Guest Post On First Grade Readiness: A Comprehensive Look Through High School

 

(7/16/2011 – Comments on this post are now closed!  Thank you for all your comments and questions!)

Our guest post today comes from Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources (http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/home.html).  This is a very comprehensive look at the topic of first grade readiness.  This article includes her perspective as a Waldorf educator, but also as a parent and homeschooler, and includes a deep understanding of the foundation of Waldorf Education, but also includes more mainstream resources for those of you seeking those.

This article is long, but I encourage you to read all of it.   Donna will be answering your questions left in the comment box in regards to this post, and we both look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Here is Donna…..

When Should I Begin First Grade with my Child?

Waldorf education is founded upon anthroposophical knowledge of the human being. A key feature of its understanding of human development is the recognition of a seven-year rhythm that runs through the life of every human being. By studying a person’s biography (or our own), by looking at it in the light of the characteristics of each 7 year period, one can learn an enormous amount about that person, or about oneself. “Biography work” is an important part of the anthroposophical endeavor to understand the human condition, whether this takes place with the help of an anthroposophical therapist, teacher, artist or minister, who can help one gain insights into one’s destiny questions.

The most marked changes which occur during a person’s biography are, of course, those which happen as he or she moves through childhood. Here we find 3 distinct phases of childhood: birth – age 7; 7 – 14; and 14 – 21. Although every person develops at a slightly different pace and has his own individual experiences, there are, nevertheless, clearly discernable stages of development that every human being (unless there is some sort of handicap or challenge) goes through.

With these stages of development in mind, a question confronts every teacher, parent and parent-teacher: when should my child begin first grade? Unlike the arbitrary cut-off dates found in most other forms of education (which have more to do with legal and administrative obligations rather than considered observation of a child’s developmental needs), in a Waldorf school one expects to find this question grappled with solely with regard to child development. It goes without saying that this includes deep consideration of how each individual child is growing and learning.

Let’s for a moment forget about the fact that Waldorf schools (like all private schools, especially those trying not to charge exorbitant fees) are under pressure to make sure enough children come up to first grade to make a class. And let’s forget the fact that parental expectations can often push a child’s early exit from kindergarten. Let’s also forget that Waldorf Charter schools, which take public money and are thus accountable not to each school’s self-governing body (as is characteristic of a true Waldorf school) but to state legislature, might have requirements regarding school starting age which teachers are obliged to adhere to.

So putting all of that to the side, the question can be freely articulated: “when is this child ready to begin first grade?” What does that question mean? It means: when is this child best able to move from the stage of life characterized by an undifferentiated oneness with the world; with a non linear consciousness; by learning through play; and by being nurtured by imitation, repetition and rhythm? In other words, when is this child ready to leave one stage of consciousness and move into another?

And really, this is the crux of what we are talking about. The consciousness of the child in the first seven years of life is completely different than that of later stages. These first 7 years are the years of unparalleled growth, which mainly takes place in the child’s physical body. In order to facilitate this, the child must not be drawn into precocious intellectual learning as the etheric body, which supports physical growth, would then be drawn into being available for such intellectual work.

Now this is quite complicate stuff and could certainly sound like gobbeldegook to those unfamiliar with this way of understanding human growth. So you might have to bear with me – and know that at the end of this blog article I give suggestions for where to learn more if this is something which tickles your interest.

The point is that in anthroposophy we recognize that the human being is not simply the sum of her physical body. To put it in a nutshell, growth happens in all four sheaths which make up the human being – the physical, etheric, astral and ego or ‘I’ sheaths. Each has a discernable pattern of development and although one can, of course, address shortcomings at later stages of life, there are optimal times for each to blossom. The first seven year period of human growth is focused on the physical body; the second on the etheric; the third on the astral. Only at age 21 does the ‘I’ comes to the fore, now “freed up” as it were, to find its potential through free thought.

And so it follows that if there is such a discernable pattern and if there are ways to rightly support a child’s growth, then it is also possible to cause problems by overriding or shortening a phase. This is what happens when a child comes prematurely into intellectual learning.

When we start first grade with a child, a goal or keynote for what we are doing is “Awakening from the Dreamtime” (as I characterize first grade in my “Waldorf Curriculum Overview”.)

http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/Waldorf-Curriculum-Overview-For-Homeschoolers-p/chr0001.htm

To awaken from the Oneness of the kindergarten years is to move into a new stage of consciousness, of childhood.

And when is it best to do this? It is best to do this as those first 7 years of focus on the physical body draw to a close.

And so the answer to the question of when to start first grade is: when the child is as near to 7 as is possible.

Now some people say yes, but I can just start slowly and kind of do a hybrid kindie-first grade year. We are homeschoolers, after all, so anything’s possible! But…there are two objections here. One is that the core of first grade is about this gentle Awakening – and once Sleeping Beauty awakens, she does not fall asleep again! And the other issue is that everything in the curriculum is created to speak to these clear patterns of soul growth in the child. So if one begins first grade with a child who is 6 or barely over 6, she will always be just off-sync with the curriculum. The whole practical-based work of third grade, for instance, is carefully crafted to speak to the emerging ‘I’ of the child going through the 9 year change. The history of the Romans as well as the nature of the physics lessons in 6th grade are crafted to speak to what is happening not just in the intellectual/emotional bodies of the child but even in the physical substance itself! And so on.

So the child who begins early will always be slightly off and won’t quite reap the benefits that other children, whose development is answered by the curriculum, will.

Another possible way round this issue that some homeschoolers advocate is simply not starting first grade until late fall or even January (and yes, I am talking Northern Hemisphere here – those of you who might be reading this in the Southern Hemisphere will need to translate!). While this could be ok (and, as a dyed-in-the-wool homeschooler I always like to endorse flexible and creative solutions!) I have to say that really, it’s far from ideal. This is because there is a reality to the beginning of study, of schooling, of back-to-school in the Fall. After the great out-breath of the summer, the inward gesture of readying oneself for school, study and formal learning has a truth that echoes in the reality of seasonal changes. Learning to work harmoniously with cosmic/seasonal rhythms is an incredibly potent part of Waldorf pedagogy and any therapeutic work.

