beautiful first grade year!

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Tanya August 3, 2013 at 9:01 pm

This is a great nuts and bolts description of the first grade. I just finished teaching first grade for my third time and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around. I would add that play is still very much a part of the 6.5/7 year olds day! As homeschoolers, we have the flexibility of seeing when play is more important than the lesson and vice versa. Flexibility and balance is key!

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Kelly August 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi Tanya, thanks so much for visiting and I completely agree about play! First graders are still so little and they really benefit from spending most of their time in open-ended play. Giving our children plenty of time to play and just “be” is one of our top reasons for homeschooling! And I also appreciate so much how “playful” the lessons are in Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, with academics being taught through movement, story, and art, all wonderful ways to work with the young child. :)

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Lena October 18, 2013 at 8:09 am

If you can explain and structure form drawing, main lesson drawing and knitting as well as the kindergarten crafts and circle, I would be thrilled!

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