The first graders and I are having a great time making our way through the numbers. As always, we’re enjoying the stories (check out this post to see which stories I’m telling for the different numbers.)
Our usual routine is that we hear a story and then on the next day we remember it together and do a drawing (with the Arabic numeral overlaid). On the third day we complete a page with the Roman numeral. The first graders and I refer to these numbers as the way “the ancients” wrote the numbers. It seemed odd to me to call it a Roman numeral, because the first graders have no connection to the Romans. Not calling them Roman numerals means that I can write the number 4 as “IIII”, rather than the more abstract “IV.” The true Roman numerals will come when we’re in 6th grade.
This regular rhythm and strongly guided drawing is very satisfying in many ways, and it ensures that we continue to plod along and cover the content, but it doesn’t give much room for the children to express their own ideas.
On Thursday, when we reviewed the story for the number 4 I was astonished by how full of ideas the first graders were. They had so many suggestions for where they see the number 4 in the world. After our conversation it seemed that the number 4 was everywhere! I knew then that if I gave them a chance, they would have all kinds of ideas about how they could create the number 4.
So on Friday I scrapped our usual main lesson bookwork time (oh, don’t worry, we’ll do it on Monday) and instead held a 45-minute “free-rendering” lesson.
Free-rendering is an idea often attributed to longtime master Waldorf teacher and mentor Else Gottgens. I think Else’s vision was that in each lesson you take 10-15 minutes to give the children a chance to create something from their imaginations about the content from the day before. They can use whatever supplies they wish and the only requirement is that their creation has to pertain to the lesson.
I haven’t quite found a way to accomplish it in 15 minutes or less, especially because once the kids get going, the creativity keeps flowing. But, it’s a perfect activity for a Friday morning after a full and busy week.
In our lesson on Friday, the children had access to beeswax, paper of different colors, glue, scissors, cardboard, blocks, silks . . . just about anything they could lay their hands on. Throughout the lesson children came to me asking permission to go ask the office for cardboard, paperclips, scotch tape, etc. — as long as they had a vision that related to the number 4, the answer was “Yes!”
At the end of the creative chaos the children had made a puppet theater with 4 beeswax figures, a couple of tall cardboard structures with 4 walls and 4 decorations hanging off the roof and a castle of blocks with a complete story of 4 princesses who lived there and traveled down the stream to 4 storybook islands.
There were also drawings of square figures with 4-sided heads and bodies, cutouts of the number 4 made of paper of 4 different colors and a couple of drawings of the 4 directions and the 4 seasons.
There were a couple of things that made this lesson so successful.
- Access to supplies. The first graders were so excited about working with whatever supplies they could get their hands on. Cardboard and scotch tape were the most popular options. Next time I’d like to try bringing in pipe cleaners, fabric scraps, wire and whatever else I can find. We’ve got a fun recycled craft material shop in town that will make this a lot easier. It’s not the typical Waldorf approach to art, but sometimes it is so fun to leave the natural, holistic artistic approach to art behind and just explore. At times the children’s enthusiasm about the materials took priority over their expression of the number 4 and they had to reach a bit to explain how their project was about the number 4. But I didn’t worry too much about it. It was a great chance for them to practice using scissors, glue and all kinds of different things.
- Free-reign. I put very few restrictions on the first graders’ activity and said yes as much as possible. We started out with stations for drawing, paper crafts, beeswax and blocks, but by the end it all blended together as children came to me saying they needed something for their idea.
- Lots of children. I’m sure that this lesson was even more successful because there were so many ideas in the room. If anyone got stuck without an idea, all they had to do was turn around and offer to help someone else. I’ve done free-rendering with smaller classes, but it is a little more difficult and requires more support and guidance from the teacher.
- Patient adults. There were certainly moments when the volume got a little high and I started to squirm a bit, a little uncomfortable with the chaos. But before speaking up and calling for order, I scanned the room and found that everyone was safely, actively and creatively engaged. Rather than putting a stop to things, I took a deep breath and reassured myself that everything was just fine.
At the end of the lesson, we all sat down and three or four groups of children shared their projects with the class. They were so proud and it was a great chance for the first graders to practice presenting and listening. A very big clean-up job followed.
Ultimately, I’m calling it a successful lesson and I can’t wait to do free-rendering with the first graders again!
First Grade Skills Checklist
The other thing that has been on my teacher-brain recently is record-keeping. Over the years I’ve refined my approach to keeping records and giving feedback to middle schoolers and their parents (check out my record-keeping toolkit if you’re looking for a little guidance in this aspect of your work.) But first grade is a whole different ball of beeswax. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been observing and thinking about the different skills that I’m looking for my students to develop and how I can go about recording and keeping track of that development.
Well, this weekend I put together a First Grade Skills Checklist.
First Grade Skills
Fill out this form to get the pdf download of my First Grade Skills Checklist.
I combined a few resources to put this document together, including documents from colleagues, my own observations and a rubric that was shared at my summer training. I’m happy to share this downloadable pdf and all you have to do is fill in your email address above.
I hope you find it useful!