First Grade is Finally Here
Around ages 5-6, first grade begins. First grade marks a big step forward into homeschool. Along with the academic instruction, I also start to train my girls in taking charge of their own education.
My priority for homeschooling is always independence in learning. I teach them the skills they need to learn. I give them tools to make learning as automatic and easy as possible. As well, I show them how to find information rather than just giving it to them. I walk them through problem solving, instead of giving them the answers. And they know the high expectations I have of their ability to learn.
First Grade Goals
For me, my first graders enter first grade reading. Maybe not fluently, but they are still reading. They have the mechanics of coding and decoding down, so we don’t do anymore on phonics. Now we move on to learning to read well. Comprehension is a huge focus for me in first grade.
Almost a higher priority than reading is the mechanics of writing. We work on the physical part of writing, penmanship. And we work on the different pieces that make up communication. We start learning words through spelling and vocabulary. We learn how words make sentences, with grammar. And we study other people’s writings, through copywork.
In first grade, my students are ready to begin arithmetic. They will learn their addition and subtraction fact families, be able to count to 100, and use number lines and charts. And I really want to hone their problem solving skills, so we do a lot of work with logic and critical thinking.
When my girls start first grade, they also start with content subjects. We do science, history and geography now. We also begin learning our second official language (in Canada, we have two official languages, French and English).
We also have fun in first grade, with a crafty approach to art.
First Grade Curriculum:
Because my first graders begin first grade reading, I focus on comprehension skills. Eventually, this will turn into analysis and critical thinking, but for now, we simply learn how to read for understanding. I like to use leveled readers for this subject, rather than the picture books on our shelf. So we use BJU Press’ Reading 1 curriculum. It uses original stories, and snippets of larger books (that we may not ever read). And I like the variety of topics and activities used to practice different comprehension skills.
I also greatly encourage a lot of reading for fun. We have a ton of books in our house. My motto is “You can never have too many books, just not enough shelves!”. I collect series we like. I also will purchase books on favorite topics. My second youngest loves stories featuring bunnies, so we have a lot of bunny-story books.
For penmanship, I return back to Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. For first grade, I use Printing Power. Handwriting without Tears is a favorite publisher for me. But, as in previous years, I don’t purchase the kits. I just use the workbooks. They are largely self-explanatory, and very user friendly.
For writing in first grade, we don’t do a lot of original writing. At this age, they are still working on making letter formation automatic. So it’s too much to expect them to be able to coherently put their thoughts on paper. Instead, we do copywork. Not only does this give more penmanship practice, but reading practice as well. And I appreciate the exposure copywork gives to different forms of writing, as well as to historical facts and figures.
For copywork, I use packets I purchase on CurrClick (editor’s note: this site went defunct in 2019). But you can create your own using a handwriting worksheet generator. Copywork can be anything from poems to parts of stories, quotes or facts about historical figures and events, or proverbs and sayings. It can be anything you like.
For first grade spelling, I use an intro to vocabulary workbook-style spelling book. I like the Spectrum Spelling books, as they use the same phonics systems that I used in Kindergarten. We do Spelling every day, 1 lesson per day. By the end of first grade, my girls will have completed Spelling 1 and Spelling 2.
I introduce grammar in first grade, as an extension of reading fluently. My goals here are for them to get to know the kinds of sentences we use (questions, statements, exclamations) and the two main kinds of words we use (verbs and nouns). To do this, I use Growing with Grammar.
I’m attracted to this program because of it’s black-and-white style (color graphics are distracting to my children) and it’s short, easy, self-contained lessons. Each concept has a small teaching section, followed by a page and a half or so of practice exercises. It’s reviewed twice (so three lessons per concept) before moving on to the next concept. After 10 or so related concepts are taught, everything is reviewed. It’s largely self-teaching, especially once they can read the instructions on their own.
First grade math starts our arithmetic studies. We use Math Mammoth, for elementary grade math. Not only is the program a digital printable (meaning it can be reused for multiple students!) it’s extremely affordable! The Grade 1-3 bundle is just $75 (US).
Math Mammoth comes in both an American and an International version. You can get replacement chapters to teach the currency in your country, for most of the major world currencies. The American-based version teaches both Imperial and Metric measurement, while the International versions are metric only.
In addition to the complete curriculum options, you can also get topic-specific workbooks. For example, one of my daughters is a special needs child. I use the topic-specific worktexts to give her the extra practice she needs to master math concepts. We can spend the entire term working on just time and money concepts, or place value, or whatever topic she needs more time with. These worktexts use the same techniques and exercises as in the complete curriculum, so there’s no confusion when you switch in or out.
Problem Solving Skills
I also want my first graders to have solid problem solving skills. So I use The Critical Thinking Co’s First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts book to teach and practice logic and problem solving.
We start doing science topics in Kindergarten, and we continue that in first grade. For first grade, I teach about weather and water. Again, I love using lapbooks to teach science. Lapbooks allow for easy supplementation, yet making sure we cover all the key concepts related to our topic.My favorite lapbook publisher is Hands of A Child. I use their Extreme Weather, Introduction to Weather, and In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb project packs. The first two project packs are rated for older grades (Gr 4-8), but I adapt the material for my younger students. We also do their lapbook The Water Cycle. Again, it’s rated for higher grades (Gr. 3-6), but I adapt.
First grade marks the beginning of our history studies. We study history chronologically, starting in the Ancient World. In first grade, our adventure begins in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia.
The lapbooks we use from Hands of A Child are: Ancient Egypt, Boy King, Pyramids of Egypt, and Queen of Egypt: Cleopatra. We also do Ancient Mesopotamia. Several of these project packs are targeted to older grades, but like anything else, we adapt.
To complement our studies of the Ancient Near East, we add in studying the Geography of Africa. I like this workbook from Classroom Complete Press, bought from CurrClick: Africa.
It can be hard to include times for crafts and painting when you homeschool. Something about that mess just makes me reluctant to want to plan for it. But I do want to allow for creativity and messiness. How else will they learn? Hence, A Beka’s Art Projects make the perfect fit for our homeschool. They are mostly self-contained art projects, that are doable in just a few minutes. They require a minimal amount of extra supplies, and hardly any planning on my part. And with all the patterns and templates included, they are largely doable independently.
Though A Beka designs their year-long programs to be done 2x weekly, I want to do crafts every day. So we go through both Art Projects 1 and 2 in first grade.
We also do a Bible program and French in our first grade homeschool. I use custom designed programs for those, not listed online. It seems like a lot of different things, but each item takes all of 5-15 minutes to complete. Generally, we’re done with academics within an hour.
Big Girl School
First grade is the first year we touch on all the subjects. It’s a busy year, and a big change from the easy invitation of preschool, and the skill development of kindergarten. Now, school is a required part of their day. And, oddly enough, my girls love it! They can’t wait for first grade and to be “bigger”, just like their older sisters.