The work of first grade builds on the foundation of kindergarten as children continue to develop initiative, self-reliance and independence. “Strategic situations” are arranged that encourage the children to explore new ideas and concepts in an atmosphere of structured freedom. In this way, children are expertly guided as they also learn to tap into their own motivations (For more on “strategic situations” follow this link to an interview with Harvard Professor Eleanor Duckworth).
In first grade, students’ literacy skills are strengthened and their joy of reading is nourished as they read and write, discuss stories, and practice their emerging critical thinking skills. Students are helped to choose “just right” books, and they learn a variety of strategies to decode words and derive meaning from the printed page. Blue Oak first graders are also introduced to Junior Great Books, and “shared inquiry” lessons are used to develop analytic skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Students also practice the art and craft of writing by authoring works of non-fiction, animal reports, and how-to books, which often delight the community with such topics as “How to Spy on Your Brother” (If you would like to find out more about Junior Great Books, follow this link).
As mathematicians, Blue Oak first graders use manipulatives to build and see numbers as they continue to sort, count, and find patterns (for a pithy introduction to manipulatives, see this link). They also learn the formal procedures for addition and subtraction, and they learn about place value and currency as they ask their own mathematical questions and write their own equations. A hallmark of progressive education, Blue Oak makes math meaningful as first-grade students buy and sell treats from the “snack store” and extend their learning into the community by, for example, marketing, selling, accounting for the sales of, and donating the proceeds from a class business.
The first-grade “social study” extends beyond our immediate community and introduces our young explorers to the wider world. Students read a diversity of folktales from around the world. They dramatize them, write their own versions, and cook their own unique batch of “Stone Soup”. As scientists, first graders continue to mature as stewards of our environment as they sharpen their skills of observation and record-keeping. They explore the life-cycles of insects, specifically butterflies and beetles, and the anatomy of crabs, lobsters and sea stars. Students also become world travelers as we “visit” the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica, and study six different types of penguins. Students bring all their skills to bear on the farm study as they “purchase” land, buildings and animals to build and stock their own farms.
As in all other grades at Blue Oak School, social-emotional growth is closely attended to all year. Independence is encouraged through a sleepover at school, where students are asked to pack their own overnight bag and help to pitch tents in our multi-purpose room.