First Grade

 In first grade, there is a transition from open-ended play and work to more direct and explicit instruction. First graders continue to learn through exploration and play, but these experiences are more directed than in the early childhood grades (Fours and kindergarten). This is a significant change for students, as their “school work” begins to feel harder. The first grade curriculum is designed to ease anxiety and nurture a habit of risk taking that carries students forward in their readiness for all academic areas. As students develop fluency and confidence in their skills, they begin to build stamina for reading, writing, and listening to each other, and become more independent in their learning and problem-solving.

Building on the foundational social-emotional work of the early childhood grades, the goal of first grade is to help students expand their understanding of their roles within a slightly bigger world. First graders are industrious when it comes to making sense of the world: they take everything in, sort and categorize information, and show an earnest drive and excitement for learning and discovery. They want to know how things work, and why things are the way they are.

The first grade social studies curriculum focuses on our neighborhood and examines how the needs and wants of this community are met. Laying the foundation for meaningful and active citizenship, we ask first graders to think about the ways in which their individual and collective efforts can affect their worlds inside and outside of the classroom. They learn the community song, “What Can One Little Person Do?”

First graders process their observations of the neighborhood through more directed building experiences. Using their familiarity with open-ended materials such as blocks, paint, paper, and clay, their block work becomes enriched with elaborate detail and interconnectedness. As they build, first graders ask questions such as, “Who pays the police officers?”, “Who makes the electricity?”, and “Where can my block person live?”.The time students spend engaged in this work hones many skills, from the fine motor skills they need to create their block structures to risk-taking, problem-solving, and reflecting on what they see in the world around them.

One aspect of the neighborhood curriculum is the Safety Study, in which first graders begin to connect the rules and expectations of the classroom to those of the world around them. Each class votes on a neighborhood safety concern that they want to examine more closely. One class chose to look at the number of loose park benches in our neighborhood. It took courage for the children to walk up to strangers in the park, explain their project, and ask them to stand up so that they could test the wiggliness of the bench. After collecting the data, each group analyzed its numbers in math class, using critical thinking skills to interpret the data and connect it back to the question of “Why are there more wiggly park benches at this park than the other park?”Students listen to each other’s reasoning and share strategies for how they found the difference between two numbers. Students then consider how they can use the information to take some action. For example, the students who studied park benches wrote letters to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation praising their hard work and informing them about the small number of wiggly benches they found. Another class’s study of bicycle helmet usage led to making bicycle safety posters to hang around the neighborhood. This active piece of the curriculum is an important aspect of students’ developing sense of citizenship.
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