First Grade Readiness

Ask Kytka Archives:  May 20, 1999

Q.  How do I know my child is ready for first grade?

A.  For those of you who may have children from 5 on upwards who believe that “My child is ready for the First grade material”, I suggest that you first look at this checklist, the recommendations and give it much thought before rushing in. If  you need support in your decision in waiting, or if you’re thinking your job at home isn’t really important and critical to your child’s future – then what I am about to share here will really open your eyes. There are statistics, a checklist, suggested reading and finally some verses for you to use…

“Changes in the structure of society in the last thirty-five to fifty years have brought about conditions that pose many problems in early childhood, such as reading failure, learning disability, delinquency, and breakdown of family ties.


In an attempt to solve these problems legislators have created programs involving much planning at great cost to the nation. Yet the dilemma persists: What factors, present in early childhood, are the common denominators of later accomplishment and satisfying personal development — leading to a secure, responsible, altruistic adulthood? We believe research will provide some of the answers to these questions.

A brief review of child study in this century shows a progression, beginning with facts only in the early stages, followed by the study of physical and mental growth measures immediately after World War I. During the depression years of the 1930s studies were made on the effects of socioeconomic deprivation on child development. This concern was followed after World War II by emphasis on personal-social development.

In the late fifties, however, the advent of the space age focused attenti0n upon the cognitive functioning and intellectual development of children. The assumption was that accelerated intellectual development during childhood would lead to improved quality of performance throughout life. During the early and middle sixties, social reform produced the early childhood intervention movement for the disadvantaged. Preschools appeared nationwide, and early schooling for all was often urged.

However, the late sixties and early seventies brought doubts as to the effectiveness of the ECE programs. Many scholars questioned the wisdom of preschool education for the masses. Some suggested that the greater emphasis should be on strengthening the family structure and educating parents and future parents in the needs of children and in their adequate care as the means for solving these problems of early childhood.”

(Above 4 paragraphs is an excerpt from the book School Can Wait by Raymond & Dorothy Moore)

This is what many Waldorf teachers go by and it is strongly suggested that if your child cannot complete the following tasks, your child is not yet ready.

This list comes from the wonderful book: The Spirit of Childhood: The Waldorf Curriculum, grade one by Douglas J. Gabriel.  ‘An overview of Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf Curriculum for children preschool through grade eight, centering on the first grade; including reading lists, curriculum offerings, guidelines, block plans, bibliographies, and many quotations of Rudolf Steiner illuminating the curriculum; as well as two important educational lectures by Rudolf Steiner which outline his educational psychology.’

“Some of the questions that might be asked about the physiology (will nature) of the child to assess first grade readiness are listed below. This is not a checklist, it is a springboard for developing a whole picture of the child in relationship to is or her own development. After enough pictures arise out of the experience, the teacher will become more adept at understanding child development and recognizing early signs of physical problems that might stand in the way of learning. Time is the greatest teacher and development cannot be rushed.”

Readiness Checklist

1) What is the head/trunk/limb proportion like? Can the child reach over his head with the right arm and touch the left ear? If not, then the limbs have not yet grown out enough to reflect an even proportion of head/trunk/limb.

2) The second dentition of teeth is an important measure of readiness and usually if the child has lost a few teeth, he is ready for memory work. Often the lower teeth go first due to the preponderance of will activity in the child. If the upper teeth go first, there is a preponderance of thinking activity. It is the development of the convolutions of the brain that create the second dentition due to force brought upon the endocrine glands. Therefore, if the teeth have not fallen out, then the brain has not finished that phase of growth.

3) By moving your finger back and forth in front of the child and having him follow the motion with his eyes, one can check for smooth left to right and right to left tracking with the eyes. Often too much TV or video playing causes jittery tracking or back tracking.

4) Have the child point to something in the room, then repeat the action with only one eye. Watch to see if the child uses the left or right hand and the left or right eye. Keep track of left/right choices to check for laterality (the preference for one side or the other).

5) Then check to see if the child can close one eye at a time. If they cannot, then neural tracking in the brain is still developing, and reading or entrainment will be difficult.

6) Ask the child to visualize a two-digit number as you are saying the numbers to him. Can he “see” the numbers and can he repeat them backwards? Then move on to three digit numbers. Visualizing and sequencing are very necessary neurological functions for math and reading.

7) Can the child repeat a clapping rhythm that you demonstrate in front of him and behind him? With eyes closed? Does he turn his head to listen?

8) Can the child skip rhythmically? Can he jump rope? Can he jump into a turning rope?

9) Can he walk a straight line? With eyes closed?

10) Can he walk and clap a rhythm at the same time? Backwards?

11) Can he play hop scotch? Bounce a ball? Play catch? Throw?

12) Does the child imitate your motions as in a mirror or does she use her left when you use your left?

13) Can he tie a shoelace? Button his coat?

14) Can the child repeat a tone? A phrase of music? A line from a poem?

15) How well does she articulate her words? Can she do a tongue-twister? Say the alphabet? Count rhythmically up to ten and then back?

16) Can the child follow a series of verbal directives in order? Cover one ear and follow different directives?

