I have many times listened to Melisa Neilson speak of the importance of early planning for the school year, and I’ve read the same advice from Carrie Dendtler as well. I am thankful they are so vocal about the importance of early planning; more and more I have realized how lost I would be if I had only given myself a month or two to pull together our upcoming year of 1st Grade in the Waldorf tradition.
I’ve been aware of Steiner’s indications that the teacher should plan the curriculum, the form, of each year, but my confidence in how to do that began to lag last fall. There is the issue of the blocks, and the general format of a Waldorf school day which had me feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed. Questions like, when exactly should each new letter, ability, concept be introduced, in which week? I am a quite literal person, so these details loomed paramount in my mind.
Upon reading my Christopherus Curriculum Syllabus cover to cover, I realized I already “got” the form and flow of how to plan the blocks without realizing it. I wanted the material to have the creative, magical flow which is only possible if it is living material, originating from the internal spiritual and intellectual well of the teacher. On top of that, the more I delve into the world of Steiner philosophy (and stray away from the millions of interpretations) I realize it is not about introducing the right letter on the correct day of a specific week… Actually that is anathema to what a good Waldorf education is. It is about recognizing the general stages of development which all children go through; deeply knowing the specific child you will be teaching; and then planning a curriculum based on those two things: the individual child and its individual needs WITHIN the broader developmental stage/phase every child of that age goes through. (I have to highlight that point for myself to come back to time and again when the sneaky urge to push something developmentally inappropriate may strike! Sometimes (often) the healthiest thing to do for their young hearts and minds is to stop and wait!)
And so I am busy reading everything I can, and planning out the school year in a new format…my own! I have the basic plans laid for the blocks that we will follow and I am beginning to work on the sub lessons we will do each day. And then I will get into the nitty gritty of the details of each day, the specific projects and methods for each day. I am using many wonderful resources for guides. To date, for the pentatonic flute, I will be using David Darcy’s guide, and for form drawing, I will be consulting with Marsha Johnson’s guide as well as Rudolf Kutzli’s guide. For math, I am reading through Marsha Johnson’s free resources on her yahoo group as well as Ernst Schubert’s Taching Mathematics for First and Second Grades in the Waldorf School and Roy Wilkinson’s Teaching Mathematics. I hope to find Ron Jarman’s book on mathematics, as I hear it is quite good, but so far I’m having bum luck with that. For sculpturing I am referring to Hella Loewe’s Basic Sculptural Modeling and for wet-on-wet painting, Marsha Johnson has a lovely guide, and I will also be referring to Brunhild Muller’s Painting With Children.
For language arts, I believe I will refer to my Christopherus Sylabus for basic formatting ideas, but I do have a hunch that I will be using a letter introduction tale of my own devising, as I’d like it to flow with our form drawing and math stories as well. Also, I have debated long and hard about the issue of letter introduction: shall we take the whole year to slowly work our way through the alphabet, or should we introduce all 26 letters by Christmas – or even within the first couple language art blocks? This where I think it pays to know the child you are working with, within the developmental landscape she is in. The instructors who often meander through the alphabet over the course of a year are often working with children on the very young side of 6, and so it pays to delay. Sophia will be turning 7 exactly two months after her 1st Grade year begins, and I feel fairly confident that we will be able to work through the alphabet at a good clip and then begin to approach word families in the second half of the school year. If she were a young six, I doubt I would feel the same way. (And I do acknowledge my feeling and opinion on this may change – there is always the possibility we may need to slow things down. I will observe how the material affects her as we progress.)
I am planning on posting weekly detailed blog posts throughout our First Grade year. This is going to be a huge commitment on my part and it will take lots of personal discipline and will because of how time consuming each post is, so I hesitate to vocalize this plan! But I want it all on here as a detailed reference for myself when I go back to each grade with Grace and Lily, and also, it may help someone else at some point who is trying to plan out a First Grade year.