Environment and Community
First Grade’s year-long investigation of Environment and Community encourages students to consider the impact, both positive and negative, that human beings have on the natural environment. Students develop not only a deep appreciation for forest ecosystems, but an understanding of the vital role that forests play in our well-being– that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume are all supported by forests. Throughout the year, First Graders collect information and present findings about real-life issues related to the protection of forest land close to home and across the globe. Through dialogue, debate, and consideration of multiple perspectives about an issue, the students come to better understand their relationship to the people, places, and resources in their community and beyond.
Teachers allow the place of study, recently Kenya and Ghana, to be determined by student interest and the lines of inquiry that emerge throughout the year. Through video, story, interviews, books, internet research, the study of changemakers, as well as art and cultural experiences, students come to deeply appreciate the environment, people, history and culture of a faraway place. The class examines an issue that impacts not only the environment of this place, but also the communities of people who depend on trees and forests for their livelihood. While studying Ghana, for example, one First Grade class considered how cocoa farming and Fair Trade cooperatives have the potential for both positive and negative impacts on the rainforest environment and cocoa farming communities. Through a student-driven culminating celebration, the children share what they’ve learned with their families and the Far Brook community. Equipped with their understanding of interdependence and a sense of responsibility, First Graders at Far Brook finish the year inspired and empowered–connected to fellow citizens across the globe and ready to make choices that will positively impact the environment, and their homes, school, and community.
Literacy in First Grade introduces the routines and expectations that support students in developing their identity as a community of independent readers and writers. Students are encouraged to take risks, see value in reading and writing every day, cooperate in creating a safe and productive learning environment, and value one another’s efforts. Using the workshop approach, learners inquire, investigate, discuss, and construct during whole group mini-lessons, small group instruction, as well as individual conferences. In First Grade, every child is encouraged to think of themselves as a reader and a writer.
Reading: The First Grade teachers utilize a Balanced Literacy approach to support student’s reading development. This approach includes a variety of instructional methods– read-aloud and discussion, shared texts for whole-group reading to build fluency, word study experiences, as well as individualized and small group instruction. Some of the primary goals for First Grade readers are solidifying good reading habits, developing a repertoire of strategies to figure out new or tricky words, as well as honing strategies for making meaning. Through daily lessons, students learn about who they are as readers, how to thoughtfully select books, and build their stamina. They have time each day to read independently, with partners, and in small groups with the support of a teacher.
Writing: First Graders come to see writing as a way to express their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and hopes. They begin the year learning habits and routines for writing independently, ways to maintain a productive writing environment, and how to take risks and share ideas within a community of writers. As students study different genres of writing, they move through the stages of the writing process: planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, and finally celebrating their work with peers and family. By the end of the year, First Grade writers develop n respect, understanding, and value for everyone’s work; use and care for writing materials and resources independently; and choose and write on topics that they care about.
Library: First Graders continue to develop their understanding of genre, exploring the different kinds of fiction highlighted in the library’s selection of beginning chapter books: adventure, animal, fantasy, historical, humor, mystery, realistic, scary, and sports. Through an in-depth study of one author/ illustrator, students begin to appreciate the elements of writerly and artistic craft that help to give this author/ illustrator’s work its unique style. First Graders start to develop a researcher’s habits of mind as they use non-fiction as a tool to “fact-check” the information included in a poem or a fictional selection. As they become expert in reading a book’s spine label, first graders are given the opportunity to browse the library independently and to learn how the shelving and spine labeling systems correspond with one another.
Students in First Grade gain an understanding of number sense and operations, geometry, fractions, measurement, and data. Math instruction is provided using the “workshop model” – students are first introduced to a problem-solving situation, game, or concept through a whole group mini-lesson. Students then break into smaller groups for partnership work and independent practice. Big mathematical ideas are uncovered during whole group shares, or math congresses. Students are encouraged to develop their own math strategies at their own pace, while teachers individually guide them toward greater accuracy and efficiency. First Grade mathematicians learn how to show their solutions using mathematical models and explain their thinking to their peers.
All aspects of the plant and animal kingdoms occupy the First Graders time in science class. We start with plants and trees, identifying and observing the patterns and functions of roots, trunks, stems, leaves, seeds, and fruits. We then move on to invertebrates (animals without a backbone) and vertebrates (animals with a backbone and a specialized skeleton). First Graders also explore themes from the realms of physical and earth science, including weather, garbage and recycling, and physical change over time.
