Children should start school with confidence and the ability to respond to appropriate challenges.

That is why we have firm age cut-offs. Thousands of children have attended Mustard Seed School. We have seen it over and over again: successful kindergarten students are ones who are developmentally five. And successful first grade students must be developmentally six.

Why does this matter? We adhere to a developmental approach to learning. We nurture the whole child: intellectually, socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This means that the curriculum and learning expectations are closely linked to specific developmental stages.

What is normal development?

Each child matures differently. Not all children learn to walk and talk; to read and write at the same time. This is normal.

A child who is chronologically five may be developmentally five-and-a-half or developmentally four-and-a-half. This is not a problem, unless the child is asked to do things he or she is not ready to do. This is why we assess a child’s developmental maturity prior to admission.

What does five-year-old development look like?

When a child is developmentally five, her neurological development has reached a state where the eyes, hands, and mind can work together to accomplish certain tasks of learning. She can learn to sound, write, and focus on a letter clearly. She can understand the concept of the number ten and can manipulate numbers under five easily. When a child is developmentally five, he or she can sit for twenty minutes and be absorbed in a story. These are only a few of the characteristics of a child who is ready to start Kindergarten.

What does six-year-old development look like?

When a child is developmentally six, he can maintain focus on an independent task for 30 minutes. His can scan from left to right. This is the prime time to introduce reading instruction. When a child is developmentally six-and-a-half, he can arrange writing on lined paper. It is this level of awareness of child development that helps guide our curriculum at Mustard Seed.

How do you assess development?

Our staff has been trained to use the developmental assessment tools from the Gesell Institute of Child Development. We assess development for three-and four-year olds by observing them at play. We also talk to their parents so that we have a full picture of the child. For older children, we conduct a child interview which includes math, reading, and writing exercises. During the interview, our goal is to learn about the child. We talk to him. We ask about his interests. We give him certain tasks to accomplish. Then we speak with his parents and consult teacher evaluations. This gives us a sense of the child’s maturity. We take great care with this process and we include parents at every step.

Will my older child be bored?

No, your older child will not be bored. Our curriculum provides opportunities for independent projects and extended work. Older children tend to thrive in this environment. And in later years, it is often maturity, not IQ, that leads to success. Research and our experience show that more mature students learn more at school.

What if my child is advanced in some areas?

We are ready! Mustard Seed has a rich and demanding curriculum. Full school days. Independent work expectations. Daily experiences in the arts. All students are challenged to think and solve problems creatively.

A student does not need to have a high IQ to be part of our school. But a student does have to be developmentally ready. In fact, there are students who may be superior in intelligence who have been asked to wait a year because their development was not in sync with their intellect. A child may show older behavior in some areas, but it is the rare exception for a child to be developmentally ahead of his or her age in all areas.

Teachers of older students, for example, know of children whose voice, intonation, and musicality are quite ready to sing a Bach chorale. But they just don’t have the physical stamina to stay focused during long rehearsals. Teachers of younger students know of children who enter school reading, but struggle with writing letters and numbers.

We care about the whole child. That’s why we put so much effort into developmental assessment. And that is why we are firm about our age cut-offs.