YARN - From the (shorter) Oxford English Dictionary:

Spun fibre of cotton, silk, wool, or flax.... fibre prepared for use in weaving, knitting...a fisherman's net...any of the strands of which a rope is composed...a (usually long or rambling) story or tale, especially an implausible, fanciful, or incredible one.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Grade One Readiness

Grade one entry might be considered one of the markers that differentiates a Waldorf education from other schools - the somewhat delayed timing of it, the unique assessment of readiness and the commitment to a curriculum that is different from other schools. It is also a source of mystery and confusion for parents new to Waldorf.

I am one of those parents.

My daughter has a birthday just after the age cut off for our school and in some ways could jump over the line if I pushed.  The issue of whether to push her ahead first occurred when she was still in Morning Garden. When her cohort split and the bulk of them moved ahead from Morning Garden to Kindergarten I was surprised to find myself feeling uneasy and that maybe nobody had bothered to tell us that we had failed Morning Garden. An inner hockey mom was unleashed and I was feeling like the ref had made a bad call against my child.  My rational sane self was well aware the it was not in my daughter's best interest to be rushed into Kindergarten and I was as surprised by this inner hockey mom as anyone could be.  I sat with it and thought about it and talked with the teacher about it, not about her decision but, about my response to the situation.  It made me realize how many issues about school are deep within me and need to be brought to consciousness so as not to cloud my thinking when it comes to what is best for my child/ren.

The situation repeated itself around the transition between the first and second year in Kindergarten. This time it was a bit easier because she clearly did not meet the 'turning 7 in grade one' criteria. The teachers were very willing to consider her grade one readiness if I had wished.  I made jokes about cramming for grade one readiness at home, doing crossing the mid-line drills and checking for deciduous teeth, but the jokes were just a veneer over my uncertainty about whether to push her forward or not.  I was pressured, actually I pressured myself, by thinking about cousins who had started reading at 4 and others who were the same age but already a grade ahead. It was my fear of her falling behind some externally created measure that was getting in the way.  But really it came down to thinking about whether it was better for her to struggle to keep up as the youngest in a 1/2 split or to enjoy another year in Kindergarten and to reap the benefits in terms of sense of self, responsibility and pride by being one of the older children in the class.

When I led myself back to what matters to me educationally I reaffirmed that all I really want is for her to feel good about herself, to be able to enjoy herself at school and to continue to love learning. I am convinced the rest will take care of itself.

I have not regretted not pushing her.

Half way through grade one I am so pleased that I was able to listen to the wisdom of the teachers and other parents. It involved quieting that competitive hockey mom and being aware of my sideways glances to other children of similar age to make sure we were keeping up.  It takes a conscious effort to stay focused on what is best for my daughter and our family, so programmed are we as a culture to compete and think about getting ahead. I am not proud of this aspect of my character, of that hockey mom within, but as an over-educated professional I guess I should not be surprised.

Watching my daughter embrace grade one and absorb the whole experience has been enriching, heart warming and wonderful.  She loves school and does not want to miss anything.  She loves all of it and is ready for it.  She has been playing at writing letters for a couple of years now and I understand what the teachers meant when they said that this was not real readiness, but a stop on the way. Indeed it was merely preparation for where she is now in terms of her ability to write and thirst to read.  She is excited to repeat aspects of her day and make mini main lessons for her younger brother, who is now convinced that he, too, is in grade one.

I cannot speak to the specifics of the readiness assessment though I think of it as a developmental screening test. It is not something that can be prepared for, it just is.  Any maybe this is where my hockey mom was right to put her bum back on the seat and take a deep breath, this is not about skill, or a prediction of future performance it is about children being ready for their next step, as they were for their first step - each at their own time when THEY were ready.

This segues into a  whole other discussion about why we are so intent on rushing things. Life is short, childhood shorter, let us all savour the magic while we can.

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