In First Grade French class, the children are immersed in a language-rich environment made comprehensible through the use of body language, visual aids, and abundant repetition in a variety of contexts. A typical lesson will include meaningful and personalized conversations, storytelling, music, movement, and a variety of hands-on activities. The instruction is based on topics of interest to the students, as we work in an atmosphere of “comprehensible” immersion to promote and accelerate the acquisition of French.
Music: The First Grade study of patterns is a wonderful launch pad for pattern recognition in music literacy, movement, and aural/visual discernment of form. Students practice simple melodic patterns using the Kodaly system of solfège (sol, mi, la), corresponding hand signs and notation, rhythmic patterns using ta, titi, rest (quarter notes, eighth notes, rests), and patterns of meter and phrasing. Students also explore patterns in movement: with partners and individually, in circles, spirals, double circles, standing or sitting, hand clapping or lummi sticks, and incorporating movements such as skipping, galloping, floating and marching. We continue to lay more groundwork for healthy vocal technique, critical aural skills, and music literacy via an assortment of American folk songs and games, Far Brook songs, folk songs in foreign languages (such as Spanish, French, Japanese, Maori and Chinese), and formal classical repertoire. A unit on formal works related to fairy tales such as Stravinsky’s Firebird and Grieg’s Peer Gynt allows opportunities for integrating lessons in creative movement, poetry, and story-writing.
Dance: The First Graders begin to gain an awareness of technique and form within their dancing, and learn the process of choreographing work independently within a group of peers. Focusing on patterns and sequencing and considering the classroom curriculum, the fall semester culminates in an informal sharing of student-created work, using different pathways (circles, zigzags, direct & indirect lines) and working with an introduction to movement canons. Focusing on small group work, listening to others and refining choreography through a series of work-in-progress shadings and reflections, students begin to develop a strong sense of personal artistry and the strength of an ensemble.
Art: First Grade studies patterns in nature, which facilitates a more complex and detailed method of understanding and seeing within a visual format. Students create a double self-portrait titled “The Inside Me, the Outside Me.” This project consists of a self-portrait of the student which is drawn and painted on transparent acetate. The viewer looks through to the inner portrait, which is done on canvas board. This represents an opportunity to express personal feelings about themselves in a safe environment.
Students also participate in creating a painting project that emphasizes the use of pattern which connects to their core curriculum studies. The painted and patterned image of a tree combined with a different pattern and different color palette to represent the negative space, facilitates an opportunity to understand and study the gestural and expressive work of Jackson Pollock.
Woodshop: Building upon and refining skills acquired in Kindergarten, First Grade students gain confidence and independence using a variety of woodshop tools. They begin the year by exploring how to use simple shapes to create branching patterns and trees, and continue to create projects of their own design throughout the year.
Social and Emotional
In order to cultivate students who take action to make the world a more just place children must first feel good about who they are, take pride in all aspects of their identity, and explore the uniqueness that they bring to the world. The students share and explore aspects of their identity that they share with others and those that make them unique. Lessons emphasize commonalities and parts of the human experience that are shared by all. Teachers work with the students to create an environment that fosters kindness and compassion toward all, as well as an interest and curiosity toward people who believe different things or live their daily lives in different ways.
First Graders are also introduced to mindfulness practices that help them cultivate greater self-awareness, attention, and self-regulation capacities. Additionally, each week the class learns new tools and strategies from Open Circle, a social-emotional curriculum that proactively teaches students listening and speaking skills, as well as ways to strengthen friendships and problem-solve issues in the classroom and on the playground. Students build a repertoire of strategies for creating a safe, caring classroom community. Use of this program throughout the school gives the whole community a common language and set of skills.
First Grade students have sports class 4 times per week for 30 minutes each class. Basic motor skills are enhanced through lead up games, drills, and activities. Sports strategies are introduced through a variety of games. Activities that involve throwing, catching, kicking, dribbling, and bouncing are refined to help students prepare for team sports games. Students learn to respect others and understand the importance of practicing the Golden Rule. First Grade students rotate through units of soccer, floor hockey, team handball, basketball, and kickball/wiffle ball. Every month the students are introduced to a Sports Changemaker which is an athlete that makes a difference in the world through fighting for social justice, fairness and equality.