Grade 1

Literacy and foundational skills are at the core of first grade. In language arts, children build confidence and competence in reading, writing, and comprehension. Through our visual literacy program, children’s vocabulary and expressive language expand as they learn to “read” works from the Yale Center for British Art. Their social literacy expands through explorations of identity, stereotypes and culture. Social studies units, in partnership with second grade, expand the children’s ideas about communities. In math, children master basic facts, identify patterns and sequences, and “find” math in everyday experiences. Spanish classes, fun challenges in physical education and an expanded repertoire in music, drama and art extend learning beyond the classroom every day.

Social Studies

Students gathered around a small fire outside in the woods

The year begins with an expansion of the local community study that began in Kindergarten. Students’ concept of “community” soon expands to include the New Haven area, with local explorations to investigate the features of our city. From the top of East Rock, children consider the city with a new perspective, which helps to inform beginning studies of maps, distances and landforms. They then embark on a cultural or historic study to compare and contrast “here and there,” or “now and then.” In alternating years, the comparison is either to an African community or the indigenous people of the northeast woodlands. Throughout the curriculum, lessons about identity, multicultural diversity and social justice enhance the children’s learning.


A group of students holding water balloons

First and second graders approach the world through a multicultural and multidisciplinary lens, with the science and social studies programs providing the structure around which writing, art, music, drama and literature are developed in the classroom. Specific science topics include organisms and their habitats, air and weather, soils, liquids and solids, and balance and motion. Individual and group research projects occur frequently. Classroom investigations and local ecological explorations, including a pond study and observations of live specimens, develop the children's abilities to observe, classify, question, experiment, record and analyze, as well as to increase their environmental awareness.

Language Arts

A teacher and group of students reading a book togetherOral and written language are the focus of instruction in first grade. A highlight of our program is visual literacy; using beautiful images from the Yale Center for British Art, students consider the ways that a picture can really “paint a thousand words.” Read-alouds are an important daily occurrence. Teachers make careful choices to help the children gain independence in reading “just-right” books. Reading instruction occurs in both individual and small group formats. In writing, children share interests and personal experiences, and explore a variety of genres, including personal narratives, short stories, poetry and informational writing. Young writers are encouraged to employ a broad vocabulary in their writing and to spell phonetically as they gradually learn conventional spelling rules.


Two kindergarten girls playing a game on the floor of a classroom

First graders continue to build on the foundational numeracy skills introduced in Kindergarten. Our curriculum includes many opportunities for children to handle materials, manipulate shapes and objects, and observe mathematics in daily activities. They work with increasingly complex patterns, explore numerical sequences, and begin to develop problem-solving strategies and ways to recall basic addition and subtraction facts efficiently. First graders investigate “big numbers” with place values through the hundreds and compute double-digit addition and subtraction problems without regrouping. First graders begin to learn to tell time to the nearest hour and half hour, count collections of coins less than a dollar, and explore two- and three-dimensional shapes.


Two students working together on a piece of art in a classroom



The rich curriculum of first grade provides a strong foundation for arts projects. The children study the arts of Native America and Africa in alternate years. Materials and techniques from historical and cultural traditions are integrated into drawings, textural projects, and mixed-media works. Children regularly explore and experiment with new ideas in their sketch books before they create their final projects. Projects are often motivated by literature, including folk tales, fairy tales, and poetry.



Kindergartens students playing instruments on the floor of a classroom


First grade students work on basic musical skills, learn to read and write music and continue to develop a joy of singing, dancing and playing together. They review familiar concepts and learn a variety of songs, play parties, singing games, rhymes and dances. We explore music through American folk song, learning melodic elements, including sol, mi and la and rhythmic elements (ta, ti-ti, and rest). We connect to the classroom curriculum by hearing and learning music of Native America and of different countries in Africa. Additional musical concepts are woven into our music lessons such as form, listening, singing canons, performing ostinati, pitch matching and group singing. We also continue to develop social skills by working with partners and cooperating in groups.


A teacher and students working together in a drama theater


In first grade drama classes, children continue to expand on imagination and expression. Students explore the range of facial movements that characterize emotions, and they practice using their voices and bodies to convey feelings and reactions. They work together to create imaginary environments, and they act out simple storylines. Students experiment with walking style, voice and other behaviors to bring characters to life onstage.


Physical Education

A group of students playing in a gymnasium


First graders continue to develop large and small motor skills, spatial awareness, balance and coordination. Warm-up activities are energetic and lively, designed to welcome and include children of all ability levels. Children practice a variety of movements using their legs (hopping, galloping, leaping, jumping, skipping, running and walking) and their arms (throwing, catching and striking with yarn balls, juggling scarves, bean bags, beach balls, spider balls, balloons, soft rubber balls, scoops, foam paddles, whiffle-balls and bats.) Hand-eye and eye-foot coordination continue to improve as children practice all skills on both their dominant and non-dominant sides. Gymnastics and cooperative games are part of the program as well.


Two kindergarten girls reading together in a classroom

First graders’ lessons in the library are aligned with their growing independence as readers. Children learn about the organization of the library—the sections and locations where different categories of books are shelved. They spend more time browsing and choosing “just right” books to borrow. They become familiar with sections of particular interest and topics connected to their curriculum.

World Language - Spanish

A row of pinatas hanging in a classroom

In first grade, children continue their study of Spanish vocabulary and grammar. They learn about Hispanic cultures by exploring countries such as Mexico, Bolivia and Spain. Students learn about family traditions in Mexico and make comparisons to their own celebrations in the United States. Bolivia presents lessons about El Gran Mercado, Carnival, traditional clothing and colors. Children learn vocabulary to compare living conditions between cities and towns, and make connections to their own homes. Lessons about Spain include famous sites of Madrid and Flamenco dancing. Children listen to classical guitar and play an authentic cajón drum. As their language skills expand, students are encouraged to speak in full sentences.


Students using tablets on the floor of a classroom

First graders are introduced to technology through a range of devices and applications. Their identity as “digital citizens” becomes a lens for considering questions about online communities and the digital environment. Children learn about how computers work, and they make regular use of iPads throughout their curriculum. They create story maps, publish stories, experiment with drawing and multimedia tools, and visit websites with the support of their teachers.

In early spring, Kindergartners tap Foote’s sugar maples to learn about making sap into syrup. The unit combines science, math, social studies and language arts, ending with a celebratory sap boil and pancake breakfast.

Meet Beth Mello

Beth Mello
Assistant Head of School

Beth Mello oversees the school's curriculum development; diversity, inclusion and social justice initiatives; and faculty professional development.

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