1st grade

The Purpose of the First Grade Circle

Back in October, at our Experience Waldorf event for parents, our 1st grade teacher, Ms. Hartz, shared the why and what of circle time in first grade. There is a lot behind what looks like fun to these eager students at the very beginning of their grade school journeys!

A first grader’s day begins with a handshake and a greeting to and from the teacher. The mood in the classroom is one of calm and expectation, sometimes with some excitement about something from home, or in anticipation of the day. The class speaks their morning verse together, and then, before moving into work at their desks, they will clear a space in the classroom for some circle time. A circle in 1st grade incorporates movement, music and singing, spoken word, rhythm, breathing, and concentration. It’s purpose includes:

  • Joy and delight

  • Awakening a healthy imagination

  • Wake up! Get out of breath, prepare to sit

  • Immersion in the season or “mood” of a block

  • Incarnation into hands/feet and fingers/toes

  • Creation of artistic and beautiful movement

  • Strengthen uprightness, endurance, coordination

  • Connect hemispheres of the brain

  • Working on body geography and spatial relationships

  • Enhancing a sense of touch, balance, controlled movement

  • Supporting speech development an sound/letter connection

  • Working on rhythm: foundational for math as well as music

  • Flexibility: work between polarities.

Ms. Hartz writes: “A first grader continues to be a being in movement. A first grader imitates out of an attitude of devotion and trust in the goodness of the world. Out of this feeling of goodness (reverence) will come an internal sympathy for goodness, a moral compass that does not need its own direct instruction.”

She shared her autumn circle with parents, including some of the “whys” behind its design:

  • Morning Verse to imbue and experience reverence and silence.

  • Seasonal Songs: Yellow the Bracken; The Autumn Winds; Golden is the Garden (to learn the months, movement crossing midline); Ghost of John (for fun).

  • Form a Ring: Expansion Contraction (to learn to make a beautiful circle); One for the Golden Sun; A Sailor Went to Sea; Tony Chestnut (for slow, fast, quick, slow); Bean bags passed to Hickory Dickory Dock (coordination with your neighbor and the group).

  • Balance boards and beam.

  • Drink of water and move desks back in preparation for the day.

Morning verse, movement circles, music including singing and recorders, and recitation continue up through the grades and develop depending on the needs of the class and the teacher. Often, teachers include some math games and mental math too. Some teachers employ movement as a mid-morning break, while others prefer to begin the morning with circle time. Please ask your child’s teacher if you have questions about how she or he incorporates movement and music into a morning’s lesson!

1st Grade at Madrona School

What is 1st grade like at a Waldorf school? The 1st grade year at Madrona School marks the beginning of an eight year school journey. The theme of the year is formation: where the class teacher builds relationships between and amongst the children and parents to grow the all important class community; where the children begin to form the habits that will mark their student lives; where the building blocks of writing, reading and math are planted and nurtured. The class teacher is traditionally at the start of their journey too, looping up through the grades, beginning relationships that will grow and change as the children move through many developmental stages.

The year begins with the Rose Ceremony. The whole of the grade school gathers together to welcome in the new 1st grade class. While everyone looks on, our newest students literally bridge from early childhood to grade school, bringing a flower with them to form a bouquet the represents their new class community. As they walk across a wooden bridge, their new teacher is there to shake their hand and welcome them to 1st grade. We also acknowledge the breadth of the journey they undertake with our 8th grade class, whom, while at the opposite end of their school journey, do remember what it was like to be in 1st grade and are there with welcoming roses and a promise to work with the newest class throughout the year. Once the brief ceremony concludes, the class returns to their classroom with their teacher for their first lesson -- a story, and some form drawing.

There is so much to learn in first grade. It is truly hard work to sit at a desk, to stand in line, to raise your hand before you speak, to care for your own self, and learn to see, hear and care for your classmates. And then there is the academic work, and in first grade we focus on writing, reading and math. Letters and simple words and sentences step children towards independent reading; exploring the qualities of numbers and the four basic processes introduce mathematics; science comes through observing nature on neighborhood walks and in seasonal song. There is time to work at your own pace, to practice careful book work, to learn to listen well.

One example of a lesson is the first form drawing lesson mentioned above, a seemingly simple exploration of straight lines and curved lines. Students are encouraged to carefully draw both and begin to observe them in the classroom -- the world we can see is, of course, made up of straight and curved lines, an idea that is foundational to art, to writing, to honing our all important observation skills. This first lesson illustrates how we encourage each student to observe the world around them, to mindfully approach their work, and the deceptive simplicity of truly seeing what underpins how we communicate.

Story is an important element of how we deliver material, and we engage a young student's imagination to teach abstract concepts such as letter sounds, and the qualities of numbers. Stories help make these ideas -- the sound a 'p' makes or what is '1', for example -- concrete and visible and memorable. Movement cements ideas too, and you will often see the first graders moving through a counting game or draped on the floor, spelling out words with their bodies. In addition to self-management and academics, the students have handwork, beeswax, painting, music, games and world language classes. The first grade curriculum is varied and interesting and so much fun, and it is no wonder that the children are tired at the end of their day!

Planning work is underway for next year's first grade class. Please help us spread the word about Madrona School's elementary education and the journey these young students begin together. Madrona School first graders begin a journey that is joyful, artistic, and emotionally intelligent, where each of our students prepares for life and learns to rub along together. What could be better?