From the archives…
**I get this question a lot! I dug up an article I wrote for an online publication a couple years back. Blessings. **
Such a hotly debated subject in some circles, while in others it is not even thought about. Mainstream wisdom would have us thinking that earlier is always better and a child who starts at school or homeschooling at age four might have an advantage over others. Sounds right doesn’t it? The sooner the better! Well I invite you to stand back a bit and examine how children really work, it is easy to see these little sponges and think that they are just waiting for us to fill them up by putting them in the “right” learning environment, it is often forgotten that they have been in the right environment since birth and this is where they should stay until they are ready to move on. So what is that magical age? My suggestion is to really think about the work of Rudolf Steiner and how he applied things in his Waldorf school movement. This translates well into homeschooling too. There is a belief that early academics can hinder gross motor skills, critical thinking skills later, not to mention we are pushing them into growing up when they should really be playing. In a Waldorf environment, a child would stay in a kindergarten setting generally until they are somewhere in their seventh year. That doesn’t always mean they are seven, but they are closer to seven than six. The old rule of seven springs that is often spoke of in Waldorf groups can easily apply, just remember that in Steiner’s day the school year ran a bit differently so now it is more applicable to think of a school aged (going into grade one) child as being late six going on seven. There are many moms who will suggest waiting until a child is fully seven and that is great too – when you are at home, you can be very flexible.
It used to be thought that the loss of the milk teeth was a great factor in knowing when a child is ready but with the additives in our foods today, even the most careful parent can not always control what their child is getting and those things factor into tooth loss and physical development. It is often easy to confuse physical development with emotional development. This happens in our home all the time, my oldest son is nearly twelve but over five feet in height; he is often confused with children two years or more older than he is and most of his peers are still barely reaching the shoulders of their parents! So really take into account emotional development. Until about age seven, children are still very dreamy (some are much after age seven too!) during this time they should be allowed to play and enjoy just being a young child. If you are homeschooling then this would be a great time to begin establishing rhythms if you haven’t already, walking together and observing nature, drawing and painting together. Enjoy this last bit of time before you have to really start planning their schooling! If you are not planning to homeschool and you live where you must send your child to kindergarten then do your best to make it half day kindergarten and when they are home savor every moment, it will be gone before you know it!
Now if you are still on the fence about readiness, do a few of these little “tests” with your child… can they ride a bike with no training wheels? Can they jump rope? How do their hands look? Have your child flatten their hand in yours and look at their knuckles, do they still have baby dimples or are they jointed now? Have your child reach their right arm up over their head and try to touch their left ear; ideally this should be very easy for them. These are just a few little physical markers; emotional maturity plays a large part too. Often one thinks their child is ready and they may start grade one with great intentions only to realize a few months down the road that things might not be going as planned. Rather than feeling like a failure, stand back and evaluate a bit – you are not teaching them as much as they are being ready to learn. Remember the old saying “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It doesn’t say “when the teacher is ready the student will be.” If you are homeschooling this can be a fantastic time to stand back and realize that you have the gift of time. We experienced this a bit with my daughter last year. She was six going on seven, has two older brothers that are “doing school” and she really wanted to participate too. Even though she had mastered all the physical markers and has also lost many teeth, I still wasn’t sure but we moved forward at her instance. By October I could tell she was really working hard but she was not ready, she needed more time in “Smurfland” so I turned my attentions to focus more on handwork with her for a bit and the recorder, and other things that she loved, we still completed her daily lessons but I was not “results” oriented about them. Right after her seventh birthday (midway through the school year) she made a change, something “clicked” and she suddenly could hold on to the letters and their sounds more than she did just weeks before, within days she was reading more than before and happy about her own progress. As I am planning grade two for her, we are still finishing up many things from grade one because we were able to move at her pace. This is a luxury in homeschooling that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Children learn at different rates and honoring that is my primary goal.
Now what about the child who reads on their own, completely on their own with no help from anyone by age four. Well reading is a natural process of putting things together and that might happen at four or fourteen but typically happens sometime between ages seven and nine. So what if you are a Waldorf inspired mom and you have this four year old that is reading? Don’t mistake that for grade one readiness – in Waldorf remember that the grade material is specific to where the child would be at that age, for instance the fairy tales speak to the 6-7 year old child, the fables, heroes and saint stories to the child that is 7-8 years, the Old Testament stories and Native American stories for the child around age nine and so forth. Steiner had much wisdom in his work as it touches the child developmentally where they are.
Take it slow, enjoy the journey – don’t be in a hurry to have them grow up, before you know it they will be twelve and have stinky arm pits and opinions all of their own and you will yearn for the days when you had all the answers and they were still cuddly!
**this was a short article, but hopefully informative. My best advice when it comes to knowing if your child is ready is to really decide if you believe Steiner’s indications, if you do and you have done the proper meditation on this path for your family, then trust it. I have only bee frustrated when I have not followed them, lol. When I trust then the magic appears. Remember that faith precedes the miracle.**