How to Teach Waldorf-Inspired First Grade
First grade is such a sweet, memorable year. It’s the bridge between the kindergarten and elementary years. Like the kindergarten child, the first grader still thrives on days full of play, connection, and rhythm. (For more on supporting these needs, see this post on How to Teach Kindergarten). Your first grader is also ready to dive into the realm of main lessons. But with Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, even your school time is full of those elements of play, connection, and rhythm. No dull, dry, deadening learning in first grade! The most effective lessons are imaginative, artistic, active, and playful.
How to Teach First Grade
In this post we’ll explore some key ideas on how to teach first grade. If you need more of an overview of what to teach, please see this back post on First Grade Essentials. Here’s how to teach first grade:
Let School Be Joyful
How would you like your child to remember her first experience of “school?” Would you like her to associate learning with drudgery, boredom, and anxiety? Or would you rather she think of school as one of her favorite, most exciting parts of the day? My feeling is that letting school be a time of joyful, meaningful learning is one of the best things you can do for your child’s long term success. How can you let school be joyful? We’ll explore all kinds of ideas below!
Begin Your Lessons with Active Learning
First graders need plenty of active learning during their main lesson time. No need to sit at a desk all day, it’s good to get up and move! Remember, the brain develops in a body, and that body is designed to move. You might start your day with a walk or bike ride outside, or start with circle time to warm up your voices and bodies. Active language arts work can include verses, rhymes, and songs with movement (gestures, dancing, fingerplays, skipping, jumping rope, clapping games, and more). Active math can include number games (such as variations on hopscotch), skip counting with movement, math facts practice with beanbags, and more (see this post for active math ideas).
The Lavender’s Blue First Grade curriculum is chock full of active learning! It includes a seasonal circle with movement, as well as a detailed progression of lively language arts and math activities for each week of main lesson. All the songs and verses are on audio for you so they’re easy to learn.
Teach with Stories
First graders are entering into the “heart” stage of development. They are most engaged in learning when their hearts and imaginations are engaged. That’s why storytelling is such a key feature of the Waldorf method. Enjoy lots of fairy tales this year and use stories to explore the the worlds of number and nature as well.
Lavender’s Blue First Grade is full of story-based lessons, including fairy tale language lessons, original math stories, and an imaginative container story that pulls together all the autumn lessons in form drawing, letters, and numbers.
Engage with Head, Heart, and Hands
In every subject, and every lesson, consider how you can engage your child’s head, heart, and hands. What is the new concept or skill you want to teach, and what do you want to review and practice from previous lessons (head)? How can you bring this subject to life and engage your child’s feelings and imagination through storytelling, art, or music (heart)? How can you make this an active, kinesthetic lesson by engaging the hands, body, or senses (hands)? When you educate your child as a whole person in this way your lessons will be joyful and more memorable too!
It takes a lot of time and planning to create holistic lessons for every subject. Lavender’s Blue First Grade has you covered with detailed daily plans for main lessons in form drawing, language arts, math, and nature with integrated circle and art activities (including painting, drawing, and modeling).
Keep Lessons Short and Sweet
You’ll be amazed how much your first grader will learn this year with short holistic main lessons. Short lessons allow your child to be engaged the entire time without going past the limits of her attention span or ability to do her best work. Keeping your lessons short and sweet also gives your young child the time he needs for a day full of play, connection, and rhythm. Your child is leaving the kindy years but it’s still vital for his education that he has plenty of time every day for creative play, going outside, and listening to you read aloud!
Use Rhythm as a Teaching Tool
There are many layers of rhythm in the Waldorf curriculum. When you plan out your main lesson blocks, weeks, and daily lessons, think carefully about when you’ll bring new material, when you’ll let it rest, when you’ll review and re-engage, and when you’ll practice what you’ve learned before. Don’t skip over that “let it rest” step! The brain does a lot of its processing, integrating, and memory work when it’s not consciously focused on new material - that’s why sleep, rest, and play are vital for the overall learning process. Think of rhythm as one of your most valuable teaching tools, and you’ll be working with the grain of how your child learns best.
Plan Ahead, But Don’t be a Slave to your Plan
When you begin homeschooling in the grades, planning becomes more important because there are so many details to manage! A solid curriculum will save you a ton of planning time, but you still need to do some planning and adapting so the curriculum fits your child, and not the other way around.
In first grade, you’ll need a plan for your blocks (when you’ll teach each main lesson subject), your weeks (which stories and concepts you’ll cover, what are your active learning activities, your circle songs and verses), and your days (how you will review what was learned, practice skills, teach something new, and engage head/heart/hands). Plan this out ahead of time so you feel prepared to teach, but don’t be a slave to your plan!
For me, I’ve found there are two essential ingredients for successful planning:
Setting aside time to actually do it (haha!)
Being prepared to adjust the plan as needed as I observe my child and see what’s working and what’s not
Lavender’s Blue First Grade is a complete curriculum that does the heavy lifting for you!
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First Grade Planning Checklist
When you first jump into homeschool planning, the number of things you need to learn and do can feel overwhelming.
A checklist tames the overwhelm because it gives you a system to follow.
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