First-Grade On-Campus Learning a Hub of Hands-On Play, Creativity, and Joy

It’s been a busy past few weeks in the first grade as the return to school for campus-based instruction continues. First graders have spent time in the community garden near Fariss Hall, read a variety of books, and even drawn their own comics.

First-Grade Teachers Molly Cook and May Yang tasked their class to class tidy and maintain the garden before the first graders in Meredith Sydenstricker’s class planted snap peas, kale, chard, and lettuce. Some students, seeing the need to protect the trees in the garden from being climbed, wove yarn around the branches as a reminder to stay out of the trees.

“On our first day in the garden, the students had a blast exploring the tools and specifically digging in the dirt,” Cook said.

“It's especially important for kiddos to spend time outside now more than ever,” Cook continued. “Children learn through play, and outdoor play and exploration are critical for social and emotional learning and problem-solving. They've had so much direct instruction via screens over the past year, so hands-on learning opportunities with other students is a priority for us in first grade right now.”

Sydenstricker has also been reading Mulan aloud to her class. A newer chapter book by Grace Lin, the story is set as a prequel to the Disney story many of us know.

“It is quite a riveting read,” Sydenstricker said. “There is adventure, magic, and mystery, and students have been enjoying discussing the book, making connections within the text between characters, and discovering what is to come as secrets are revealed.”

There has also been some impressive creativity coming out of the first grade. For Sydenstricker’s class, it’s been coming in the form of student-made comics and a book about their favorite breakfasts.

Cook invited her students to use special paper, stickers, and doilies to create valentine cards and notes for one another in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Each first grader was given an envelope with a class list and sentence starters such as, "I like the way you. . ." and “You are special because. . ." During work time, students could interview each other about favorite colors, animals, etc., as the students are in two classes and still getting to know each other.

“The cards and valentines they created were all their original ideas,” Cook said. “Some made books, some made traditional cards, and some got really creative with cutting, gluing, and writing. It was so special!”

Having students back on campus regularly will become the standard in the days to come. But for now, the value of having students back on campus isn’t being taken for granted in the first grade.

“My favorite part of being on campus with students is being able to be together,” Sydenstricker said. “There are so many more unpredictable moments that give joy to our day and add to our learning that you can't have over Zoom. Students love being back! They are joyful and eager to play and learn together.”