Getting Started with First Grade

Are you starting Waldorf-inspired first grade homeschooling soon - or jumping into your planning? Let’s help you get started!

Moving from the kindy years into first grade is not just a stair-step from one grade to the next. It’s a bridge into entirely new territory. Children change as they move from early childhood to middle childhood, and our teaching must change to meet their needs. The first grade year bridges the gap.

First grade is such a delight to teach. The wonder and awe at this age, the excitement to start real lessons, and the way the Waldorf curriculum meets the needs of the 7-year-old so beautifully….well, it’s all just so much fun for parents and kids alike!

It’s normal to get nervous, though. Nerves come with new territory, and that’s especially true when you care about where you’re going as much as you do with parenting. The good news is, you don’t have to jump into the grades in one crazy leap!  Let first grade be a gentle bridge for both you and your child.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how to get started with first grade.

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Step 1: Decide when to start

I recommend that you teach first grade when your child is 7 years old for most of the school year. She might start a bit before or after her 7th birthday depending on when it is (but not much before). Until that point, continue with kindergarten! Yes, that’s later than your local schools start first grade, but for homeschooling with Waldorf, it will put you right on track all through the grades.

Step 2: Understand the qualities of a first grade lesson

What are first grade Waldorf-inspired homeschool lessons like?  

First grade lessons are active. The children are moving, singing, drawing, acting out stories, playing games, and more. They need to experience the lesson content through activity. In the Waldorf method, children create a record of their work in their main lesson books. (This is so much more active than filling out a workbook, for example.) Even the listening parts of lessons are not passive - children need to pay active attention in order to be able to retell the story to you the next day.

First grade lessons are imaginative. All the subjects are introduced through stories. Stories capture the hearts and imagination of the children and help them both understand and connect to the lesson content. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of that lively connection to the subject matter - that’s what makes learning engaging. An engaged learner cares about what she’s learning, she puts her focus on it, and she remembers it.

First grade lessons are artistic. Once a concept has been introduced through story, and experienced through activity, it’s also brought to life with artistic engagement. Rather than relegating art to a separate “art class” or skipping it altogether, in the Waldorf method art is integrated throughout all the subjects. Drawing, painting, modeling, crafting of all kinds, singing, poetry, speech, drama, and form drawing are all wonderful for their own sake. But in your first grade lessons they will also help to bring language arts, math, and nature studies to life.

First grade lessons are rhythmic. From the seasonal year and the block rotation, to the rhythm of the main lesson, to how we teach math and language with rhythm, there is layer upon layer of rhythm in how we teach first grade. This is at the core of what sets Waldorf homeschooling apart. I think this has to be experienced to be really understood. As you get started with first grade, keep your eyes wide open for how rhythm shows up as a teaching tool in this method. But also jump in, knowing that you’ll learn by doing this year, right alongside your child!

If you’re also thinking “first grade lessons are fun,” you are correct! Gold star, mama.  :)

Step 3: Decide what to teach

The typical first grade main lesson subjects are form drawing, language arts, math, and nature studies. Knitting, recorder, singing, movement, and the arts woven into your lessons round out the year.

First grade form drawing begins with standing forms and progresses to running forms. Form drawing also shows up in how you teach the letters and numbers and can be used therapeutically to work with handwriting and more. After an initial form drawing block, teachers often weave forms into the rest of the year as a weekly lesson.

Language arts lessons include listening to and retelling stories, memorizing poems, singing and speech, exploring the sounds and forms of letters, progressing to beginning reading and writing, and literature (read aloud). The beauty of language is emphasized by teaching holistically rather than focusing just on mechanics.

Math lessons are ridiculously fun in first grade. The qualities and quantities of numbers and the four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are all introduced through stories. First grade math lessons are lively and active with lots of movement, repetition, games, and of hands-on number work with manipulatives. Developing mathematical intelligence, flexibility, and a sense of number is emphasized - first graders have a strong foundation in arithmetic.

Nature studies is grounded first and foremost in experience. First graders need plenty of time outdoors in all seasons, opportunities to connect with the natural world around them, and to develop a sense of place. Stories, crafts, and festival celebrations also help children connect with nature.

The Waldorf curriculum is very flexible - much more so than people often realize - so there are endless possibilities for how to bring each of these subjects together into active, imaginative, rhythmic, delightful lessons!

