First grade

In first grade, new worlds open up for students, academically and socially, as they move to the end of the Lower School hallway and begin to use Gordon's campus in new ways. 

The first grade classrooms open up onto Gordon's pond and the stream, which offer a new world for students to explore throughout the school day. First graders also travel to the Britt Nelson Dining Hall for lunch every day, and use the Creamer Science Lab for science class, bringing every corner of the campus into the first graders' universe.

A second grader's universe also expands for recess. For the first time, the Jeanne Picerne Playground, atop Gordon's sledding hill, is part of their daily routine. This space includes extensive play structures and a pair of basketball half-courts, as well as unlandscaped wooded spaces where generations of Gordon students have played "elf village" and "fairy village" according to ever-evolving student-generated rules.

The first grade classrooms are next to the fourth grade ones, and first graders have a formal connection with their new neighbors through the buddy program, which pairs them each with fourth graders for thoughtfully designed adventures over the course of the school year. They'll also see their fourth grade buddies in a leadership position at the regular Lower School town meetings. These monthly meetings feature presentations from Lower Schoolers of all ages, giving first graders their first taste of student-led formal presentations.

For a first grader, Gordon's multicultural curriculum continues to focus on personal self-expression, identity development, and learning about the experiences of others tied throughout the year with new written challenges. Through read alouds, poetry, class discussions, nonfiction writing and extended narrative assignments, students practice identifying their own strengths and passions, learn to tell their own family stories, and build the listening skills that allow them to authentically appreciate the different perspectives of their classmates.

This identity development will also contribute to a child's emerging sense of themselves as a learner. As they tackle the fundamentals of arithmetic, spelling and grammar, they will be asked to reflect on which strategies work best for them, and where their personal places of growth lie. When classwork turns to academic skills, students may find themselves working in smaller groups on different assignments to suit their own emerging strengths and challenges.

For the first time, students begin sharing their academic work with people outside of their classroom worlds. Family members visit the classroom in December and May for two author receptions, compelling students to complete, revise and publish original full length picture books and share them with a fresh audience. These proofread-and-bound books, which draw on students' reflections about what makes their family special, provide students with a satisfying finished product and direct experience of what it means to be the author of one's own story.

Language arts

Reading and writing are integral parts of all curricular areas in first grade. Reading is taught daily, with guided practice in developing successful decoding and spelling through the Orton Gillingham progression of phonetic concepts and sight words. During dictation exercises, children are taught to form letters accurately and apply phonetic skills. Guided reading time provides small group guided practice in oral reading fluency and comprehension. 

Students continue to develop as writers, bringing the association between sounds and symbols, and their knowledge of word families and sight words to their written work. Using Lucy Calkins’ Writing Workshop as a framework, students explore different genres of writing and work in small groups and one on one conferencing with the teacher to deepen their understanding of the writing process. Throughout first grade, students focus on writing habits, the writing conventions for personal narratives they call "small moment stories," as well as the writing conventions for nonfiction chapter books, poetry and persuasive writing. 

As their writing skills develop, students expand their writing with details, learn to revise to include appropriate punctuation and capital letters, and build stamina to write longer pieces. As authors, students are encouraged to share their written work with classmates. They learn how to be writing partners by giving and receiving feedback on each other’s writing.

Both first grade classroom teachers are trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach, a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals. 


Mathematics is frequently integrated with metacognitive hands-on experiences through the Math in Focus curriculum. In first grade math, students explore a variety of topics such as calendar skills, number writing, patterns, and word problems. As in Kindergarten, students tally the days in the school year until they reach one hundred, moving beyond the simple counting they did in the year before to explore the many ways to add and subtract their way to one hundred. There is a focus on regrouping, number bonds, and fact families, as students explore place value and learn multiple strategies for addition and subtraction. Mathematical thinking is encouraged through the use of tangible manipulatives like balances and blocks, as well as mental arithmetic. Daily lessons include independent and small group work, allowing teachers to meet the needs of a range of learners.


First grade students visit the Creamer Science Lab for one class period each week. Through hands-on investigation, first graders gain a sense of ownership over their understanding through observation and inquiry. They observe, ask questions, and record results as they engage in the scientific method and investigate their world. 

A unit on trees and leaves has students practice sorting leaves based on their attributes, learning what it means to have a specimen and how to preserve those specimens. As first graders mix substances and observe the reactions, they begin to recognize the difference between physical and chemical reactions. Students work through the engineering process to design shelters for specific needs and delve into questions about light and the reflection of light. First graders continue to develop their programming skills through the use of Beebots as they explore ways to take programs they've developed with physical materials and transform them into virtual lines of code. Children continue to gain practice in developing their skills of communicating their scientific understandings verbally and with pictures or words.

Social studies

In first grade social studies, students build on conversations they had in Early Childhood about their role in building a classroom community of belonging. Through picture books, class discussion, drawing and journaling, students continue to explore their connections with each other in relation to their own classroom, their school, and the community outside of Gordon. Students are immersed in conversations, lessons, and reading and writing activities that help them consider race, culture, gender, family structure and socio-economic class from multiple perspectives. 

