First Grade Homeschooling: The Essentials!

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.  But you don't need to figure it all out at once.  First grade is a bridge from the early years to the grades and it's meant to be a playful, gentle, inviting bridge.  This post covers the essential themes and subjects of first grade homeschooling.  It's a jumping-off point for many more in-depth posts on the blog.  Enjoy!  xo, Kelly

Essential themes of Waldorf-inspired first grade

Stories, Play, and Imagination

In Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, the early years (preschool/kindergarten) 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.

As in the early years, the key essentials of rhythm, relationship, movement, outside time/nature, and imitation/purposeful work are still so important.  This is a holistic method, so learning happens in a broad context.

Lessons are brought through stories, primarily fairy tales in first grade.  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!).

Holistic Teaching

In Waldorf education, academics are never divorced from a holistic perspective on child development. 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.

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?!  It's engaging for your child, and it's engaging for you as the teacher too.  It makes for memorable, multi-sensory lessons that reach your child on many levels.

Teaching with Rhythm

In first grade, the concept of rhythm is expanded from what you do in your days, weeks, and seasons, to how you plan out and present your lessons.

The core subjects and academic lessons for each grade are taught in blocks.  A main lesson block can last anywhere from one to six weeks and is a chance to go deep in one area while letting other subjects rest. First graders have main lessons in form drawing, math, language arts, and nature.  For homeschoolers, it often works well to choose one main lesson topic per month.

In Waldorf schools, main lesson is typically a two-hour session first thing in the morning and includes a circle time (active learning with speech, singing, movement, math games, and recorder). For homeschoolers, one hour is more typical for a first grade main lesson, with perhaps 15-20 minutes of circle to start.  The rest of your daily rhythm might include time for handwork, read aloud, purposeful work, and of course plenty of time to play and go outside!

Homeschoolers usually have main lesson three or four mornings a week in first grade.  This leaves plenty of room in the schedule for social activities, co-op, going to the park, nature explorations, and time to enjoy the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling!  A weekly rhythm is still important for a first grader, so you may have a painting day, form drawing day, and so on.

For more on Rhythm in the Grades see this post.

Well-crafted main lessons also follow a daily and weekly rhythm.  New material is presented in a two or three day rhythm so your child can deepen her experience with it 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.  You'll find that what's presented in first grade comes back again in new ways over the years in the spiral nature of the Waldorf curriculum.

Main Lessons

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.

You can learn more about First Grade Form Drawing in this post.

Language Arts

Your first grader might already be reading or she might not be ready to read for another year or two. There's no pressure to rush this process, and no need to slow down a child who's ready.  The Waldorf language arts curriculum adapts to children all along the reading spectrum with rich language arts lessons in fairy tales, writing, reading, speech, and an introduction to word families.

To learn more about Language Arts in First Grade read this post, and also see Fairy Tales and Letters and this follow-up FAQ.

Arithmetic

First grade math is all about the beauty of numbers.  It's an active, imaginative introduction to the world of arithmetic that has children moving, drawing, speaking, listening to stories, and playing games.  When done well, the Waldorf approach to math is holistic, multi-sensory, thorough, and highly engaging.  It takes a lot more planning than handing your child a workbook but the resulting enthusiasm for math can't be beat (and if you use the Lavender's Blue curriculum it's planned out for you)!  For a more detailed look see these posts on First Grade Math and How to Teach First Grade Math.

First graders spend an entire main lesson block learning about the quality as well as the quantity of numbers.  What is one?  How is one-ness, two-ness, five-ness, expressed in the world around us? Read about the Quality of Numbers block here.

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.  Read about the First Grade Arithmetic blocks here.

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.  It's an experiential approach that lays a foundation for later science studies through building a child's authentic hands-on experience, curiosity, powers of observation, and connection to the world around her.

Arts and Handwork

First grade main lessons in every subject include lots of learning through movement, music, speech, drama, poetry, drawing, painting, and modeling with beeswax.  There might be separate lesson time set aside each week for additional subjects such as watercolor painting but on the whole, teaching through the arts and storytelling is part of the integrated nature of the Waldorf approach.

First grade music includes introducing the recorder, bringing more consciousness around rhythm, and most importantly, singing together every day!  Handwork in first grade could include working with wool (wet felting, finger knitting, dyeing yarn, and more), simple woodworking, origami, and nature crafts.  The most important handwork task for first grade is learning to knit with needles. You can read more about First Grade Handwork here!

Now it’s your turn!

Whew, that's a lot!  If you're new to Waldorf, take your time.  You don't need to jump into everything all at once!  Get the support you need, take it one step at a time, and enjoy this precious time with your child.  :)

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!