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Flying up into the Grades

From the "Three Castles Journey" to the "Rose Ceremony," to mixed age play at recess, to a combined grades class, the transition from Kindergarten into the Grades Program is supported by a conscious threefold process that addresses each student as an individual human being, the class as a family unit, one that is part of a greater community. I'd like to give you a brief picture of the process I've enjoyed participating in this year.

Through the winter, Miss Moni and I will collaborate on Grade One readiness with our Robin's Nest, the oldest cohort of Kindergarten children. Guided by Miss Moni's wise and loving knowledge of the children, we'll have more and more opportunities to come together in work and play. I'll take them on movement journeys, and we'll have handwork classes together, making things they will bring to first grade.

While their excitement grows about joining the grades, it is often balanced with some trepidation and even grief at leaving the warm embrace of Kindergarten. This is true for students and their parents. At home visits, I give each student's family a task to help us create our classroom. When I choose my story for the Rose Ceremony, I make sure it addresses both that excitement and that grieving; transitions are bittersweet, and we grow through them.

After the Rose Ceremony, they see their classroom for the first time. Everything has been arranged with aesthetic intention. In many ways, it resembles Kindergarten, but there are two distinct differences: there are work desks and a chalkboard. What do they tell us about this new stage of child development? Ideally, the first grader will turn seven some time within or closely bordering the school year. However, the cut-off dates in our handbook are only guidelines. We look at the individual student to see that physical, emotional, and social capacities are in place before beginning the academic work that becomes important in the grades.

Jean Piaget spent his life studying how children learn to think. He discovered that the ability to think concretely or abstractly is developmental; you cannot rush or educate a child into moving developmentally faster. Ideally, all the children in Grade One will have been given time to complete these early developmental leaps with the help of the play-based Kindergarten. The Grade One classroom, materials, and curriculum are developed in such a way as to help anyone who needs more time.

My teaching mantra is “Make me a loving container for big feelings, big ideas, and small sacred things that need time to find the light.” The grades classroom's rhythms, routines and rituals provide a safe, familiar container for learning new academic skills. These are established and practised in the first six weeks of school. My role is to guide them to understand the world in ways that reach them at their level of maturity and development. Slowly but surely, I'll help them understand the greater mysteries of life; these start with speaking kindly to one another, knowing when to be wild and when to listen, how to hold a moment of true silence, taking time to draw a straight line, how to write, how to add, how to hold a flute. As they mature, they are better at following instructions. I can offer more implicit instruction that would have confused them earlier. Now, when confused, they can ask questions to understand better why.

This is learning in the grades. There are rules: order and patterns in the world and the great expansive universe. When we live according to these things, we learn and grow in meaningful ways. We better understand ourselves and the world. We discover tremendous things, and we develop extraordinary individual abilities and the ability to share them with others. This applies to all areas of learning in academics and beyond. When they combine into a Grade One-Two class, the second graders will model what they have already learned about being in the grades, making it all a little easier a transition for their friends who flew up from the Robin's Nest.

If you want more information about the academics, particularly how we learn to read in Waldorf Schools, please come to the Open House we'll be holding on January 20th. I'll be doing a talk on the 16 elements of English Literacy. My fellow lower school teachers, Miss Vienie and Mr Ben, will also present on the head, heart, and hands of the language arts curriculum.



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