The sun, with loving light,
Makes bright for me each day,
The soul, with spirit power,
Brings strength into my limbs.
In sunlight shining clear
I reverence, O God,
The strength of human kind
Which Thou so graciously
Hast planted in my soul.
That I, with all my might,
May love to work and learn,
From thee come light and strength;
To thee rise love and thanks.
The first grader, genuinely eager to enter a wider world, showing all signs of readiness, takes on with his new capacities a new and more organized group experience. To him first grade is a leap into a new world of adventure and learning. No longer is he driven by only play and imitation, this new exploration calls upon all that he has established in himself through his first phase of childhood. He has worked into his physical body and is now prepared to enter the realm of learning through his feelings. Over the next seven years he will further develop his thinking capacities by not only having his whole being engaged in learning, but also by tying his learning to his feeling life in order to penetrate and enliven the world for him.
Art and all things of beauty and goodness are the way to the child’s feeling life. If the teacher will endow every aspect of her subject matter with beautiful images, whether seen or heard, the child will fully engage this bridge from play to work. It is the process in which this new learning takes place that counts the most. The child at this age lives into his imagination, and with this understanding the teacher presents the lesson material through stories that appeal to their imaginations. To the first grader, the world is a beautiful and safe place. Good always prevails. Each story, often the archetypal fairy tale, brings an opportunity to the child for deepening his understanding of the people and world around him which he will later encounter and relate to in adulthood. It is in this that the human gesture plays the largest part on the stage of the first grade curriculum. Through the human gesture the child feels deeply into his being all that first grade has to offer. Skills in writing and arithmetic are almost passively acquired, yet deeply ingested. Steiner (2000) relates the teaching of writing with art:
So we begin to teach writing by using art and by drawing forms; we use the forms of consonants when we want to reach back far enough that the children will be moved by the differences in the forms. It is not enough to tell the children merely through speaking, which is exactly why people are the way they are today. By removing the shapes of letters from the current convention and showing their source, we move the whole being of the child, who thus becomes very different than would otherwise be the case if we appeal only to the intellect. We must not allow ourselves to think only in abstractions. Instead, we must teach art in drawing and so on, teach soul substance in arithmetic, and teach reading and use art to teach the conventional in writing. In other words, we must permeate all of our teaching with an element of art. (p.5)
In the chalkboard drawings for the first grader the human gesture and beauty of the natural world are of great significance. Whether in form drawing, fairy tale, seasonal drawings, or characters in the arithmetic lessons, capturing the beauty of a simple gesture will soothe the soul of the first grader. The child will “feel” the gesture and recognize in it the goodness that lives around him.
The drawings need not be overly detailed; in fact, the simplest drawing leaves space for the child to embellish his own drawing with details that live within him from the story you have told. In allowing the children this creative freedom one must remind the children to stay true to the story. They may ask if the character can have red pants or a purple dress. As long as there was no significance to the story the child may use any color he wishes. Other details, such as flowers, trees, decorative aspects on a house, should be encouraged if the child wishes to add these. Some guidance may be needed if the picture becomes too “busy” and detracts from the main idea of the story.
There are many ways the first grade teacher might go about presenting a drawing of the story on the chalkboard. She might do the drawing ahead of time so that the children enter the class in wonder of what story they may hear. Or, the drawing may be covered up until it is time to put the picture into the main lesson book. In either case, the teacher would guide the students through the drawing on a piece of paper, like theirs, in the front of the room. I have heard of complaints from students feeling a deep dissatisfaction with classmates who peak under the curtain to see the drawing before it is revealed. A real injustice is felt in this situation, and one may want to take this into consideration if there will be an unveiling of the chalkboard drawing. On the other hand, some teachers choose to draw the picture on the board in front of the class when it is time to guide them in their rendition. There are many acceptable points of view on this and ultimately it is in the gesture of the teacher putting forth the effort to bring beauty to her students that is most relevant.
Nature drawings could also be left up on the board and take the place of the story drawings. In this case the story drawings would be led exclusively on paper if there weren’t enough blackboard space. Either way, it is always nice to have something seasonal on the board. For instance, one could draw trees on either or both sides of the board that change with the seasons, have changes in weather, critters and flowers coming and going. You may also have your characters, often told about throughout the year in a pedagogical story, depicted on the board through their various journeys and adventures. Bringing in seasonal and festival themes offers a way to bring beauty and reverence to the aesthetic of the classroom. The drawing on the board can change almost daily. These are the things that the students get very excited about as they wait for the door to open in the morning. If the changes don’t happen daily, the children learn the valuable lesson of delayed gratification and are all the more excited to see something new in the drawing. It also gives the child the opportunity to heighten his skills in observation. The teacher should feel comfortable in bringing these drawings to the children and not get caught up in feelings of inadequate drawing skills. If it is brought with love, it will be received with love.
In the drawing from the story, “The Fisherman and His Wife,” you see something quite simple and attainable. First, the sky and water are drawn. Next, the boat and fisherman. The fisherman has a gesture that shows his pleading and taking from the fish, but could also be interpreted as a gesture of giving when he agrees to let the fish go. The fishing rod is in the back of the boat, again simply drawn. Next, the fish is called into the drawing. In this lesson one could cover two letters, the “F” and the “W.” The fish is wearing a crown signifying his enchantment, as he is really a prince. The crown is gleaming with magic. The children could add beautiful scales on the fish, a rocky coast, the fisherman’s cottage, storm clouds, whatever they took away from the story. You will often see the temperament of the child shine through in what they choose to add to their drawing.