For another look at WHAT to teach in first grade, see this post on First Grade Homeschooling: The Essentials. For more of a picture of HOW to teach, see this post on How to Teach First Grade

Step 4: Plan out the rhythm of your main lessons

Just like the content of first grade is more flexible than people often realize, the rhythm of a main lesson is flexible too. I want to give you a good structure, though, so you can get started!

The first thing to understand is that the main lesson subjects are scheduled as blocks. You’ll teach one of these subjects at a time in a block rotation. Main lesson blocks generally last 2 - 4 weeks and most subjects are taught a few times this year. This allows you to really sink into your lessons without trying to cram everything into a single day or week.

It’s counterintuitive, but the time off from subjects is also important. Connections are often made when we’re not actively focused on something. After a break from a subject, your child has the opportunity to meet it again in the next main lesson block, to review and extend, and integrate it further.

Here’s a sample first grade block rotation:

  • Form drawing (2 weeks)
  • Fairy Tales and Letters 1 (4 weeks)
  • Autumn Nature Block (1 week)
  • Quality of Numbers (4 weeks)
  • Fairy Tales and Letters 2 (4 weeks)
  • Arithmetic 1 (4 weeks)
  • Winter Nature Block (1 week)
  • Language Arts 1 (3 weeks)
  • Arithmetic 2 (4 weeks)
  • Language Arts 2 (3 weeks)
  • Spring/Summer Nature Block (3 weeks)
  • Review (2 weeks)

Next, there’s a weekly rhythm to teaching with Waldorf methods. New content (for example, a new story) is presented on one day and then it’s left to “rest.” The next day you recall the story together and bring the content to life with activity. In first grade, you’ll often work with a story for a third day as well. The story is a vehicle for what you are teaching, whether it’s handwriting, painting, reading, a math concept, or something else. You can bring the active, artistic, and academic elements of your lesson (teaching “head, heart, and hands”) in over the course of a week.

Here’s a sample first grade language arts main lesson weekly rhythm:

  • Day 1 - Form drawing (based on image from last week’s story), reading from main lesson book, and new story
  • Day 2 - Recall story, drawing, and speech work
  • Day 3 - Act out story, shape letter from beeswax, and writing

The weekly main lesson rhythm will be consistent within each block but different from block to block (this is different from kindergarten, when families usually maintain the same weekly rhythm for a season or longer). A carefully planned out main lesson rhythm is a powerful teaching tool, and a vehicle for the content. In other words, the rhythm is designed to support the content and not the other way around.

Finally, a daily lesson rhythm helps first graders know what to expect and stay focused. Daily rhythm elements might include starting with circle time, verses to begin and end your main lesson, beginning your lesson with recall from the day before, and closing your lesson with your new content or story.

Here’s a sample first grade daily main lesson rhythm:

  • Song to call to circle (Come Follow Me, for example - same all year long)
  • Circle time songs, verses, movement, active math or speech work (new material each main lesson block or each week)
  • Circle closing song and main lesson verse (same all year long)
  • Practice (practice something that was learned before)
  • Recall (something to re-engage with yesterday’s lesson)
  • Activity (work with the story further, learn something new)
  • Light candle and tell story
  • Main lesson closing verse and blow out candle

A solid Waldorf homeschool curriculum will have all of these elements of main lesson rhythm already woven into the lessons. I put a lot of focus on getting the lesson rhythm just right for Lavender’s Blue, and that’s why we so often get the feedback, “I’ve used a few different Waldorf curriculums before, but now I finally get it!”

Step 5: Maintain a healthy rhythm in your home

First graders are still young, and they still need a healthy home rhythm! First grade lessons can be very short and sweet. Many families find they can continue with essentially the same daily rhythm from their kindy years, and replace their “circle-story-activity” part of the day with their first grade circle and main lesson. First graders also need plenty of time to play, rest, and go outside. Here’s a post all about rhythm in the elementary years.

Step 6: Take it one step at a time!

Remember how first grade is the gentle bridge into the grades? Please be gentle with yourself as well as your child this year. There’s no need to rush or start with everything all at once. You can absolutely layer in one or two new elements at a time to your first grade days and weeks. Get the support you need, build that bridge slow and steady, and set a gorgeous foundation for your homeschooling career.

I love this guest post from Sheila many years ago on First Steps to First Grade - so lovely and so spot on! 

I’m wishing you a beautiful first grade year!  xo, Kelly


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