17) Can he follow your thumb inscribing a horizontal figure eight that crosses the midline in front of him? Can he create the motion independently and consistently?

18) What are the child’s play habits like? Who does she play with and how?

19) Checking for laterality or dominance try the following:

  • stand up on a chair and then down
  • throw and catch a ball
  • kick a ball on the ground and in the air
  • look through a rolled piece of paper (telescope)
  • jump up and down on one foot
  • look at something with one eye
  • open eyes and grab a ball quickly

20) Can the child identify colors?

21) Ask the child about what he likes and dislikes in school and at home.

22) Ask the child if they are ready to go on to first grade.

23) Check the shape and nature of the head, ears, hands, in relationships to the rest of the body.

24) How does the child run, jump, walk and carry himself?

25) Using Barbara Meister Vitale’ 5 scheme (found in the book, Unicorns Are Real) check for visual, auditory and kinesthetic preferences. Have the child imagine a blue elephant with a red umbrella and green hat, then ask her to access this imagination again and watch her eyes. Do the same with a auditory memory and a kinesthetic memory. When the eyes turn up and left they are accessing the right hemisphere and visual memory whereas up and right is left hemisphere visual. Accessing to the sides is auditory memory and looking straight up or down is kinesthetic. If a child is mixed in her response, do further testing to assess the extent of the crossing. Extreme crossing from one realm to the other may indicate cross-dominance. Also have the child quickly close her eyes and touch the part of the body where she feels the memory is taking place.

26) Give the child a fill-in-the-blank journey. You are starting on a journey today from a house-what kind of a house is it? and so on; including a river to cross, a forest to enter, a tree in the middle with a container underneath it, a key in the container, a large body of water to cross to an island, a building on the island with the place where the key fit. Ask the child to tell you what the key opens and what is inside? This will tell you about the child’s image of his body, health, psyche, inner character, courage, and his gift to the world.”

These days the academic pressure is on and most people are rushing to place their children into schools and structured programs much too soon! The most important thing to consider isn’t your child’s size or age – but his development. Your child may have a high IQ, but still be developmentally delayed. There was a wonderful study done by James Uphoff and June Gilmore entitled “Pupil Age at School Entrance” and they summarized:

  1. The chronologically older children in a grade tend to receive many more above average grades from teachers than do younger children in that grade.
  2. Older children are much more likely to score in the above average range on SATs.
  3. The younger children in a grade are far more likely to fail at least one grade than are older children.
  4. The younger children in a grade are far more likely to be referred by teachers for learning disabilities testing and subsequently be diagnosed as being learning disabled than are older students in that grade.
  5. The academic problems of children who were developmentally unready at school entrance often last throughout their school careers and sometimes even into adulthood.

Steiner said: “People will object that the children then learn to read and write too late. This is said only because it is not known today how harmful it is when the children learn to read and write early. Reading and writing as we have them today are not really suited the human being until a later age – the eleventh or twelfth year – and the more a child is blessed with not being able to read and write well before this age, the better it is for the later years of life. A child who cannot write properly at thirteen or fourteen (I can speak out of my own experience because I could not do it at that age) is not so hindered for later spiritual development as one who early, at seven or eight years, can already read and write perfectly.” (from lecture 2, The Kingdom of Childhood : Introductory Talks on Waldorf Education)

The official view of Waldorf schools is to recognize the advantage of delaying entrance into first grade until a child is developmentally ready for school. Many children in Waldorf schools actually spend TWO years in the kindergarten program. You will find the most wonderful resources on this subject with the following books:

Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education

This book provides numerous arguments to support that children need nurturing loving homes first and foremost. It over and over again contends that formal education is better left until age 8-10. The research and arguments are vast. Resources are plentiful and convincing.

School Can Wait

The Moores’ thesis is that children aren’t physically or emotionally ready for school until they are 10 to 12 years old. Emotionally, younger children (age 10 and below) need a loving, permanent relationship with a few persons. This is a perfect description of the relationship between parents and child. Sending the young child off to school gives the child the opposite of that: at school the child gets superficial relationships with many people. The result is that the child loses the sense of security he needs, forms unsatisfactory bonds with other children, and may never form the essential bond with his parents. Physically, children’s brains are simply not ready for many of the demands of school before age 10 to 12, so the years spent in school are wasted academically. The gains that the children make during those early years in school could be made in a year or two starting at a later age, with fewer negative consequences.

Rudolf Steiner’s Verses for Grade One:

My thoughts are flying to school; [homeschool parents could substitute studies or lessons for school.]

There will my body be trained
to rightful activity.
There will my soul be guided
To rightful life-strength.
There will my spirit be wakened
To rightful humanity.

* * * * * * * * * *

To wonder at beauty,
Stand guard over truth,
Look up to the noble,
Decide for the good;
Leads man on his journey
To goals for his life,
To right in his duties,
To peace in his feeling,
To light in his thought,
And teaches him trust
In the guidance of God
In all that there is;
In the world-wide all,
In the soul’s deep soil.

I hope this answers your question and that you will use this information as a guide.

Readers – please use the comment feature to share your thoughts, views and suggestions!

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