First grade is coming along beautifully and last week we wrapped up our first grade form drawing block. (Well, my substitute did, as I was home recovering from the back-to-school virus. I’ve managed to escape the past few years, but I guess first graders are much better at sharing the germs than eighth graders!)
This form drawing block is all about laying the foundation for the work we will do as we move through the year, and beyond. We’ve been practicing new rhythms, routines and habits, learning how to use our classroom supplies and furniture (read here about our movable classroom practice so far) and listening to simple stories about a little boy and girl who learn all the lessons they need to learn to go to school.
The characters in the story, Alice and Leo, are named after my own children, and just like their real-life counterparts, they are two sides of the same coin. Alice is quick and determined, but a little impulsive — she has an affinity for the straight line. Leo is thoughtful and introspective, but a bit on the dreamy side — he has an affinity for the curved line. (I should mention here that in addition to my own imagination, I made liberal use of lots of resources shared with me by colleagues, as well as Michael Siefert’s work at Waldorf Teacher Resources. When it comes down to it, I don’t quite recall what came from where, but I’m sure some of this came from Michael’s site. Check it out. It’s a gold mine.)
These little stories guided us through the world of learning how to be at school and along the way we encountered forms that we drew in our main lesson books.
I really appreciated having simple content to take us through these first few weeks so I could focus on the little things. We paid attention to lots of little details throughout the block.
- Before starting a drawing, we flipped through our main lesson books together, page by page, naming and remembering each drawing. This helped us make sure we were doing our drawings right side up and on the correct page, as well as giving the students a chance to review their previous work and plant seeds for improvement.
- Before drawing the border, we remembered not to make a sound when running the crayon along the “fence” (the spiral) and to use our finger as a stop-sign at the end of the page so the crayon wouldn’t jump off the book and knock onto the desk.
- When picking up our stick crayon, we positioned our bird’s beak at the tip and then let tall man rest behind the crayon. Before drawing I scanned the room to check everyone’s grip before they drew the form. It felt so good to see 27 perfect pencil grips before every drawing! (Of course, some of their fingers jumped around as soon as the crayon hit the page, but we’ve got a good start!)
Blocks? Pencils? Sticks?
Now, you’ll recall that I’ve never taught first grade before, so as I headed into the year, I was in full research mode. There were a couple of considerations that I could not find a definitive answer for. What writing instrument to use for the drawings was one of them.
- Block crayons — It seems that for a long time, block crayons were the recommended medium for form drawings. My colleague said that she learned that using block crayons was best because they took the students away from the focus on the line and instead brought their attention to the gesture of the form.
- Pencils — I was curious to hear this recommendation from my colleague because it was exactly that emphasis on the line that caused my teacher at the Art of Teaching conference to recommend using pencils for the form drawing block. It made sense to me to have a more precise implement for the form drawings — precise work with beeswax drawings leads to terrible pencil grips, but I know many teachers don’t even introduce pencils until 2nd grade. Bringing them in the first block of first grade seemed downright revolutionary!
Stick crayons — In the end, I decided that the stick crayon was the middle ground and I’m really glad I used them. The stick crayon helped me to see who I’ll need to keep an eye on for pencil grip (which I wouldn’t have been able to tell with block crayons) and the children seemed more capable and less concerned about wonky drawings, than I suspect they would have been with pencils. In fact, the stick crayon encouraged them to go over the form again and again, to make it a nice solid drawing that they were happy with.
Beginning to End, Not Back and Forth
I needed to remind several of my students to always go over their drawings from beginning to end, not coloring with a back and forth motion along the way. The fact that many of the images that went with the drawings were paths that animals ran on helped with this as we imagined what it would be like if the animal went back and forth along the path like the students were doing with their coloring. When they remembered to go from beginning to end (or end to beginning), I really liked that my students enjoyed going over their drawings as it just meant deeper work with the form.
The one exception I made was that we used block crayons for the rainbow drawing. I knew they would want all of the colors, and I used the opportunity to practice creating the secondary colors by using just our red, blue and yellow block crayons.
The other question I found many different answers for was which forms to use and in what order? In fact, not having a solid answer to this question meant that I changed my mind several times throughout the block, based on what I observed to be simple and challenging for my students.
A colleague told me that there is a pretty good layout of the order of the forms in Laura Embrey-Stine’s form drawing book (it’s here on Amazon, currently over $100, so I’m guessing you can find it somewhere else cheaper.) I didn’t have this book, so used a variety of resources, as well as my own observation, to determine a progression.
In the end, I think it is fine to determine a progression that includes a balance of straight lines and curved lines, a couple of running forms and I even included one (the butterfly) that included symmetry — which was really difficult for the first graders.