First Grade Readiness

What does it truly mean for a child to be ready for first grade academic instruction?

It goes far beyond a child’s 6th birthday. Readiness is the culmination of a developmental process which includes aspects in addition to age. It is about the whole child and their development — physical, social and cognitive — which is not defined by a child’s IQ or their early reading and math skills. This can be counterintuitive to those used to mainstream education, which often fast tracks gifted children to prevent boredom. At Shining Mountain Waldorf School we recognize that while many of our students have gifted range IQ’s, we like to assure parents that:

It is not the grade level of academic instruction that bores bright children, but the way in which, and at what depth, any level of academics are taught.

Consider what and how a child will learn long before they are assessed for first grade. Ideally, children during the ages of 0-7 will spend as much time as possible learning to master the use their bodies, their emotions and their imaginations. Bodies are engaged first in large motor skills mastered by crawling, walking, running, balancing and climbing, to name a few. Then children begin to add the work of small motor skills by weaving, baking, painting, coloring and drawing. When they enter playgroups, preschool and then kindergarten, children must learn the often difficult task of managing their unbound will and desire with the wills and desires of others. Taking time to master these social skills is vital to the whole health of a young academic mind.

Young children must also spend these first seven years laying a firm and rich foundation in the realm of imagination. All abstract academic concepts to come will tap into a child’s imaginative mind. There is so much to be learned in early childhood! And it is nearly always done through the child’s own will and volition. This is because young children are not developmentally ready to sit and learn through instruction. They learn best through engaging their will, their creativity and their unbounded imagination.

Children who are trained too early in academics will learn academics, but at the expense of learning more important developmentally appropriate skills. Short changing the development of early childhood skills, means depriving children of both a love of learning and a depth of learning, as evidenced by years of research, which shows starting academics later benefits future learning.

Respect for, and understanding of, a child’s work in years 0-7 is a major differentiator between Waldorf and Mainstream education.

Mainstream educators have downshifted the curriculum based on a volumetric education philosophy — the brain is a pail and the academics the water which fills it. This means that children who are tested must fill their pail to a designated line, by a designated grade.

This is why mainstream educators have reverse engineered academic instruction to Kindergarten. If a student must know X by grade 10, then they must know Y by grade 5 and therefore should be taught Z by grade 1. This approach is not supported by child developmental psychologists or scientists. It is also not supported by current academic research or even testing results. Not to mention it in no way takes the varied learning needs of the whole child — social, physical, and cognitive — into account.  The child’s state of readiness to enter first grade arises out of a collective picture of these many factors.

Teaching children The Right Thing at the Right Time is essential for lifelong learning. Just because a precocious child can learn to read at four, does not mean she should immerse herself in the unimaginative content of early reader books. Waldorf educators believe it is better to develop a child’s imagination and listening skills by having her/him listen to oral storytelling of fairy tales, which s/he can then act out later with friends in imaginative play.

It’s true, early academics will impress friends and relatives and even educators, but at what price?

At Shining Mountain Waldorf School we believe there is even more at risk with rushed academic instruction — the loss of true curiosity and a love of learning — which once gone is rarely regained.