So first grade begins in September for 6 year olds who are about to turn 7 in October, November, December, January, and February as well as for those who turned 7 the preceding May, June, July and August (and of course those who turn 7 in September).

That leaves March and April. Those are the difficult months. One can argue both ways and here one really needs to tune into that individual child’s needs. For that child will either always be slightly off for most of each year, being, for instance, 8 for only a couple of months of second grade, or will really be a bit on the old side, being 8 for the tail end of first grade. Neither is the best scenario. All things being equal, however, I would generally opt for a later start for boys and risk an earlier start for girls. After 25+ years of observation and teaching, it is clear to me that boys are always somewhat behind the curve and need slowing down. Having said that, quick, bright little girls might also need the further grounding that a slower start could give.

Another way to look at this is to take in the deep wisdom articulated by Master Waldorf teacher Kevin Avison in his “Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers” where he says that a child should experience seven Easters on Earth before starting first grade. If the cosmic rhythm of the setting of the date of Easter has any truth in it, then this is an important nodal point which should be considered as one struggles with this issue.

For ease of reading I’ll now split up my remaining comments into a Q & A format:

What About School Readiness Signs?

Many of you will be familiar with the various school readiness signs that Waldorf teachers use to assess which children should spend another year in kindergarten and which should go up to first grade. My sense is that these signs are not as reliable as they might have been in the past. Children grow and mature OUTWARDLY and PHYSICALLY more quickly in this present generation than in the past. And so being able to touch hands behind the back, the disappearance of dimpling on the knuckles and other OUTWARD signs may not be so useful any more.

I also include in this list the phenomena of the change of teeth, that great Waldorf hallmark of school readiness. Once upon a time all children basically began to change their teeth around 6 and a bit. But no longer. Just as modern girls often get their periods at a very young age, so many children loose their teeth precociously.

But just as a 9 or 10 year old girl who has had her first period is still very much a child, so too the 5 year old who has a couple of adult teeth is still firmly in that first stage of development.

Who Says First Graders Should Be Six?

This seems to be a strongly West Coast phenomena. Over the years as a Waldorf consultant, working with both Waldorf teachers and with parents, I have seen a clear difference between Waldorf schools on the West Coast and those in the rest of the US (and in the UK). Despite what seems to be favored in Oregon, Washington and California, most Waldorf schools in this country and in the UK favor an as-close-to-7 start for first graders.

Rudolf Steiner himself was clear not so much about the actual date of starting school but what in being adamant about what is appropriate for children at different stages of development. Working from his indications, it is absolutely clear that the first stage of childhood is not birth – 6, but birth – 7 and that academic work then should not begin until age 7. In more than one place (“Kingdom of Childhood”, “Conversations with Waldorf Teachers” and in other lecture cycles) he clearly stated that one has to compromise to please the authorities and that really, with such things as reading and writing, it would actually be best for children to be 11 or even older before they embark on such work.

Most “Waldorf authors” are clearly in the 7 year old first graders camp. Two notable authors, however, do cloud the water somewhat. I refer to Francis Edmunds and Marjorie Spock. Both speak repeatedly of 6 year olds for first grade. However, my suspicion is that this is shorthand for 6 ½ year olds (which many children certainly would rightly be). I base this suspicion on the fact that if one reads their books closely, it becomes abundantly clear that this is indeed the case, that knowledgeable people like them are certainly aware of how the curriculum has been crafted in terms of child development and that they express this in their writing!

Joan Almon (Master Waldorf teacher)  talks about how it is better to wait than to go ahead early. She says that she has never seen a situation where she regretted the former. And I have to back that, having gently talked numerous parents into waiting a year more with their 6 years olds. While I have met plenty of parents who later regretted starting their children early, I have never met any that regretted starting “late”.

Here’s an article by a “Vermont Mom” about how she decided to wait after beginning too early:

http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/learning-more/articles-on-aspects-of-waldorf-education/1st-grade-readiness-by-a-homeschooling-mother-in-vermont.html

Earl Ogletree’s article is an overview of the “late or early” debate and he quotes people like David Elkind, Piaget, and the Moore Foundation (authors of the excellent Better Late Than Early which every homeschooler should read). You can read that here:

http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/learning-more/articles-on-aspects-of-waldorf-education/school-readiness-the-developmental-view.html

What About High School?

Many parents and teachers worry about the prospect of 19 year olds in high school (which is what they will be if they begin school at 7). This is an understandable concern as the needs of young adults are certainly very different than those of teens only a few years younger. I know that there are Waldorf teachers who advocate an early start to first grade for this very reason.

But this, I would say, is mistaken. It is a clear case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For while it is undoubtedly true that 19 year olds can be extremely challenging to have in the high school classroom (or at home, homeschooling), the problem here is lack of proper pedagogy, not an inherent problem of having 19 year olds in school.

And I speak from experience, both as a parent who partially homeschooled her sons during the high school years (they were almost entirely homeschooled earlier) and who has taught both in a local Waldorf-ish high school and Charter high school. Both had numerous 19 year old seniors and they could be a real pain in the butt as they were “sooooo done” with school. However, if one was able to challenge them in the right way, to enable them to create mainly independent programs of self study, to keep them raised up to high standards and to engage with them as fledgling adults and not as overgrown children, then that last year of formal school could be an enormous gift to them.

The other thing I can say as a high school teacher is that it is immeasurably better to have a classroom full of 15 year old freshmen than a class dominated by 14 year olds. The former are far more in control of themselves, serious, self-knowledgeable, and willing to work hard, whereas the 14 year olds still tend (especially the boys) to act like large children.

In Closing…..

