Written by Mat Riendeau – Urban Prairie Waldorf School teacher
A few parents have asked for suggestions around ways to reinforce the learning that is happening at school. An excellent request, so I thought that I’d answer here in the larger forum so in case anyone else was interested.
A few caveats, though. Please note that the suggestions below form a foundation along with adequate sleep (~11 hours) and a healthy diet. Also, understand that these suggestions are only that. Your child is working hard throughout the entire school day and the ideas that follow are by no means necessary for them to succeed in the first grade.
The Urban Prairie Waldorf School Education
The education we provide for the students is deep and multifaceted and the “Head, Heart, and Hands” model is a great way of keeping it simple; the head refers to the academic aspects of the education, the heart refers to the social, and the hands refer to presence in the body as well as the willingness and drive to create.
My suggestion here is to look for the Teachable Moments. The times that you are with your child are filled with opportunities to gently model and practice some of the things they have been learning in school. If you take up some of these suggestions and they fall flat, don’t push them, just let it go for the time being. These Teachable Moments should feel natural, effortless, and fun. It is important to remember that they are in school for 7 hours of the day and need some time off as well! But, if they respond positively, then these can be moments that will help them draw a connection between the classroom and the world at large.
- Playing Catch. Count the number of times you can catch a ball without dropping it. Then ask them if you think you could do two more throws the next time. How many would that be? We have been introduced to Counting On in the classroom and will be working on that this week.
- Riding in the car/bike. Counting certain objects as you spot them.
- Chores. I highly suggest that your first grader be helping out with chores at home. Not a lot, but between 10 – 15 minutes each day. They can count sock pairs by two as they fold them or determine how many place settings are needed to set a table. Preparing a meal alongside a parent is full of opportunities to explore numbers and quantities.
- Board/Card Games. Cat and Mouse Games is a great store not far from school.
- Going to/from School. Lots of possibilities here for choosing a letter and seeing how many things you can find that have that letter’s sound in their names. We’ve formally covered M, F, G, and T, though we’ve been working with the whole alphabet.
- Reading. Reading with your child ensures a culture of reading in your family and it is one of the best indicators for strong readers as they grow older. Find some time each day to do so, and offer them opportunities to maybe read a sentence after you or find a word on a page.
- Making Lists. Making a shopping list? Maybe ask your child to help you find the letter to start a word, or even ask them to write a word or letter themselves.
- Board Games.
- I can’t more highly recommend anything than simply going on walks in nature.
Our education is strongly centered around the individual as a responsible and integral part of a greater community. Much of the work in the first weeks of First Grade is around respect for ourselves and others, boundaries, self-control, manners, and kindness. The social connections and practices that your child forges at this age are seeds that will blossom throughout their lives. After a Covid-filled few years, this is especially important.
- Family. Structured, distraction-free family time provides a real foundation for your child’s sense of well-being. They are learning who they are in relation to you, their parents, and through that relationship, learn about how to be in the greater world.
- Household. As I mentioned before, giving your child a sense of responsibility around the house is a great way to cultivate their individual agency and sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. Start small and simple. It is more important that they are able to complete the tasks with joy at this age than to be mowing the lawn or taking the garbage out on their own. Be sure to thank them and let them know that their contributions really make a big difference.
- Friends. Play dates, play dates, play dates. Masked and outside. Play is the integrating work of the seven year old.
The First Graders are doing lots and lots of movements in school that target their vestibular system (sense of balance), gross and fine motor skills, and much more. Unless your child is being prescribed certain activities by an OT or other professional, I would suggest letting them play, climb, and explore on their own. Some other things include…
- Tying Shoes. Lots of tying at school; their crayon and pencil rolls are to be tied up in bows each time they put them away. Have them tie their own shoes at home.
- Tickling, Wrestling, Snuggling, and Hugging. Can’t recommend this highly enough for parents and children.
- Chores. Again, chores make it on a list. Sweeping, folding napkins, raking leaves, carrying grocery bags, etc.
- Blocks, jigsaw puzzles, marble runs, sandboxes, etc.
- Imaginary Play. When children of this age engage in imaginary play, they will do so with their whole bodies.
- Making Gifts for others.
At this age, I do not recommend any regular screen time at all. Your child is not getting everything out of this education if they are on a tablet/phone, or in front of a TV on a daily basis. At this stage in their development, my experience shows that students with a heavy screen diet can take one step back for every two they take forward in terms of their development. That said, I can certainly get behind the weekly/bi-weekly family movie night and such activities as they can be a real source of fun and togetherness. Children watching TV on their own in isolation, not so much. Please note that I do not play media/screen police and absolutely respect any choice your family makes around the matter, but I wouldn’t be fulfilling my professional obligations if I did not share my own informed opinion around the matter. Keep an eye out for a longer blog post around this topic.