School Readiness: Are we ready for your child?
By Rachel White & Julia Baryo
This month, as parents start to plan for the next school year, questions of school readiness arise. Mostly, parents wonder if their children are ready to advance to the next grade.
We prefer to look at readiness from the perspective of the school and the teachers: are we ready to receive a particular group of students and nurture their development in the best way possible?
What Do We Mean By Readiness?
Readiness is a constant evaluation throughout childhood, and even beyond. School readiness, in a sense, starts at birth. In order to face whatever comes to you in the world, you must have a solid foundation. All along, we ask, how is a child’s foundation developing, and what can we further do to support the child in strengthening his or her foundation?
While there are milestones along our developmental path, it is rare that an individual will reach the ideal capacity at each and every stage at the same time as one’s peers. So much depends on individual needs, experiences, environment, heredity.
For example, children who don’t have as much exposure to floor play, when they’re adults, may have difficulty keeping focus. But even adults can recapitulate developmental pathways through movement activities and strengthen these capacities. We’re helping children to not just have coping skills, but capacities.
The real question of readiness comes when a parent starts to consider enrolling their child in preschool. Usually, that happens around age 2, when pressure from other parents inspires the question of where your child will attend the next school year.
Know Your Child
Parents need to have confidence to know their child and not give in to parenting peer pressure. Mandatory preschool, a concept talked about by state legislators, is positive when it focuses on social interaction for young children, but many early childhood programs include some aspect of pressure to develop intellectual and academic skills far before a child is ready to do so.
The Waldorf approach to early childhood provides opportunities for young children to engage in group social interactions with other children, to play with other children, to spend time outdoors in active play, to nourish their imagination.
We want to see a young child have an opportunity to be independent from their parent – even just to explore the sandbox and run around the playground, only to return to their parent and eagerly remark, “Mommy, I just made a friend.”
When those things start happening, you can feel really secure in bringing your child to a preschool setting. And when you are ready, we recommend looking for a program that allows children to play a lot and be useful in the world.
Usefulness Inspires Purpose
In our early childhood programs, we include children in cooking and washing dishes, immersing in the outdoors through gardening or raking. We aim to build a sense of freedom to interact with other children while feeling good about the work they are doing in the world.
Questions to ask when considering enrolling your child in an early childhood program include:
Can they toilet themselves?
Can they put on their shoes and coat?
Can they let someone know when they’re not feeling well, or when they need to use the bathroom?
How are they able to handle some amount of self-care or advocate for themselves? If they are not ready to do so, this is an area where parents can help children develop their abilities to become ready for school. Otherwise, it could be traumatic if they’re not showing they are ready to explore the world and articulate their needs.
Time for Kindergarten
All of the aforementioned details must happen for Kindergarten readiness, and then some. By Kindergarten, children should exhibit confidence to engage with other children. They become more and more capable of independent tasks and start needing to do more.
In Kindergarten, children start creating challenges for themselves. Right now, our Kindergarteners are creating their own circus – walking across logs, balancing on one leg, jumping from one spot to the next. They are eager to do handwork projects. They are hungry for what’s to come in first grade.
That’s the natural progression of readiness. Children become excited to write letters. They are eager to begin a new day with all the challenges it brings. They start asking adults for more information, for guidance in how to do things. They start to care, to notice the world around them, and they want in on it.
It’s so interesting to see the ends of the developmental spectrum. In 8th grade, students are so into their friends, which is also true in first grade – except in first grade, children are rolling around like puppies with their friends, playfully and without concern for impact or appearance, just being in the moment, in the fun of social play.
They become inquisitive. They are excited by possibilities. It’s a gift, and it’s so exciting. The intellectual eagerness to discover the world is a beautiful blossoming that begins around first grade and grows from there.
The First 7 Years
In Waldorf pedagogy, birth to age 7 features the development of the life force body, the physical body, getting it to a place of readiness to begin to explore the thinking body. First grade is the beginning of that next phase.
The next seven years are walking that path, refining thinking along with feeling, moving toward more conceptual thinking. In a Waldorf school, letters come through imagination, children recognizing symbol and bringing that into how our culture communicates.
All of the movement and work in early childhood helps give children a more robust capacity to be present and focused and able to receive and digest and remember the more intellectual concepts that come in the grade school years.
When we interview a child for school readiness, we are putting together a picture of a class, and looking at how all of the individual children fit together in one unit, with a teacher at the helm. There is no true line for readiness. We are looking at the place on the path of readiness an individual falls within the context of the class he or she may join, and how we as teachers and as a school can be ready to receive this class and nurture their development in the best way possible.
There is more than one way to get to the end.