A Peek Into First Grade

By Peter Lawton, First Grade Teacher

First grade is all about the traditional four ‘R’s—reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and regulation!


As part of our various reading activities, students “gather” letters/sounds from the fairy tales they are told each day. Sounds, we might say, are as much a part of the fabric of the natural world as wool or flax. And we weave these natural sounds and clothe ourselves in them in much the same way we clothe ourselves in fibers. In this drawing, we see the B in “bear” and the H in “hut” from the Indian fairy tale The Bear’s Bad Bargain.

In this drawing, we see Angel A hovering above a scene from the Italian fairy tale Petie Pete.  

In addition to fairy tales, first-graders hear made-up stories about the Ganomies, a huge family of eccentric sound spirits (consonants, phonemes) who live in and under a large tree at the end of the world. We see one of the Ganomies—Charley Chase—below. Above the Ganomy Tree in the following drawing float the Angel Letters (vowels), who carry the spirit or emotion of our words, who, we might say, carry our intentions.


Our first grade year began in September with a geometry unit focused on straight and curved lines. This type of geometry, what we in Waldorf schools call “form drawing,” focuses in a purely spatial or artistic way on the elements of handwriting—straight and curved lines, symmetry, orientation, direction, etc. Many of the geometrical forms “run” across the page, in the same way our writing runs.

In more recent math and language arts units, the first-graders have been practicing writing letters and numbers in their handwriting books and using special “earth, grass, and sky” paper. The text in the example below was generated from the Native American fairy tale The Boy and the Dragon.


First-graders have a threefold focus in their math studies: (1) learning their numbers, (2) learning by heart (i.e., memorizing) the math facts, and (3) practicing the four operations (+, -, x, and ÷). In their first math unit in October, students practiced reciting and writing numbers. And in our daily number explorations, we paid special attention to the quality of numbers—that is to say, to the quality of oneness, of twoness, of threeness, etc. Here is the drawing we did for the number 8.

Students memorize their addition and multiplication facts through various rhythmic activities featuring movement, body geography, and song and verse. For instance, students learn and practice how to count on their fingers. They sing their 3s times table to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Combining counting on fingers and the Twinkle song, first-graders can say what 9 3s are! With regard to the operations, students hear made-up stories about the Four Math Gnomes—Pasha Plus, Misha Minus, Tasha Times, and Disha Divide (seen below). Students use their memory of songs and verses, their fingers, and various manipulatives to solve simple arithmetic problems.


Oh dear! This is perhaps a topic for another day. Suffice it to say, the main task of the Waldorf first grade, and school in general, is to learn HOW TO PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS! Look for a Peek Into the First Grade, Part II sometime in the new year. For now, perhaps we can whet your appetite with some photos…

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