When to Join Your Child in Preschool For an Unhurried Childhood?
A toddler operating a phone or reciting alphabet/numbers from video songs is a common sight in today’s world. As adults - parents, guardians and educators gush with pride at this sight and often misread it to be a sign of readiness for formal learning. But, when closely observed, this is a mere imitation by the child of what they see or experience happening around them. In what seems to be an illusion of academic readiness for education, the readiness of a child physically, socially and emotionally is often overlooked.
The hurried academic learning may provide the child with an abundance of knowledge at an early stage. The child may take in all that is presented and provided to them. But, this does not necessarily translate into healthy and holistic preparedness for life. It does more damage in hurrying the child to learn too much too soon which may not be age relevant or developmentally appropriate.
Waldorf approach to education is grounded in age appropriateness for fostering the right learning at the right time. This is guided by the premise of three developmental phases in a child’s journey to adulthood that can be mapped into seven year cycles with distinct learning processes and needs at each stage. The first seven years until the fall of teeth, considered as the early childhood, is when the child needs optimum physical growth and discover the world through their senses by doing. Much of the learning during these years in a Waldorf Kindergarten is intended to protect the essence of childhood by fostering their will, senses and joy through play, work, music, art.
Children in this early stage learn through movement and experiences that nourish their body to be well-balanced, coordinated, capable, strong, and willing. This eventually grows into their ability to focus, analyse and think abstractly in the later years as they step into formal academic learning. That being so, the right age to join preschool relies on nurturing the transition period to move to first grade while simultaneously observing the readiness of a child for the formal setting of a school.
It is in the best interest for the holistic growth of the child that most Waldorf schools believe first grade is ideally suited for those who complete six years of age before the beginning of the academic year. In consideration of this, pre-primary schools generally take in children aged three years and above. Though the Waldorf approach to education during early childhood is akin to rest and play, free from academic rigour, it is of vital importance to understand the various elements of a child's being, whether they are even prepared for Nursery and Kindergarten.
- Emotional readiness: To feel welcomed and safe in a school, children should be able to trust the teacher and feel the warmth of being in a learning environment. A child below 3 years of age may most likely show a reluctance to be separated from the familiar adult, cry through the day and express despair to play or engage in the tasks at school. Conversely, children at the right age display this emotional readiness when they are eager to go to school and find joy in flowing through the day’s rhythm of playing, working and resting. Though many children cry on their first day or even during the first few weeks, they eventually settle down and get to a stage when they say goodbye to a parent or caregiver without too much anxiety. They begin to associate and bond with the teacher, peers and nature that lays a strong foundation to formal learning.
- Social readiness: School-ready children often show signs of being able to express themselves. This does not mean that children will need to speak in full sentences or articulate in unfamiliar language. It implies that they have an appropriate way of expressing their feelings and needs that gets across to the adult. It is common in children of 3-4 years of age that have been weaned off diapers to use made up words for expressing a need to use the toilet. In addition to this, children are observed to understand basic words in their primary language at least and follow the gestures of the teacher to perform simple, age-appropriate actions such as picking up toys, holding crayons, and sitting down. Such indications in the child’s communication to interact with others tend to show readiness for a preschool setting.
- Physical readiness: A school-going child needs ample physical and mental energy for navigating through the rhythm of the day. During the early years in Waldorf Kindergarten, despite altering between periods of breathing in and out with appropriate tasks, it is evidently observed that children need stamina to be in a group setting for most of the day. They should have comfortably moved from two naps during the day to one and engage without physical exhaustion. Joining a child in preschool prior to these developments may prove to be counterproductive to their education, health and well-being. By the time children turn 3 years old, they show signs of more strength and a sense of wonder to explore the world around them through their physical capacities. The limbs are more in action to move, find balance and coordination on their own.
Swechha, Vizag's first Waldorf school defines the eligibility for preschool accordingly to introduce age-appropriate learning to the ambit of early stage schools in Vizag. For children in the age group of 3-6 years, parents of Vizag can now choose Waldorf education for the preschool learning levels, nursery and Kindergarten (LKG and UKG).