Aside from the fact that by starting a child’s schooling closer to 6 than to 7 that he will always be somewhat out of sync with the deeply therapeutic benefits of the Waldorf curriculum, I also need to state that as a matter of principle, based on those 25+ years of working with all manner of teens and children from many racial, cultural, economic and educational backgrounds that late is always better than early. As we as a society move into darker times, times of grave economic, political and ecological turmoil, I especially feel that the first 7 years of childhood should be even more sacred, more inviolate, than ever. We owe it to the next generation to gift them with as peaceful, nurturing and carefree a time of childhood as possible, one that allows them not to rush to the linear, logical, rational way of thinking which dominates out culture and which, though absolutely necessary and of great value in its rightful place, is not the only way a human being has of understanding the world. To allow a child to be a child and to only slowly come into the adult realm, with its adult forms of thinking, communicating and consciousness, is to validate all aspects of the growing human being. It is to enable each child to create a strong foundation for life, a foundation which will stand her in good stead when it is time for her to take her rightful place in our challenging world.

Thank you so much Donna, for your wisdom and perspective.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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42 thoughts on “Guest Post On First Grade Readiness: A Comprehensive Look Through High School

  1. Thank you very much for the useful article. This is somewhat on the lines of thoughts lately. I am from a city in India and my daughter is 3 and a half years old. I have recently shifted her from a Playgroup to the Junior Kindergarten level in a regular school. The ambience and the handling style are totally different from her Playgroup which was almost like a second home to my daughter, what with nature based, festival based activities and doting teachers (they would be called Aunties and not teachers).. The school she goes to is very serious, systematic and structured. More than my daughter, I feel uncomfortable with this is set-up. Like you mentioned, I do wonder if I have hurried the transformation but what has been done has been done. By sending out negative vibes to the school, I know I’m in no way helping my daughter to adjust as she is very intuitive (like many kids her age) – my feelings are so easily understood by her!
    I understand Waldorf and Anthroposophy principles to a certain extent (my sister is a practitioner and even has a school in another city). I am unable to pull out my daughter out of the new school now as we have paid loads of fees just now and there are no Waldorf Schools in our city yet. I know any other regular school I move her to, will be the same. What can I do in such a situation? What atmosphere can I create at home? What can I give her at home that she might be missing at school? Any advice and ideas would be helpful to cheer me up!!
    Thanks and God Bless you for all the wonderful work you do!
    Love,
    Priya

  2. Donna, thanks for your words. I always love to hear what you have to say. Ok, I will say what I am sure you have heard a million times but here goes. It’s very hard to feel like I am not delaying my daughter who seems so eager to start reading. Her ‘classical’ home schooled 6/7 year old friends are reading books and she really wants me to teach her to read (she’s JUST five!). Sometimes I feel like I am ‘wasting’ time with her. Even though I know I am not. I am committed to another year of story/play/imitation/meaningful work/etc. But I am certain by next summer when she is 6, I will feel like I am holding her back. SO FEW people, even Waldorf homeschoolers, actually wait until 7. In fact one mom I know bought your first grade curric. for their 6 year old! Is there some online forum to help parents stick out that last year?? And I am afraid that as my other kids get older, and academics continue to be pushed SO early, this idea will be an absolute foreign concept and they will wonder why they don’t know what the other kids do.

    • Meghan, I am not Donna, but I am a Waldorf homeschooling consultant and I wanted to comment on your concerns.

      It might seem like it will be a challenge now, but ais they grow it really isn’t a problem – unless Mom makes it one. My kids are leaps and bounds ahead of their public schooled peers in maturity, love of learning and the nuts and bolts of school. Waldorf takes a certain amount of faith, there are many activities that you can do with a 6yr old kindy child. When my daughter was in that spot we focused on music, movement, singing, baking, gardening, all of the things that Waldorf suggests.

      Blessings to you and best of luck!
      Melisa Nielsen
      http://www.alittlegardenflower.com

  3. Dear Donna,
    Thank you for this great article!
    I was thinking back and forth for some time around February/March to continue with one more year of Kindergarten for my 6 year old, who will be 6 1/2 in September, as not to rush into the grades years and let him have a bit more free unstructured time (besides the daily/ seasonal rhythms of course), but in the past couple of months he has become unsettled, wanting more, wanting to count, learning the symbols for the numbers, to learn to read and write, my son can not write his name yet and was not interested in learning it until recently, … so I thought it might be time to start working with him.
    I decided to start first grade in September and see where it leads us, if it will be too much for him and he has no fun nor interest in doing it I might just step back a bit from the curriculum. I am thinking after all we are homeschooling and I can adjust the speed of teaching the curriculum to fit his needs. I heard from a homeschooling teacher previously that in the homeschooling environment and with first grade readiness it does not have to be all or nothing.
    Your thoughts would be much appreciated!
    Warmly,
    Maggie

    • Oh, wanted to mention that I know you addressed the issue of mixing Kindergarten and first grade in your article, and that the subjects in the curriculum need to be covered for their specific age/ grade, but I am thinking of either working with the curriculum more slowly or stopping it altogether if necessary and starting anew the following fall.

  4. Hi Priya,

    What you certainly do not want to do it double school – to run a parallel Waldorf based program after she gets home. That would really create more problems than it would solve as it could undermine what the teachers at the school are doing and really burden your child. And as you say, your daughter will be sensitive to your negativity. It’s really important that you are enthusiastic and positive about whatever choices you make for her as a parent.

    Well, it seems to me you have two choices – embrace what you have chosen or take her home and homeschool (and I don’t know the legal situation for homeschoolers in India) (and you are in India – right?). If the school you have chosen is where she is going to stay then you just have to make the best of it. Keep focused on simplicity, peacefulness, no media etc at home. You might like to look at our various kindergarten materials and see if they appeal. There is much you can adapt at home – but as I said above, I wouldn’t think in terms of doing school twice!

    http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/Early-Years-Package-p/chr1000.htm

    Always remember that the home environment is what is most important. Even if the school takes quite a different approach, it is possible to create a home environment where things are done in a less accelerated way. The way you parent, talk to your child, the choices you make about media, what she reads, how she spends her non school time – all of that is up to you. But you need to be incredibly clear about this as it is so tempting and so easy to just get swept away by what everyone else is doing (enrichment classes, media use, cell phones for little ones and so on and so on). And it goes without saying that you and your husband/partner need to be on the same page about all of this!

    Of course, if you decide to homeschool, then the world is your oyster and you can create just the kind of learning environment you want to for your child. But if your are in India and if there aren’t any or many homeschoolers around (I have known of a few) then you have a real challenge ahead of you. You would have to feel absolutely certain that this is what is right – not just for your daughter, but for your family as a whole as the impact of homeschooling goes well beyond the child or children.

    Good luck to you on your decision. And Carrie certainly has plenty of information here on her blog to help you parent in a nurturing and healthy way. Make sure you’ve really spent time combing through the Christopherus website as well as there are so many articles and so much information there to help you parent in the way you feel is best.

  5. Hi Meghan,

    Just very gently, I would point out what you said about “feeling like you are wasting time with her” – I know you said as well that really you are not….but I do wonder if there’s not just a little anxiety there – and something like that can really worm its way into the most inconvenient places, creating doubt and concern and indecision. And whenever we feel such worries, our little ones are sure to crawl right in there and stick a finger on each and every worry and weak spot!

    Of course she wants to read if that’s what her friends are doing! It would be a little strange if she didn’t (though you do get more “sleepy” children who just aren’t bothered). But do remember that “reading” for a 5 year old isn’t necessarily what an adult thinks reading is. My son (now 20) wanted to write books when he was 5. His dad and I said “sure!” So we would staple some pages together and he would tell us these elaborate stories and we would write a sentence or two on a page which he would illustrate in his then scribble-style. Voila – Daniel wrote a book! Was he ever pleased!

    Do you have any books which you have read so many times to your child that she can “read it” herself? (If you don’t, you might be cycling through books too quickly – repetition, repetition, repetition is the key for little ones!!). Tell her “I see that your friend can read her book! Let’s get your X book and you can read that”. Read it aloud with her. Now she can read a book. (and later on, this most holistic of approaches is how we work with reading in my Christopherus curriculum).

    It is likely that that will satisfy her and be the end of the subject….if….IF!!….you are satisfied that the right solution has been reached.

    As you are a homeschooler only you can decide how to organize your child’s education. People like me are here as resources and guides – and I know that people use our first grade things with just turned 6 year olds because all the time we get emails and calls from people whose early start 6 year olds are now having problems in second, third or fourth grade and help, can you please advise what I can do? Sigh….not easy. But there you go!

    As for you and your daughter – again, all will be well IF you are convinced that she should be 7 and not 6 when you begin first grade. This is your work that needs addressing. And I really do mean that you need to be convinced – and not do it just because Carrie or I or anyone else say so! It needs to be something that lives in you and out of which you parent and educate your child. Like everything else. And thus it really , in many ways, is better if a parent wholeheartedly homeschools her child a year early with the curriculum than half halfheartedly goes with the “later” approach. Because with homeschooling, it’s just you and your child – it’s not like at school where there are teachers to help convince you or hold your hand or whatever – and who are there, day in and day out working with the children out of what they feel is right. You only have you – and you need to feel deeply that the approach you take is what is best for your child. Then everything else will fall into place.

    I hope I sounded friendly and helpful in this reply – not hectoring or self righteous – it can be tough to get the tone right with the internet! Good luck to you!

    • Wow, Thanks Donna for taking the time to consider my comment so thoughtfully. Great points. I was a bit flippant when I said wasting time, but i hear your point. It’s just sometimes hard to be so thoroughly convinced when there is little tangible support. You and Carrie are my waldorf lifeboats! You can be sure I will be ordering your first grade curric in two years!

  6. Donna, thank you so much for posting this. I am one of the moms who is torn. My son turns 6 in August and is already reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level (self-taught). Our main concern is that we know we aren’t going to be homeschooling much longer. Our plan is to move within the next year and have him start public school fall of 2012. In terms of Waldorf, he would be starting first grade at 7. But in the school district we are moving to, all other first graders would be 5-6 in September. With a Dec. 31st age cutoff, he would essentially be at least 5 months older than the next oldest child in his class. Intellectually, he is ready. Otherwise, physically, socially, emotionally, not so much. Such a tough decision. What is your advice?

  7. Hi Maggie,

    The issue of it not being all or nothing could be sound – but it kind of depends on what one means by that. From reading what I wrote, you know that my big point about taking great care about when to begin first grade has to do with awakening the child to a new form of consciousness. Now, it could be argued that one’s child has already awakened – for many, many reasons it is incredibly difficult to keep the undifferentiated Oneness characteristic of the first 7 years of a child”s life intact as it were. Our society works against this at every turn. So then the discussion might become more of “how do I slow things down, how to I repair or heal where necessary?” Because once the child has awoken, then he has awoken.

    And in your case, Maggie, your son is 6 1/2. Assuming that you really don’t gallop ahead too fast and treat his first months of first grade especially carefully, it is likely that you and he will do just fine! Instead of thinking “work slowly” it actually might be better to think “work deeply.” These two could be one and the same thing, but I think it’s important that the emphasis be on depth as that is what is of therapeutic importance. Speed itself isn’t necessarily the problem – but one never wants to take a superficial approach to what one is doing with a child. And it could be especially important to be be especially mindful of this in those precious early days of first starting formal school.

    And I should caution that many, many children who start out pulling at the bit during the run up to first grade, who often remain on task and really keen during first grade, fade somewhat during second grade (I address this in my second grade curriculum). Sometimes it’s because one has begun academics too early. But not always. It can often be because one has not grounded the work sufficiently and it remains on the “head level”. Steiner talks at length in various lectures about the need to enliven academic work by keeping it musical, rhthmic and artisitc (all of which, when understood properly, dd up to the same thing). In the second 7 year stage of childhood the child needs to work via the rythmic system (heart-breahting). Here the human being never tires. But iof the work does not spring from that basis, and only addresses the head, then the child can get tired (mentally, emotionally, physically) and turn sour. This is where some forms of second grade refusal stems from.

    So this is just to caution parents with bit-chompers to remember not to forsake the movement/physical-based grounding of the curriculum in order to follow what a child might be expressing (ie that he’s really keen to learn to read etc). As always in parenting and educating a child, one needs to listen into and behind what a child says verbally and often pay more attention to what s/he expresses through behavior etc.

    • Thank you Donna, your insights are so very helpful!
      Thank you also for taking the time to delve beyond the first grade and possible problems I could run into in second grade.
      My son is very active, to say the least, so I do have a lot of movement planned within each subject, as well as music and rhythm.
      I am actually starting to get excited now, besides feeling a bit anxious (which I guess is natural as a first time homeschooler), I am sure we will both have fun.
      Warmly,
      Maggie

  8. Hi Renee,

    Is it so awful to be 5 months older? You mention 5/6 year olds – so there would be a pretty huge spread anyways! Is it possible to talk to the teachers – you never know, sometimes one is pleasantly surprised by the response one gets in such situations.

    And be careful, Renee, in assuming that he is intellectually ready simply because he is precociously able to read so well (and I say this in a friendly and supportive way, not snitty or unkind!!! LOL!). The intellectual, physical, emotional etc sides of a human being cannot be compartmentalized and independent of each other. A human being is also more than the sum total of these things. And so a child who begins intellectual work early can hit a wall later on and often progress no further. One can see how prevalent this is simply by taking a moment to look at the reading lists posted on the websites of public schools (or of public libraries which serve them). They all start out with a bang – but have a look at what the children are reading in 5th, 6th, 7th grade and in high school. It is utterly embarrassing and awful how low the bar is in terms of expectations of what older children and young teens can or will read. Or else something in the child “gives” and problems ensue and these are so often “helped” with drugs or remedial work of some kind.

    Hmmmmm….I wonder why that might be? All one has to do is compare this to what children were reading 100 years ago (children who often did not start school until 8 or 9 and who often only went for part of the year) and one sees how bankrupt this whole notion of early is better is…or what a lot of hot air those who champion longer school days, and who bemoan the bizarre (and unheard of in Waldorf circles) phenomena of summer loss are spewing.

    Anyway….sorry….went off on a bit of a rant and a tangent there! LOL!

    Back to your situation – I suggest that you ensure that your child gets as much rhythmical whole body physical activity as possible. That he have no media exposure. That his life be ordered and low key. And that in those ways you support the “other” parts of his being and thus help support him with the education he will receive in public school.

    And lastly…I should also hasten to add that a child teaching himself to read is different from one who is taught to read. I am not sure exactly why this is so, but my observation is that this is so. And so while it will be helpful to him for you to prioritize “grounding” him, his is not the same situation as that of a child who has been taught to read early. Which also means that he might naturally reach a point where he needs a breather – something that can happen at home if a parent is ready for this but which can present problems if that child is in school. I mention this so you can be prepared in case it happens. When left to unfold naturally, such a breather can be seen as the child’s being catching up as it were with his precocious intellectual advances and grounding this. It is lovely to see how this can happen and then, miracle of miracles, how when the child returns to reading (or whatever it is) how he is then further ahead than where he left off.

  9. Dear Donna

    Thank you for the thought provoking post. My dd is a March birthday and I have struggled with the thought that I should have started 1st grade with her, but I waited. I plan on doing 1st grade this year and I am extremely happy with my daughter being on the older end when starting college. I was a March baby too and I wish I started college at 19 not 18; I think would have made a ton of difference in my college experience.

    Thanks again for supporting those of us that have decided to wait

    Peace
    Andrea

  10. Hi there. We’ve done things a bit odd- public school kindergarten then oak meadow grade 1 and now my daughter is seven in august. We are definatly homeschooling next year but not sure about the year after that. I know this sounds all over the place! Waldorf education resonates with me but I’m not sure what to do next year as there is a possibility of her entering public school after that and she is already reading. I should mention that while I tried to do the academics with her this year she wasn’t loving it. She loved public kindergarten and she now loves to read but not interested in much else( math, writing etc.). Thoughts or advice appreciated!
    Emily

    • I suggest that you throw yourself entirely into Waldorf for now and then just see what unfolds in the future. What would be the harm? I can only think that it would be an opportunity for you to really ground and support her for whatever comes next.

      If you decide to use our materials, second grade is where I have the most in-depth section on language arts – on reading, writing, spelling and so on. I give advise for parents with children who can barely recite the alphabet and for those who read fluently. This might be helpful to you.

      http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/Second-Grade-Package-p/chr1002.htm

      Good luck!

  11. Donna/Carrie-

    Thanks for covering this subject so thoroughly. This is an issue that my wife and I are grappling with and your thoughts are extremely helpful. Our oldest (a girl) will be turning 7 next February and we are trying to decide if we should start first grade this fall or wait until next year. Our biggest concern is that we have been a little slow starting a really well-organized home school experience and, as a result, our daughter hasn’t had the opportunity to experience a real year of kindergarten. We have a good basic rhythm at home, but haven’t done a lot of the things that for us would be the core of kindergarten–baking, gardening, meaningful work, consistent circle time with verses and singing, etc.

    So I guess my question is this: all other things being equal, is getting a good year of kindergarten under her belt a good reason to start first grade “late”? Even thought she might otherwise be ready for first grade, would she be better off getting the kindergarten experience first? Or is readiness for first grade more determined by her age than by the amount homeschooling (or lack thereof) that we have done with her?

    I hope that makes sense. Thanks again for all of your thoughts and time.

    Rob

    • P.S. We also have a son who will be five this month who we will be starting kindergarten with this year, so he and our six year old would be doing it together. (And we have a three year old and one year old that will be in the mix!)

