When should we start Kindergarten?
One of the most common questions I get is “When should we start kindergarten?” The definition of “kindergarten” can be elusive for Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers, and no wonder. In early childhood the rhythm of family life and play are your school-time! Over the years you may like to add in more artistic and practical activities into a weekly rhythm. Your rhythm will change as your child grows, but there’s no definite dividing line between the early/preschool and kindergarten years. The big shift comes when your child begins first grade.
In the Waldorf approach, we often talk about the early years and the kindergarten years (plural!), with no hard-and-fast distinction between them. Homeschoolers (and schools) might consider a child to be in nursery, preschool, or kindergarten at different points in early childhood but the overall methodology for education remains the same for children all the way through early childhood (up to age seven). And unlike most educational methods, Waldorf students don’t really “start school” until first grade (not kindergarten). So no wonder this is confusing! Let’s walk through it together.
The first seven years of life (ages 0-6) are the Early Childhood stage.
In this stage, children need to spend most of their time in creative play, outdoors, moving their bodies, and participating in the rhythms of the home. They need a lot of connection and nurturing from their parents, freedom to play, and the comfort of a predictable family life. There's a free guide to early childhood on the blog that goes into detail on how to teach children at home in this stage.
Whenever you're ready you can add in kindergarten activities such as circle time, storytelling, watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, nature crafts, cooking, baking, and gardening.Many families begin a more formal weekly kindergarten rhythm around age 5 but there's no rule about this. There's no rush, but these activities are appropriate and healthy for ages 3 and up (and it's fine for even younger siblings to join in).
The kindergarten activities complement but don't replace everything you've been doing throughout early childhood (play, movement, rhythm, etc.).
Stories, circle, and artistic activities are laid out for you week by week in the Lavender's Blue Kindergarten Curriculum.
The next seven years of life (ages 7-14) are the Middle Childhood or elementary years.
Children go through a big developmental shift around ages 6-7 as they move from early to middle childhood. At this point their needs change, and the curriculum changes along with them. Formal lessons and academics begin in first grade - but still with an artistic and active approach to learning. I recommend first grade when your child will be 7 years old for most of the school year. So he might start a bit before or after his 7th birthday depending on when it is (but not much before). Until that point, continue with kindergarten!
Kindergarten is more of an approach to healthy family life that supports the young child than a set curriculum that lasts only one year. It’s very typical for Waldorf-inspired families to consider themselves “in kindergarten” for two or more years. Revisiting favorite stories, songs, and crafts each year is a healthy dose of repetition for the young child.
Here’s how this played out in my family: I started a weekly kindergarten rhythm with my daughter Aiya when she was 4 years old, and her little sister Sierra loved to join in (she was 18 months when we started). So that's why you see a very tiny Sierra painting, etc. on the blog! :) We continued with our kindergarten activities until they started first grade (at age 6 years 7 months for Aiya and age 7 years exactly for Sierra).
The bottom line is you can start kindergarten when the time feels right for you. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, so you could add one activity at a time and see how that feels. There's no rush, and kindergarten will look a bit different for a 3-year-old than a 6-year-old. The Lavender’s Blue Kindergarten Curriculum is here to support you whenever you feel ready to start adding in stories, circle, and beautifully integrated artistic activities to your daily and weekly rhythms at home!
For a closer look at how your rhythms can evolve to meet the needs of your child from the early years, through kindergarten, and into the grades, have a look at this series on the blog: