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First Grade on a Shoestring

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #74, 2007.

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Melissa Morgan


It is reassuring to simply buy an expensive boxed curriculum for first grade. However, first graders come in all shapes and sizes, and vary greatly in their readiness to learn to narrate, calculate, and differentiate visually. Many reasons account for the differences - motivation, interest, physical and mental development. One child at six is reading Dr. Seuss books on her own; another can't really see the words - his eyes haven't developed well enough, and he can't track letters on the page.

Homeschool offers the opportunity to tailor your youngster's environment to build on strengths and diminish weaknesses, all without overspending or squelching the natural desire to learn. Network with a homeschool support group; an older, more experienced homeschool parent can help steer you to the right resources for your child. Try before you buy. Save money and time by borrowing materials from a friend or library.

Workbooks usually cost less than textbooks, and can help you cover all the bases in a subject. If you and your child enjoy the structure of workbooks, consider that some, such as The Complete Book of Phonics by American Education Publishing, develop skills systematically, yet can be used for a wide range of abilities. You may use the same workbook over several years, or your child may "leap ahead" to a higher level when given the opportunity. Your local librarian can point you to materials that review basic first grade skills taught in your local schools, giving a rough idea of what age-mates are required to learn.

You could easily print up a first grade curriculum off the internet. For instance, find free reading and language arts activities at www.ed.gov/pubs/CompactforReading/pdf/first/first.pdf. No need to do all the activities; pick and choose only the pages that will help your child learn. Print up free work pages, with answer keys, for reading, math, science, social studies, and more, such as a fun whale find puzzle, at www.tlsbooks.com/kidspagearchive.htm.

Although free and inexpensive materials abound, I'm choosy about homeschool resources. First grade materials must be easy to use and visually appealing to both you and your child. Also, I suggest that you allow your child to help you pick out some inexpensive beginning books, with only a simple sentence on each page, to keep as his or her own. While waiting for appointments and before bed, take turns reading pages from your child's books.

Hands-on First Grade

First graders learn more quickly with hands-on, real world activities. For language arts, develop auditory discrimination - needed for reading and spelling - through singing and playing with musical instrument sounds - is the sound high or low, loud or soft, long or short? Sing part of a song, stop, and let your child finish. Try singing a word slightly wrong, and see if your child corrects you. It is human nature for a child to enjoy this game!

Look for real-world opportunities to improve fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual perception, needed for reading and writing. Include your child in everyday chores such as sorting and folding socks and writing up a simple grocery list; children are motivated to read words to find their favorite foods at the store.

Use letter tiles from word games to build words with consonant and vowel sounds. Introduce consonant blends, diphthongs, ending sounds and suffixes. Hint: when you help your child make a word with letter tiles, say the sound of the letter, not the name of the letter. Draw a road on a large piece of paper. Put letter tiles on the road or write names of familiar objects and people, sentences from favorite books, Bible verses, or verses from songs on the road. Take turns with your child driving a tiny car over the letters that make up the words, sounding out the words as you go. Group spelling words together into logical groups, such as words that rhyme, to show a pattern.

In first grade math, review numbers from zero to one hundred with a stack of pennies and a piggy bank. Learn that one hundred pennies add up to a dollar. Every once in awhile, open up the piggy and tally up. Help your child add up and write the amount.

Spend time in your kitchen with your child using real measurements. Print up a simple recipe (such as for lemonade or cookies); then help your child trace, read and follow directions to measure liquids and solids using cups, pints, and quarts.

Crafts such as cutting out paper shapes and gluing them onto pictures will help your child review recognition of basic shapes. Simple board games, games with dice, and card games use number concepts such as before, between, after, same, not the same, longer, shorter, more (or greater) than and less than, adding and subtracting, greater and lesser numbers, and numbers in sequence. Give your child an inexpensive calendar, thermometer, compass, watch, clock, and a timer to explore days, months, numbers, directions, skip counting, and time to the hour and half hour.

"Extra" Subjects

If you are stressed with homeschooling, try not to worry about formally teaching "extra" subjects such as science, art, music, and social studies. Put character training, reading, and math activities first, and let everything else go for awhile. However, your first grader will probably love spending one-on-one time with you, learning about God's creation, as well as things that go on land, water, and in the sky.

As your child gathers more experiences, you will hear many questions about animals, plants, the earth's movements, the sky, the four seasons, and many other subjects that may not be in your first grade curriculum. Your first grader can learn new vocabulary words through interesting, age-appropriate science resources. Your local librarian can help you and your child in your hunt for answers.

Most first graders are beginning to develop an interest in people and places outside their home, starting with family members and gradually branching out to learn about other people, places and times. Your young child will care the most about the history of his or her own family and friends. Bring out the family album. Draw a genealogical chart with your child. Point out how previous generations in your family celebrated holidays. Read about how holidays are celebrated differently in other lands. Create a new family ritual or custom to celebrate holidays.

First graders can learn a lot without traveling very far, such as an outing to a nearby body of water, airport, police station, bank, post office, or pet shop. Glue a map of your town or neighborhood onto a large piece of cardboard. Cover it with clear plastic and cut the map into interesting shapes. Your child can put the map back together and then use a wipe-off pen or erasable crayon to draw the route to familiar places.

Your first grader can pray for, care about, and serve others, learning about charities and missionaries, their work with different people in their own neighborhood and in other lands: different climates, languages, homes, and clothing. Your youngster can help family members by doing chores, such as putting away laundry, helping a younger sibling or friend, cleaning off the table, and helping to take food or supplies to a sick or disabled friend or relative.

As young children help others, they put into practice diligence, selflessness, and hard work. They gain values that you can't buy at any price - principles they will need to succeed as their schoolwork gets more challenging in the years to come.


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