(If you are visiting through Waldorf Wednesday, this post was written in July 2012. Jude has done grade 1 for 7 months now, and I am so glad we waited.)
Last summer there was a big debate about the age of first grade readiness. I do not want to dredge this discussion again – it did get a little heated – however I did want to voice my experience of waiting until 7 or nearly 7 to begin first grade. (If you have questions regarding this subject or simply want some information, I suggest reading this guest post by Donna Simmons on The Parenting Passageway and this post with pdf download by Melisa Nielsen.)
Now before I start, I want to issue a disclaimer. I used to say, “What I know about Anthroposophy could fill a thimble.” – I think I am now up to a brimming shot glass. I am not an expert by any means on the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner. (Again, if you have questions or want more information read Donna, Melisa or Carrie. Or just go to the man himself.) How I understand Anthroposophy, and more specifically how Anthroposophy relates to the Waldorf curriculum, is that the curriculum is designed to meet the unfolding soul needs of the child. Some would say, starting a child in first grade as close to 7 years old as possible, ensures the curriculum will match the child’s soul needs. (The metaphor of mis-buttoning a shirt has been used to bolster both sides of the argument – the point being if the button and buttonholes are misaligned, the whole shirt is off.)
I had not even heard of Waldorf education when Vincent was beginning first grade at 6 years 9 months of age. He has a December birthday, which makes him “old” for his grade. I discovered Waldorf when he was just finishing second grade. We did a Waldorf-inspired third grade year, but I was just going through the motions, learning and teaching simultaneously. In March of that year, I started to look ahead to fourth grade. I remember listening to an audio that contained the following broad pronouncement: “Fourth graders love animals. Many of them want to become veterinarians around this time.” I also remember my huge eye roll at this statement. At this point (March of third grade), Vincent’s feelings about animals ranged from skittish to terrified. I remember saying to myself rather sarcastically, “Yeah, we’ll see.” Fast forward to fourth grade – the kid loves animals – we have a dog for crying out loud – this was unthinkable – absolutely unfathomable just the year before. (In all fairness, he didn’t simply start fourth grade and become Dr. Dolittle. His “conversion” is a long story/blog post that will have to wait for another day.) I do, however, believe something in him was ripe for this newfound love of animals to occur.
The synchronicity has only gotten stronger the deeper we have incorporated the Waldorf curriculum into our lives. The blocks that comprise fifth grade are ancient mythologies, Greek history and mythology, botany and geometry. This summer, completely independently, Vincent has developed an interest in Archimedes (specifically the Archimedes screw), geometric construction, houseplants, terrariums and gardening. Strange? Yes – most definitely – and I honestly believe that these outward manifestations are the least of it. If I can step back and let my mind open just slightly, I believe it to be inspired. I don’t have a deep personal need to know why a curriculum developed by a man in Germany after the first World War caters to my child living in the mountains of western North Carolina in 2012. I am content to live with mystery and humbly thank Who and What I know to thank that we have this wonderful fit between school-life, home-life and soul-life.
Jude turns 7 tomorrow. He will begin first grade next month. He will begin first grade reading, writing and with a natural affinity for numbers. He is grounded in his body in a way that is beautiful to behold. He has the benefit of being the second child. I have a sense of perspective and a level of patience I didn’t have the first go ’round. So we will take our time and read fairy tales, have fun with the letters and numbers and play – there will be lots and lots of time for play. I am trusting that this will fill his soul that he assures us is the size of 18 onions. Whatever that means. Sometimes it’s just easier to live with the mystery than to try and figure it all out.