  12. Thank you Donna for this post. So good to “hear” from you again! As a parent of a 7 year old son who turned 7 in April, I have found what you say about waiting with boys to be absolutely true. We tried 1st grade, even starting later in the fall (October) and he simply was not ready to sit still. The writing, especially, was difficult for him. So we mostly did another year of Kindergarten and we will happily do 1st grade with our now fully 7 year old this year. Thank you also for your Christopherus homeschool materials. They are truly wonderful. Sincerely, Kristin

    • Thank you Kristin! Glad to hear you found a solution that worked. Being flexible really pays off!

  13. Hi Donna and Carrie (and anyone else who cares to comment). This post is so interesting because the ‘precocious’ losing of teeth is happening to us. I have spoken with Carrie before about my extremely intelligent 4 yr old (5 in October), who is streaking ahead academically (has been able to write her own name since she was just 3, can count to 100, do simple addition, does 100 piece puzzles, can sew and finger knit and has recently starting writing and recognising words like ‘love’ ‘daddy’ mamma’ etc. Her behaviour though is very temperamental. She is naturally a very energised child (to say the least) and gets crazy towards night time – slowly revving up until she is literally bouncing off walls. We have had a lot of screaming tantrums in the last year (athough we now have another child who is 1 and some of it is obviously about that change in the family dynamic), lots of defiance, challenging behaviour, real stubbornness and some angry physical outbursts. I sit with a lot of guilt about it all because for the last 4 years I have been struggling with PND and have been somewhat emotionally erratic. There has been lots of anger and shouting and frustration from me and it could not have been further away from the four years I wanted to have with my girl.

    Anyway, the reason this has hit home with me is that my daughter went to the dentist for the first time today and I was told that she has her adult molars growing in AND that her four front teeth are wobbly. The dentist told me that basically in the next 6 months, she will start losing her teeth and getting her adult ones. It doesn’t sound much but it made me quite sad. It seems that she is physically growing up so soon. She is not yet five and is already getting her adult teeth – something which is usually happening around 6-7. The dentist said it was practically unheard of but that when it happens, it usually happens to girls. From an anthroposophical point of view, what does this mean for my little one? What should I be doing to nourish and nurture her as this change takes place? I’m concerned that somehow, these last four bumpy years with me, are somehow responsible for this accelerated change in her. She IS very keen to read and write and she is obsessed with computers and her daddy’s new iphone (which she is not allowed to play with), but I feel as if her emotional body is not at one with her intellect. I don’t want to hold her back (and we are thinking about sending her to a normal public school next Feb, which is when school starts in Australia) but I also don’t want her to be out of her childhood in just a year.

    I realise that we live in a world that is accelerating everything and I don’t want to be ‘out of touch’ but I can’t help wondering what we are really setting up in our kids when we offer then ipads in preschool.

    Sorry for the long and winding road to get here but I would really appreciate your input.
    Thanks
    Kat

  14. Boy is this a hot topic. So good to hear from Donna Simmons too. My youngest will turn six on Sunday and we are doing another year of kindy. He reads some, but I don’t encourage it. My one little piece of advice for those with early readers is to WAIT! My oldest taught himself to read at 3.5. I didn’t teach him, but encouraged him by flooding him with books. We came to Waldorf this past year and it has been a year of catch-up with him. Working to get all that “head” energy down into his heart and lower limbs. I have seen such great things this year – miracles, really – but it is catch-up. As Donna says, “once they are awake, there is no going back to dreamland.”

  15. HI Andrea,

    Glad to be of assistance!

    Re: college, that really is something to think about. For sure, when I see 18 year olds taking a year off to explore an interest or to work (or just hang out) as is so popular in the UK (where ity is called the “gap year”) I always think that that is a good idea.

    This reminds me of the fact that I have worked with several parents to add in what we called a “rest year” or “re-grouping” or “transition year” with their children before high school. In other words, people who had begun early (perhaps within a Waldorf context or perhaps because their child had gone to public school) now take a year between 8th and 9th grade to go back through the Waldorf curriculum and pick up pieces that got lost or were skipped. When properly explained to the child (or young teen) this can be a wonderful opportunity to take a breath before launching into high school. I have seen wonderful results from this. But, of course, at this age, the youngster himself must be totally committed as well. He is at an age where he is beginning to take responsibility for his education and so must be a full partner is such an undertaking.

  16. Hi again Donna! Thanks for your reply. My question wasn’t totally clear though. I am planning on doing waldorf next year( in fact I’ve already ordered joyful movement and the form drawing book) but I was wondering if I should be doing grade 1 or grade 2. You mentioned the grade 2 curriculum but I just wanted to check as she will only be just seven. Then again if she enters public school the next year (if…) she would most likely go into grade 3 as they put her with her age group. Thanks!
    Emily

  17. Dear Donna,
    it’s always interesting to read your thoughts. As you know here in Italy most Waldorf schools (most of the fery few Waldorf schools we have!) take 6 years old in the first grade. For example in Milan we have 3 schools and one of them even takes children who turn 6 (not 7) in september. But another school is more adherent to your thought and accepts only children who turned 6 by February in Kindergarten. In public schools a 5 years old can enter first grade expecially those born in sept-oct.-nov-dic. This was my case as I was born in mid december. I dont’ remember struggle or fatigue about learning but the learning pace has changed a lot, they are doing in first grade what I might have done in the second or third. Having been at home with my mom until that first day of school what is still vivid in my memory was the feeling of being separated from her…
    The few parents who wait until later because suggested by my daughter’s Kindergarten teachers and then started first grade in public schools have found “appreciation” from public teachers, they say it’s a whole better even though they remain in the mainstream culture I have never heard a public teacher saying for example to anticipate children (in Italy you can start first grade if you are born by April: that means you can go to school being only 5 yr and 5 months old but fortunately a very few percentage make that choice).
    Grazie, ciao
    Federica

  18. Hi Rob,

    Since s much of first grade is focused on doing what you would be doing for kindergarten (baking, chores, gardening, etc), it could well be that starting first grade with your daughter this fall would be the best thing. You could twiddle the schedule around so that much of what you do you will be doing with all three children.

