First Grade is a very gentle year around here. While it might not seem gentle by the intimidating schedule I posted earlier in the week, it is gentle in the sense that it is slow, lovely, rich, and short-winded. I will explain more on this in a later post. For today, I’d like to address merely the question of WHEN.
When do we begin first grade?
Well, the short answer is that we begin first grade when the child is ready. The long answer is all that follows…
Our first child was the chomping at the bit kind of kid. He was one of those precocious types who knew all his numbers and all his letters (and all their sounds) before he hit 18 months. At four he was asking to read, and I gave him his first lessons. He read just fine but we noticed an increased anxiety–he was so perfectionistic that he had no joy in what he was learning. Rather, it made him miserable and old beyond his years. Pulling that horse and carriage to a stop, we put lessons away, and made a very conscious decision to hold off on formal education and preserve his childhood.
At age six all his friends and his cousin were beginning first grade, and he begged to begin as well. But as we still hit up against all the same anxiety issues, we decided to move quite slow, starting with only simple math and good books to share aloud. He was an early six– a late August birthday. Per my husband’s advice, we added one subject per term until by second grade, at age 7, he was carrying a full load.
When he hit second grade I actually did Ambleside’s Year One with him, finding it very gentle and easy to transition into. By the end of second grade/Year One, as he neared age 8, the Year One’s readings were no longer fulfilling to his burgeoning mind, and so the next year we skipped a year, getting him back on track with grade three/Year Three. It was a perfect choice.
Our second child has an April birthday, and so when he began first grade in September, he was already 6.5. This seemed to be a perfect age; he took to school like a duck in the water. He has, from the moment he started, been an efficient and proficient student. The level of the Ambleside readings have been right on target for his needs, and he has flourished with them as our guide.
In the beginning, I worried that Ambleside’s Year One wasn’t enough for him and added in some readings from other curriculum guides; a choice that I deeply regretted by the end of the year. He made it through all right, but I still bear a sense of stolen time. Why did we do all those other things, when he could only be 6.5 and 7 once? Why didn’t we just curl up and read Narnia, tackle some math and phonics, then play out under the pine trees and call it a day? Ah, well. But here he is now in third grade, bright and happy, and I know it turned out all right.
Enter the third child, a girl. I’m not sure if it’s her gender, or her personality, or the fact that she’s been listening in on lessons for five years now and so it feels like second nature–or if maybe I’m so used to teaching older students that Year One now feels like a piece of cake–but we make it through her school day effortlessly. I really should say we make it through her school hour, because an hour is all it takes.
When my daughter turned six in June I felt fairly certain that we would hold off on first grade for another year. She was so flighty that it just seemed she wasn’t ready. But then she must have been sprinkled with fairy dust because exponential maturity occurred over the course of the summer and, come September, we started right in on first grade, using–nearly in an unadulterated form–Ambleside’s Year One. And she is loving it.
So what tells me a child is ready for Year One?
For me, it’s basically a combination of three things, I think. One, is the child both emotionally capable of, as well as ready and willing to, work with letters and to put in the disciplined effort of learning to read? (This is, if he is not yet a reader.) Two, is the child willing to work with numbers, to carry out simple computations? And three, is he capable of handling the book load–in particular, can he emotionally manage following a deliberate reading schedule, reading the same books for week at a time, and narrate the books back to me?
Any of these three may blossom into maturity early, of course, but when readiness is evident amongst all–and the magnificant year of ages 6 to 7 is in full swing–that’s when the magic seems to take place.
Want to read more about how we make Ambleside Online work for us?
- Part 1: screenshots of our paper weekly school schedules (charts)
- Part 2: a weekly schedule that works for me, and a school “chart” that is my greatest tool
- Part 3: a practical explanation of how I make my charts and how the kids put them to use
- DOWNLOAD the chart template!