Even if your child doesn't attend a Waldorf school, knowing some of the physical, emotional, and social markers the school looks for to determine first-grade readiness may be helpful.
We recently attended a talk at Violet's school about first-grade readiness and were not only impressed with the teacher giving the talk (who was very professional, articulate, and accomplished) but also with the content. The school believes that looking for signals of readiness is important to setting the child up for success from the very beginning of his or her education.
Many believe that academic early-childhood education emerged out of a countrywide fear of falling behind, but early-childhood experts say that an academic environment during early childhood can result in negative outcomes.
David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of Reinventing Childhood and The Hurried Child, says,
The deployment of unsupported, potentially harmful pedagogies (academic kindergartens) is particularly pernicious at the early-childhood level. It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy for learning and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talent.
Waldorf recommends that a child begin first grade no earlier than six years, three months of age. This is, for the most part, on par with a traditional school. In fact, many children in a mainstream school are six and a half (because of their birthday) before they start first grade. What's different in a Waldorf school is that a child may be held back if he or she is not ready. In a traditional school, being held back would be seen as an academic failure, but in a Waldorf school, it wouldn't. Instead, a child would be held back simply because he or she is not demonstrating enough of the indicators of readiness (children do not need to demonstrate all), and it would be seen as a decision that is best for the child, to ensure that he or she experiences success in all facets of a first-grade environment (including holding a pencil, focusing for longer periods of time, listening actively, and other practical tasks).
Here are some of the indicators the school looks for:
- Can touch top of ear by reaching over top of head with opposite arm
- Arch of foot becomes more developed
- Body becomes lean
- Facial features transform from baby features
- Can throw and catch a large ball
- Is able to walk forward on balance beam
- Can jump rope
- Can hop on one foot
- Is able to tie shoes, deal with buttons/zippers
- Uses fingers dexterously
- Is able to free-draw pictures that display symmetry
- Shares food/toys/attention without prompting
- Waits his or her turn
- Shows increased memory, such as recalling a story told by someone else a day or two ago
- Displays evidence of thinking and planning
- Does not depend on props/toys as much for play
- Displays fewer outbursts of upset
- Sits still without constant reminders
- Is willing to try again if first attempts haven't been sufficient
- Engages peers through imagination
- Holds onto hurt more/uses language to express someone has "hurt my feelings"
Again, I know a Waldorf school is not for everyone and that most people prefer academic kindergartens and preschools, but this is just my preference, and learning about how first-grade readiness was determined at a Waldorf school was very eye-opening. It also reassured me, because of my preferences and because the school takes the whole child into consideration, that we made the best decision for our family. So I'm finally starting to ease into it more, and some of my earlier concerns are relaxing.