The curriculum aligns with the national social studies standards and addresses some questions such as: How do we take care of our communities? How do we stand up for ourselves and others in our community? What is a bystander? Who am I and how do I see myself? Embedded in the daily life of students, these questions ensure that social studies work is a part of every day in first grade, sparking relevant conversations in a variety of classroom and playground contexts.

Morning circle continues to be an important routine where students gain practice speaking, listening and asking questions, and children have an opportunity to learn more about each other as an important aspect of empathy and building community. 

Planning, working, and social development skills are essential components of the first grade social studies experience. Students explore their understanding of their personal identity through an investigation of families that plays out in assignments throughout the year. As part of writers’ workshops, students write and publish vignettes of family life that tackle personal relationships from a variety of angles.


Students continue to build vocabulary through songs, games, stories and hands on activities as they explore cultures, literature and practice basic grammatical structures. Students practice their Spanish by writing and illustrating stories, performing skits, and communicating with their classmates and teacher in Spanish. They see how many families shift seamlessly between Spanish and English in books such as: “I love Saturdays and Domingo.” They hear their teachers communicating in Spanish with each other, and learn first hand from Spanish speakers who visit the classroom from both within and outside the Gordon community. 

Heritage Language
Gordon's Heritage Language program is for children in Nursery to fourth grade who come from Spanish-speaking households. Students meet with their Spanish teacher to share stories and play games in Spanish. The active and experiential learning environment hopes to develop a sense of affinity and community by having children share their stories and cultural traditions of Gordon's Spanish-speaking community. Heritage Language meets during the school day for Nursery to first grade, and after school in second, third and fourth grade.

Physical education

The Lower School physical education curriculum includes an introduction to fitness activities, locomotor and manipulative skill work, and cooperative games. Students engage in conversations about inclusivity, gender, gender roles, and the impact of gender stereotypes. The primary objectives of the physical education program in Lower School is to reinforce fitness and wellness goals that encourage healthy lifetime decisions and to provide opportunities for students to improve their psychomotor development. Each class presents students with appropriate warm-up, fitness, instructional and closing activities while also challenging children to become self-motivated, reflective and responsible regarding their individual participation. Ultimately, Lower School physical education students should become aware of their movement potential, move competently and confidently and learn to value healthy play in cooperative and organized settings.

Health and wellness

The National Wellness Institute explains wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.” This definition of wellness anchors and guides Gordon’s health curriculum from third through eighth grade.

In Lower School, health classes focus on foundational skills of social emotional learning. Throughout the year, students have explore, practice, and develop strong interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Through conversations, experiential games, role-plays, movement, mindfulness activities, guided imagery, and guided inquiry that facilitates self and group reflection, students explore a range of health topics such as body systems, nutrition, stress, and social emotional skills. Students gain a more comprehensive understanding of themselves as learners, friends, and self-advocates capable of navigating the ups and downs of their daily experience and making healthy decisions. 


In the Lower School, students continue to meet weekly with the librarian to explore the collection and discover the variety of genres, authors, and texts. Gordon's collection of multicultural fiction, nonfiction, multilingual and bilingual books provide entry points for students of a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences. Students are introduced to the language developed by literary historian Rudine Sims Bishop, in which books are described as windows, mirrors or doors, depending on how the reader identifies with the worlds depicted in each book.

The Joukowsky Family Library supports first graders as they continue their discovery of the world of fiction and nonfiction.  During each visit, students meet in the Story Grove for a read-aloud period relating to topics being discussed in library or the classroom. Individual book selection of two titles per student focuses on supporting, sustaining and nurturing emerging readers and newly independent readers as well as confident readers. In addition to their scheduled library time, students visit the library with queries and requests for books that inform their growing curiosity about the world around them.


First grade music is full of singing, instrument playing and folk dancing. Children review the difference between steady beat and rhythm, as well as reading simple rhythmic notation. Students quickly learn to sing, read and identify higher and lower pitches.

First graders become confident musicians, learning to read, write, sing and play increasingly difficult songs. They build an extensive repertoire of songs, games and folk dances. Rhythmically, students can read, write, compose and play simple rhythms of quarter notes, paired eighth notes, half notes and rests. Students explore rhythmic and melodic improvisation on drums, boomwhackers and xylophones. Melodically, students read, write, identify, sing and play do, mi, so and la patterns. Exploring musical form, the first graders move and improvise while listening to several classical music examples. First graders also explore and categorize orchestral and world instruments through hands-on experiences, listening examples.

Visual arts

The Lower School visual arts program presents students with a series of experiences that develop their abilities in a range of media, skills, and concepts. In a studio environment that fosters creativity and independence, children are nurtured perceptually and aesthetically. They are taught skills in a variety of materials and techniques. The understanding of the elements and principles of design are developed as the basic formal ingredients for creating images and objects. Drawing from observation, memory and imagination requires looking for subtleties and details. An exposure to the works of artists in world history provides students with rich inspiration and knowledge of the artistic heritage of many cultures.

First graders explore line, shape, form, and color by exploring visual problems with pencils, paints, and cut paper over several assignments. Students are introduced to the concepts of found objects, color, and transformation. They are challenged to create a relief sculpture using cardboard and small wooden objects. Every student has their artwork presented in the annual art show.