In Grade One, the morning begins with the group recitation of a poem, followed by morning exercises. These include circle games, speech work, singing, flute playing, coordination exercises, etc. all of which support the theme of the main lesson block. This main lesson occupies two hours and is devoted to a single subject for three to four weeks. Teachers present writing, reading, numbers, nature study, and handwork in ways that involve color and design.
Letter writing is presented in a lively pictorial way with the help of fairy tales. The story may be the fairytale snake sinuously slithering through the grass on some secret errand. The teacher draws the snake on the chalkboard, then shows how the letter is embedded in the picture. The students draw the letter in the air with their hands and on the floor with their feet; their whole being participates in the writing experience. Then the students make their own pictures of snakes, creating an illustrated book as each letter is presented and experienced.
When the students have mastered the sounds and can name and write them, they are ready for their first reading experience. The teacher illustrates a story with a series of pictures drawn on the chalkboard and the students illustrate it in their lesson books. The class composes short descriptive sentences to accompany each picture. The students copy the wording from the teachers model. Through these activities, the students learn word and sentence structure without conscious effort and have the joy of creating their own illustrated books.
Exploration of numbers begins with solving riddles such as, what is one thing in the world that there can never be more than one of? So the students explore the characteristics of one, two, three, etc. in their inner experience and in nature. Students take delight in counting, especially when they accompany the strong, rhythmic choral-speaking of the numbers with stepping and clapping. Through physical activities, students experience the shape and meaning of numbers, then begin to practice the four arithmetical processes, always moving from the whole to the parts.
Nature study begins with outside experiences and tales of the outdoor worlds, always in vivid, dramatic story form.
Handwork serves several important purposes. Knitting is an indispensable first grade activity as there exists a close relationship among finger movement, speech and thinking.
The imitative genius of early childhood is still active in the first grade child, making this an ideal time to learn foreign languages by hearing and speaking them in our school, both German and Spanish.
Eurythmy, the art of movement developed by Rudolf Steiner, is taught by specially trained teachers. It improves childrens' grace of movement and enlivens hands and feet. Eurythmy also heightens drawing and modeling ability, relieves strain and tension, and stimulates the musical, poetic and dramatic senses.
According to the Waldorf plan, the teacher progresses with the students from first to second grade; in fact, she or he continues with them through all eight years of their elementary schooling whenever possible. This class teacher, who can look back on all the students' previous learning experiences and build, step-by-step, on that foundation, endows his or her teaching with real unity. Simultaneously, primary-aged children, who are very sensitive to readjustments and changes, are given the security of knowing one personality and method intimately and thoroughly.
English now becomes a special subject, assigned its share of main-lesson periods. Based again on spoken language, fables satisfy the students' deep interest in the animal kingdom, while legends offer lofty striving and highlight the noblest human qualities. Writing focuses on these fables and legends. Children learn cursive by joining up the printed letters learned the previous year. The teacher introduces grammar with liveliness and humor as the students act out stories and play games in which they experience the contrast among doing words, naming words and describing words.
In arithmetic, students carry out more complicated operations with the four processes. Imaginative stories still form the basis of these problems. Through rhythmic counting accompanied by accented clapping and movement of the whole body, they learn to count by twos, threes, fours, and fives, and begin learning the multiplication tables.
Nature study continues in connection with poetry, legends, and imaginative descriptions of natural processes.
Painting and modeling are drawn into constant service in the main lessons. In handwork the children master knitting and purling. Projects are based on an important principle: work should be useful and functional, as well as beautiful.
The children continue to learn German and Spanish, singing and flute as in the first grade, with eurythmy leading the children into a more conscious forming of vowels and consonants.
Physical education and games, as well as international folk dancing, begin in Grade Two.
Quickened physical growth takes place during this transition period in which the dreaminess of early childhood is passing and students' relationship to the world around them changes. To the extent that students now feel separate from the world, they seek knowledge of it; studies have a more realistic and practical character.
In this transition to realism, the teacher introduces practical arts in the main lesson. The students learn how the kingdoms of nature mutually support and complement one another and visit a farm for a concrete experience of humanity's dependence on plants and animals. They study shelter and house-building, contrasting their home with those of other times, peoples and climates. The teacher presents the material verbally and with direct experience from excursions and projects, keeping the learning warm and human.
Arithmetic becomes practical. The students apply it to real-life situations such as measuring, cooking, and money. Rhythmic recitation and stepping to the multiplication tables continue, as does mental arithmetic.
Stories and poems of the Old Testament, dealing with drama which parallels the eight-year-olds' own experience, are the students' introduction to history. They illustrate their own books with stories retold in their own words. Grammar studies continue. We give great attention to spelling.
Painting, drawing, and modeling continue in connection with all main lessons rather than in a separate period. Flute playing moves from pentatonic to diatonic. Students switch from two knitting needles to one crochet hook, with which they fashion useful articles such as pouches and flute cases.
During each of the first three years, students thrive on living pictures, which requires the teacher to become an artist at teaching: she or he must be engaged in developing in the student the capacity for inward imagining, out of which, at a later age, analytic thought is born. Here, stories are the teachers' chief means of making learning alive.
Physical education and games, as well as international folk dancing, continue.
Adapted from Teaching as a Lively Art by Marjorie Spock (Hudson, NY: Anthroposiphic Press, 1985).