A Taste of First Grade

Perhaps the hardest transition a child experiences in the first 12 school-years is the move from kindergarten to first grade. To smooth this transition, last year Shaloh House introduced an imaginative, new program: “A Taste of First Grade.”  For three brief sessions each week, kindergarteners went to first-grade classrooms where they received first-grade style instruction from first-grade teachers. They sat at desks, raised their hands, spoke only when called on, and learned first grade academic skills in English, math and Judaic studies.

The program proved successful last year, as evident in the current first grade class.  The students were more prepared both academically and socially for the first grade experience.  This week, our current kindergarten class had their first class with math teacher Cagdas Tatli.  In the coming weeks they will also begin their English and Judaic classes with the first grade teachers.

The students were very enthusiastic about their new experience.  “I had a lot of fun in the math class,”  David said.  “He showed us how 5 and 5 are 10 on the board with magnets!”

Sitting in a desk and being quiet can be hard work when it’s demanded day after day, as it is in first-grade. But if it’s introduced to kindergarteners, who can then return to their play-style classroom, it’s a treat and a privilege, School Director Rabbi Dan Rodkin said.

“It’s yet another game for them for now,” Rabbi Rodkin said. “Let them learn these incredibly important skills now, when it’s not compulsory and it’s fun. Our first-grade is also fun and full of games, but it’s much more serious business. With our ‘Taste of First Grade,’ we expect these kindergarteners make the transition with ease.”

The philosophy of Shaloh House is to challenge the students in every grade level. Typically, children at Shaloh House learn skills and perform at far higher levels than their grade-level. Each year, for example, the students compete in the International Math Olympiads and come away with gold medals. Last year Shaloh House placed first in the region in the prestigious New England Math League tournament. The students have also won a national awards in English, arts and sports.

Even when they return to their own classroom, the kindergarteners at Shaloh House are training for first grade with games designed to increase their concentration and attention skills and to boost their problem-solving ability. They also play games that teach proper behavior towards adults and their peers. Some kindergarteners already know simple multiplication.

“We don’t demand these skills of everyone, because not everyone is ready for it,” Rabbi Rodkin said. “But for those students who want and need extra challenge, we provide it.”