Is My Child Ready for First Grade?
At High Mowing School, when we assess a child’s readiness for first grade, our goal is to know and understand each individual child to the best of our ability. This way, we can support them in their growth both as a learner and a human being, giving them a learning experience that is as rewarding as possible.
In Waldorf education, the first seven years of a child’s life are devoted to nurturing their physical and emotional/spiritual capacities. Therefore, to help ensure life-long academic success, we look at both the physical and the emotional/spiritual readiness of children when they will be six years old by August 1, before the start of the school year. A version of this assessment takes place for both current and prospective students.
The first six years of education are not about academic success. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finland Ministry of Education and Culture In the New York Times article From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model
So much of a child’s energy goes into building their physical capacities. If we ask a child to engage their cognitive skills before their physical body is ready, they might find learning to be exhausting, daunting, or frustrating.
To gauge their readiness, we look for signs that children are capable, integrated, and willing. Often this happens to coincide with the loss of teeth, a visual cue of physical growth and an indication that the physical work of growing can take a back seat to academic work.
Full-Body Movement (Gross Motor) and Spatial Awareness
This refers to determining if the child can cross both vertical and horizontal midlines. For example, the horizontal midline helps with stamina for seated learning, and the vertical midline with reading and writing. Both help a child to learn the boundaries of their bodies and the bodies of others.
For example, we might ask these questions:
- How does a child bend over to pick up a ball?
- Can they reach their arms across to touch opposite elbows?
- Can they respect the personal space of others?
- Are they able to stand in a line or to wait for their turn?
Dexterity of Hands and Fingers (Fine Motor)
This is important to first-graders who will be gripping a pencil or knitting needle, tying shoes, using scissors independently, zipping on coats, buttoning on sweaters, etc.
For example, we might ask these questions:
- How strong is a child’s grip in a handshake?
- When drawing a picture, do they use a three-point pencil/crayon grip?
- Can they play finger-games with ease, such as repeating a familiar verse like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with accompanying finger movements?
We also observe speech, hearing, use of language, and auditory processing (the child’s interpretation of what they hear).
For example, we might ask “Can the child repeat phrases back to the teacher, describe what they see, and recall back to the beginning of the assessment?”
For this capacity, we aim to evaluate if children are ready for the task of learning collaboratively and enthusiastically.
For children in our kindergarten, their teachers assess these traits based on their deep connections with the children, gained through the school year(s).
For children new to the school, these abilities are assessed in conversation with parents, reports from previous teachers, and in- and out-of-school visits.
Looking at this dimension provides valuable insight into what each individual student might need in terms of extra support in the grades and which students might benefit most from an additional year in kindergarten. (Our teachers meet the needs and desires of older kindergarten children in many ways, through leadership responsibilities, rich language experiences, and new capacities of imaginative and constructive play.)
What We Don’t Look For
In general, we do not look for academic skills in our assessment. At High Mowing and in other Waldorf schools, academics are introduced in the grades after the child is ready for cognitive abstraction. (Don’t worry: If your child has academic capacities that have shown themselves early, these will not disappear. The rich, imaginative first-grade curriculum is designed to allow students to develop a love for learning.) At High Mowing, our ultimate goal as educators is to know and understand each child to the best of our ability to support them in their growth — both as a learner and a human being.
Connect with us to learn more about the robust learning experience you and your children will find at High Mowing School.