The Steiner criteria for deciding whether a child is ready for class 1 are listed in the Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers by Kevin Avison.
They include a category on physical development the anthroposophy expert lists as follows;
- can touch top of ear by reaching over top of head with opposite arm
- visible waist
- visible knuckles and kneecaps
- seventh year molars loose or lost incisors
- arch of foot.
Kevin has also written an article for a conference on school readiness . At the end is a poem “Six –year old blues” where a child complains all his friends are going to school but he cannot. The reasons are that he can’t touch his ear in the required way, he failed the “Easter Test”, and also because “…my head is far too big”.
The poem is meant to be amusing, I think, but clearly for parents and children involved, this is not a joking matter.
The reason why Steiner insisted children should begin learning to read and write as late as possible is that starting “early” would hinder their spiritual development. The child needs time for her “etheric body to incarnate”. He knew this because he was clairvoyant.
In the article he describes how parents can take the news badly when told their child must stay in kindergarten another year. They ask “What’s wrong with him?”
The article considers whether adhering strictly to Steiner’s dictats about child development is in the best interests of the child and explains how the rest of society often does not agree with Steiner methods in this situation. He says there are many reasons why parents want their child to start school before the usual Steiner appropriate time.
In the handbook it is stressed that “decisions as to whether a child is ripe to leave the kindergarten will have consequences right through the child’s schooling and call on the insights of all those involved with the child.” He means spiritual insights.
The kindergarten teacher, class 1 teacher, College of teachers, and anthroposophical doctor are all involved in deciding on school readiness as well as the parents, and it is easy to see a parent being persuaded by all these authority figures and having to toe the line.
“A detailed Child Study will be necessary” where there is any doubt, and here even more criteria are considered than the two pages in the handbook.
The advice in bold in the handbook for the (unqualified) teachers making this decision however, is “When in doubt, wait!”
If you are wondering about the “Easter test” this is explained by Donna Simmons who offers “Waldorf homeschooling and parenting help” in the States.
“ The rule of thumb for determining when a child should start first grade is that she or he should have experienced seven Easters on Earth. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. If one accepts that the moon, stars and planets do indeed have bearing on our lives, then one can see that working with this date in a child’s life can have important implications.”
So the Easter part is cosmic.
She also points out;
“If all children in the Northern Hemisphere had their birthdays in September, and thus started first grade on the day they turned 7, then this issue would never come up! But… life isn’t like that.”
Perhaps this should tell the Steiner followers something ; Rudolf Steiner lived in his own fantasy world, full of higher beings and previous incarnations, where astrology was important, and medieval ideas about the four humours, (bodily fluids) the basis of the four temperaments, held currency. He managed to convince several hundred people during his lifetime that these ideas should be taken seriously (we can only assume he was a charismatic speaker) but these ideas are well past their use-by date and should have no place in our world today.
If Steiner teachers one day tell prospective parents honestly exactly what they do and why (as someone suggested to me recently) this system would very quickly become a thing of the past, or practiced by a few dozen enthusiasts in a compound, perhaps in the US (no offence intended).