    Your challenge will be separating off the oldest child to do activities that are awakening and thus not for her younger siblings. Recorder and form drawing are two examples. So it could be you need to be very flexible and creative with your schedule and really live into homeschooling, taking time at weekends, for instance, when your wife is home (I assume she works outside the home and you are homeschooling?) and either she then has the younger two and you focus on the more concentrated activities with your daughter, or this is the time that your wife gets to homeschool. Either can work as long as both of you are on the same page!

    • Thanks so much for replying, Donna. I think we were aiming for something like what you’re describing (“twiddling” our schedule so most activities were done with all children and separating off our oldest for first-grade specific activities), but after reading some of your comments, we didn’t want to do a half kindergarten/half first grade year if that wasn’t advisable. If I’m understanding you correctly, the problem with doing a half-kindergarten/half-first grade year is that you’re still awakening the child because of the first grade elements so you don’t want to go that route if the child isn’t ready for first grade.

      So, in our case, would it be correct to think of this coming year as a kindergarten year for the two (or three) oldest, with some first grade elements mixed in for our 6.5 year old? We do think of homeschool as a full-time endeavor (the 24 hour/day kind, not the 40 hour/week kind), so doing the 1st grade elements in the evenings or on weekends is certainly a possibility. Our three youngest are also great nappers, so some 1st grade work could be done during the younger children’s nap time.

      Also, my wife is actually the full-time homeschooling mom (and the one who introduced me to Waldorf education) and I work outside the home. I just happened to be the one that had the laptop on my lap when we were discussing this so I typed the question.

      Rob (and Carrie)

  19. Hi Kat,

    No need for apologies. I see that your situation with your girl is weighing on you. I am glad you have gotten support from Carrie. Melisa Nielsen also has a support group which could be useful to you (little garden flower) (A link to her work appears on the posts she has contributed to this thread).

    First of all….somehow you need to get past feeling bad about your PND and how you might not have lived up to your expectations of how you should have parented these past years. The past is over with – now you have the wonderful but challenging opportunity to move forward and to GENTLY try to heal. And the primary person to focus on here is YOU. You need to really feel ok about your mothering and also about your daughter’s development. That does not mean ignoring problems but just not torturing yourself about them. Sure, we all have bad times and there isn’t a parent in the world who hasn’t lain awake at night berating her/himself about things she has done….but that is different from carrying a weight of guilt. And until you can lovingly lay that weight aside, your daughter will be burdened with its presence.

    And I say that warmly and wish I could gently lay my hand on your arm when I say it because I know full well that I could be understood as laying a huge guilt trip on you and that that is NOT my intention! But the truth of the matter is that little children are totally enmeshed in our “stuff”. And because your child is a girl, it could well be that this is even stronger as mother-daughter stuff is mighty powerful. And she cannot heal you – although her “stuff” can, if you choose to read it, help point you in the right direction for both of you.

    My reading of your situation is that this is a therapeutic situation you have here. Precocious intellectualism tied to out-of-control behavior is SO common! Your child is not grounded in her body – and to deal with the excess energy which has no where to go, she has to let loose with tantrums. This is about the most common parenting dilemma I see these days.

    And it is exacerbated by early intellectualism. One thinks that that is the direction one should go in because that’s what the child craves – but if one looks at this as a sort of addiction, that the “brain stimulation” as it were is addictive, then one can see that what she seems to want is definitely not what she needs. One has to read the signs – you use the word obsession in connection with the computer – you have a clue right there.

    I can’t really help much in the space of this little reply. You could consider scheduling a consultation with me (which could be by skype since you are in Australia). (see the Christopherus website). You might also be interested in a number of my audio downloads. I definitely suggest you listen to the one called therapeutic Waldorf – it is free and I know that it has helped many people in a similar situation to yours.

    http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/Audio-Talks-on-Various-Subjects-for-Homeschoolers-s/16.htm

    I would also strongly suggest you consider purchasing our new Early Years ebook. There are lost of stories in it it that are similar to what you describe with your child.

    http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/A-Waldorf-Early-Years-Guide-p/chreb001.htm

    And good luck – I know I did not directly address your question….but I wonder if once you work on these other areas (and there is A HUGE AMOUNT about mothering and self development in my early years book) if then the right answer will come clearly to you.

    • HI Kat!

      Donna gave you a wonderful reply. We can offer you support on our yahoo group.
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/homeschoolingwaldorf/

      I also understand what it is like to have a child seem so far ahead at this age. My oldest, now 14 yrs, lost teeth at this age, could read and was very hard to manage. He is on the autism spectrum, now that may not be your situation at all, but I do understand nights filled with guilt as I tried to parent my other children. Reading your post made me a bit weepy, I do understand Kat. Donna’s words are so healing and she is so right, you have to let go of that guilt in order to move forward. Once you can do that you will feel so free.

      Homeschooling with Waldorf gives you many options for slowing down this process of early awakening. We had so much success with simple diets, adequate sleep and a bunch of movement – in fact the movement is the only thing, to this day, the breaks that addictive “in his head” cycle.

      I would love for you to join us, there are many wonderful women, full of wisdom.

      You are in my prayers. Many blessings to you.

      Melisa Nielsen
      http://www.alittlegardenflower.com

  20. Hi Sheila,

    So now we limit the amount of books we give to our children – this is when people REALLY start to think we Waldorf folks are nuts!! LOL! But it is so true – it’s this addictive thing that little ones can so easily get into. This more, more, more. And when you’re 2 or 3, having more and more books counts as over stimulation! One needs to deepen, and do the same old, same old time and time and time again. This is what little ones crave and what is truly healthy and grounding for them,. It’s us adults that find this difficult – but that’s part of our self development as a parent. Parenting is one huge journey into self development for every parent who chooses to take that path. Mindfulness, being present, letting go, being gentle with oneself and others….compassion – all these qualities are developed as we parent.

    And really learning to trust ourselves and know who our children are – that’s another huge gift that parenting gives us and which homeschooling can certainly strengthen. It sounds like you have learned this! Good for you!

  21. Donna, do you have a moment to talk about how the cycle of the seasons impacts the school year?

    I’ve spent the last couple of years with the plan to begin first grade with my youngest in January (when she would be 6 and 8mos.), thinking that this “inward” time of the year would be an ideal time for academics to begin. We are doing year-round “AP Kindergarten” up until that time, with a nice rhythmic structure to our days and months, observing the seasonal festivals, etc.

    Here is what you wrote:
    “After the great out-breath of the summer, the inward gesture of readying oneself for school, study and formal learning has a truth that echoes in the reality of seasonal changes. Learning to work harmoniously with cosmic/seasonal rhythms is an incredibly potent part of Waldorf pedagogy and any therapeutic work.”

    And I thought I was really nailing it with my grand scheme to ease into form drawing and recorder and LA in the winter! My logic was based on my instinctive reaction to the seasonal changes where we live: Spring is temperate- an active, vital, out-breath
    Summer is so hot we are driven to quiet, minimal activity- an inbreath
    Autumn is temperate and humming with activity and energy- an out breath
    Winter is gray and cold and quiet and introspective again- an inbreath.

    Are my instincts out of sync with the reality of the cosmos? Can you help me (and others) understand what it is about the rhythm of the year that needs to be reflected in our work as homeschooling parents?

    With much respect (and love!),
    Cypress

  22. Hi Emily,

    Oops – sorry – I’m with you now. I would recommend that you do first grade again and really ground her in it. It does not matter if she can already read – reading is only a small part of what you are doing. And children love to hear the letter stories again. It is fine if you say something like “I know you know this already, honey, but we’re going to meet the letters again!” If you play your cards right and if you are absolutely convinced that this is the right course of action, then she’ll be just fine.

    But you would definitely move along a bit faster than if she hadn’t done first grade already. Then in the winter, you can assess whether you should get the second gr curric and do a bit of a hybrid first/second gr for the rest of the year. This could be a good idea if she is going to go to public school the following fall as it’ll bring her up to speed a bit but she will also benefit from the curriculum.

    Of course if at this time you decide that you aren’t going to send her to public school, then stay with first grade and begin with second gr the following year just after she turns 8, the perfect time.

  23. Hi Federica,

    Nice to “see you” here! (smile!)

    Time and time again public school teachers praise the ability of children who have been in Waldorf kindergartens or grades before joining them. They are impressed by their ability to play, to listen, to be centered and to engage in the work. Older Waldorf (and homeschooled in general) children are also noted for their ability to express themselves verbally and to know what they think.
    So why doesn’t this translate more generally into a “better later than early” approach?!

    In Britain nowadays barely 5 year olds also start school. It really is criminal. And no one seems to see any connection with the plagues of children on Ritalin and other drugs or all the other problems that are “normal” in our children yet barely exist in homeschooled or Waldorf children!

  24. Hi Donna, thank you for all your wonderful replies! My eldest is 5.5 years old, and like a few of the previous posters taught herself to read at 3.5 years old – funnily enough by us reading a few books over & over, as you suggested above – doing maths, complex jigsaws etc. She currently attends a waldorf kindergarten, our school starts their 1st grade equivalent when children are 6y3m+, but we are planning to home educate full-time, and i am already having to fight her kindergarten for her to only attend 8 hours a week (most children do 5 mornings a week, some until 3pm too!), as despite the precocious academics she is still quite a dreamy child – she has a raft of very ‘real’ imaginary friends, though her real friends lost theirs years ago – and i know she isn’t ready for full-time kindy! I have to say your so-called early years rants have been a huge source of reassurance for me! i think they should be recommended reading for anyone enrolling in waldorf ECE! (i bit my tongue today when i heard our *waldorf* nursery was now encouraging 2.5year olds to attend 4 mornings a week!)

    i had been wondering whether when she reaches the right age following the grade 1 curriculum would be worthwhile, since she can already read etc to a high level, or whether just to skip it (but still not start grade 2 until she is 8), but it sounds like there is a lot more to it than foundational academic skills..?? what would you recommend focusing on to ground kids like these? would you recommend your early years book for these children who seem to be awakening early?

    thank you!!

    • Nova,
      We had the same problem with our Waldorf nursery, ….so we ended up pulling our son out of it. I just could not see a 4 year old attending 5 mornings a week, even if it is just nursery.
      Maggie

    • HI Nova,

      The curriculum is so much more than a collection of skills – and it doesn’t matter a hoot if your child can already read. Think of this as a year of strengthening and grounding and enjoy “reintroducing” the letters etc to your child!

  25. Thanks Donna and Melisa for your kind and thoughtful replies. I feel very aligned with what you are saying and I am thinking of ways to nurture her through this change and to slow her down (if that’s possible with my bouncing little Zebedee). I do think that physical movement will really help and she is an outdoors girl. She LOVES going for long forest walks and is often upset when we have to take the car to get somewhere to go for a walk (we live in a very, very hilly area). She just wants to walk everywhere and we’ve been trying to do it at least once a week.

    I will have a look at your resources Donna and hopefully find some way forward with it all.

    Thank you both again,
    Kat

  26. Hi Cypress – is that you? Cypress form my old forum?! Greetings if it is (and greetings if it isn’t as well of course!)

    Cypress, this is a huge topic and I don’t think I can address it properly by sticking it on to the end of the first grade readiness thread.

    However, I do just want to leave you with something….so what you might like to think about is how Michaelmas is the time of going inward, of going into the Darkness and finding the strength to face that Darkness. There is an inner preparation and part of that has to do with thinking as Michaelmas has to do with Cosmic Intelligence and preparing for the the Light (the Christ). Thus Michael’s season the Fall, is a time of in-breathing.

    This carries on through the winter, as the Earth is outwardly quiet but when the Elemental Beings, deep within are most active. As the Solstice approaches, there is an equalizing and then a great outbreath as the Earth empties Herself of her inward activity and pours it into the Cosmos.

    So….I guess all I can do is to suggest that you live with that and see how it resonates with you!

    Good to hear from you Cypress – I hope your daughter is well!

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