At Park, we know that children learn best when they are active participants in their own education and when skills and knowledge are grounded in a meaningful context.
Recognizing that different aspects of language—including oral language, reading, writing, and visual representation—develop in conjunction with each other, our language arts curriculum encourages first graders to grow in all of these areas.
Careful selection of rich and relevant literature, interactive read-alouds, and opportunities to discuss and share books as a whole group and in reading partnerships are important components that build a community of learners who fall in love with reading. Because children range from emergent to more advanced in their reading skills, teachers guide individual readers in selecting independent reading books that are “just right” for them, and regularly meet one-on-one and in small groups to give tailored instruction for advancing decoding and comprehension skills.
First graders engage in an authentic Writers’ Workshop with ample opportunities to be inspired, write and draw, share, give and receive feedback, and polish their writing for publication. Mini-lessons encourage the development of good writing habits, encoding (translating spoken language into written language) skills, crafting techniques, and conventions of writing. Writers explore a wide range of genres including memoir, biography, “How To” books, “All About” books, poetry, letter-writing, lists, and opinion pieces.
First graders love building, sorting, and playing with words. Regular word study sharpens their awareness of sound and symbol relationships, builds recognition of the interrelatedness of words, and creates stepping stones for stronger readers and writers. Learners apply analytical thinking strategies like “using known words to figure out new words.” A better understanding of the mechanics of language creates stronger readers and writers.
First grade students have library once a week. The students learn the basics of how to use the library, and at the beginning of each class, enjoy a story selected by the librarian. They experiment with choosing books that reflect their passions and suit their reading levels. It is the beginning of their own personal, self-directed education—an education fueled by their interests.
The K-Grade 2 Librarian and children’s book author Twig George, also works with first graders in small book groups for reading enrichment. Once a week, students meet in groups of four to six to explore content in greater depth by reading, writing, discussion, and word exploration. They also learn to zero in on paragraphs that have complex meanings, and on words about which they have questions.
First grade primarily uses the math curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, supplementing with many other rich math experiences, games, and explorations as well. First grade math curriculum includes:
- Building number sense
- Addition, subtraction, and early algebraic thinking
- Data collection and analysis
- Story problems
A spiraling curriculum gives children multiple opportunities to explore, conceptualize, and deepen their understanding of mathematics. By introducing genuine contexts for exploring mathematical situations, children are put in the role of mathematicians rather than simply learners of math.
As in math, the study of science emphasizes the development of process skills: observing, classifying, communicating, inferring, interpreting data, and making predictions. How do we find out about our world? How do scientists work? These are the questions that first grade students consider. The Park campus is an ideal laboratory for scientific study. Students explore the stream, woods, and Lower School garden, collecting and identifying botanical specimens or bringing organisms back to classrooms for further study. In the first grade, students investigate their five senses, explore predator-prey relationships, experiment with forces and movement, begin to develop their skills of experimental design through examination of soil, and explore the seasonal life cycles of different organisms.
First grade students explore the language and many distinct cultures of the Spanish-speaking world through themes that frequently connect with the classroom curriculum. Among other topics, first grade students explore self and families, seasons in the garden, farms and their relationship to our food, and insects. Students act in plays and skits, cook culturally relevant food, engage in crafts, and learn traditional songs and games. The Spanish teacher develops a safe and comfortable classroom environment where young children are able to take risks as they experiment with their developing vocabulary and begin to make comparisons across cultures.
First grade instruction begins with the introduction to basic vocabulary and operations such as maneuvering the mouse, logging in and out, and saving and printing. Typing skills begin to develop in the middle of the first grade year and instruction continues through the Lower School. Programs such as Type To Learn, Kidspiration, Microsoft Office, and Shapes are utilized and students begin using iPads for drawing and capturing images. First grade students also play games and use programs related to patterns and codes, such as Tynker, to begin learning about programming concepts and to support their math curriculum. The technology coordinator focuses on and supports what the children are learning in their homeroom, and incorporates classroom skills and content as students use the programs listed above.
Theme Studies, Social Studies, History
First graders walk the path from “me” to “we.” We celebrate what makes each of us unique, explore our similarities and differences, learn how to be active participants in a caring and democratic learning community, and engage with the world outside of the classroom to widen our perspective, deepen our learning, and make positive change.
Our social studies work is inspired by scholar Michael Holquist’s quote: “We are unique but we are never alone. I can see things you can’t see, and you can see things I cannot see. We must try to see what is there together.”
Theme studies are woven throughout the first grade curriculum. Four metaphors guide us as we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our classroom community, and our connections with the larger community:
- A magnifying glass allows us to look closely. We begin by exploring our unique selves, sharing aspects of our identities that make us similar and different, learning communication skills, and working together to build a classroom culture based on mutual respect and cooperation.
- Windows and mirrors allow us to recognize that people have different perspectives. By exploring literature and other forms of media that represent all forms of diversity, engaging in dynamic activities, and interacting with people in our community, we notice as individuals how some experiences are “mirrors,” reflecting familiar aspects of our own lives, and some experiences are “windows,” giving us a new or widened view of the world.
- “Walking in someone else’s shoes” allows us to develop empathy. Acting out role plays to explore social situations in the classroom and immersing in a biography from the point of view of the person being studied are two ways we stretch our imaginations to both see and feel the perspectives of others
- Viewing service learning as “a two-way street” allows us to authentically engage with our wider community. Through careful reflection on our classroom experiences and our interactions with the world outside of the classroom, we deepen our understanding of how to be an active citizen in our community while creating positive change.