First graders are poised between their former egocentric 5-year-old selves, and the more worldly 7-year-olds. They are evolving into newly aware children who compare themselves to others. Parents of first graders are fascinated by their child’s sudden observations that a friend is “a better reader” or “I’m better at math than everyone in my class,’’ and all the attendant anxiety or pride that this new awareness creates.
As teachers, we find ways to foster this emerging and important independence of thought, while channeling the awareness of differences into areas of self-responsibility and empathy. We encourage an awareness of the needs of others in the classroom and help our students become sensitive to ways that we can contribute to the lives of people in our community.
Over the many years I have been teaching, it has become increasingly more difficult to find avenues through which young children can contribute meaningfully to the betterment of others—as well as to their own family. However, in the past several years, our first grade students have been gifted with projects from outside of the school where our help was requested and needed. Our first grade students were the best answer to the problem.
In November, our students were asked to contribute salt and pepper shakers for each of the tables at My Brother’s Table. To earn the money to purchase the shakers, they did extra chores at home. In class they learned to count coins in preparation for purchasing the shakers.
In December, they were asked to make decorations for the ballroom windows at the King Hooper Mansion during the Christmas Walk. They made beautiful clay leaves to hang in the windows. Similarly, they were asked to make ornaments to decorate holiday gift bags for senior citizens which are delivered by Meals on Wheels. This ornament project began with a wish from the organizer of the gift bags—she had always wanted something permanent for the recipients so that they would know that someone was thinking of them long after the treats were eaten. Five years later, first graders are still providing that message to so many senior citizens—that someone is thinking of them. It is always a special moment when we receive a thank you note from one of the recipients!
So, yes! First graders can contribute to their community in meaningful ways. We feel that this is a valuable lesson for our students to learn just as their awareness of the needs of others is developing.
Sarah Clark and Susie Schneider
Photo Credit: Paula Muller, Wicked Local