This is a major topic of conversation in my village of mammas at the moment and it's coming up to the time of year when decisions need to be made.
To enrol or not to enrol? That is the question.
Before you read this remember my opinion and advice comes from being a mum and doing this journey the same as you, and also a teacher who has taught Kindergarten/Prep/Reception (whatever you call it in your town) a number of years and has seen the advantages and disadvantages of sending and holding back.
If are like me and many of my friends, we are all in the midst of making this important decision because our kids are all born between January and July. Our kids range between 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th's and where our kids place in the ranks of the family tree, it hasn't made the decision any easier or more difficult.
What I thought I would share though, is a number of factors to consider that may help you in your decision making because I am not going to tell you to hold back or send exactly. However, if this is something that you are finding quite stressful and want someone to talk about it with, then by all means email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help you as best I can.
Whatever thoughts, fears, anxieties and stresses you have over this right now, I get it! And, I get it from both a parent and a teacher. Sometimes it's an agreeable on all fronts decision to send or hold back and others, it's you as parents, preschool or childcare teachers and school teachers all coming from different angles about what to do with your child. Childcare and Preschool programs aren't free or even cheap and so it's pretty tempting to send them early and save the money. When you start thinking what you can do with all the money you save on fees, like a dreamy island holiday then that's your decision right there, the importance of your child's future or not ha! (kidding) However, that kinda works more for public and community schools where fees are a few hundred dollars a term not a few thousand if you are considering private school.
From a teacher's point of view I can tell you it is hard to hold back and let people decide what to do knowing their child will struggle. I am a major advocate for children starting later and wish parents didn't have to go through this decision with their four year old, ready or not. I would love governments to make the starting age of school five period, no discussion, just five! I am like this for a few reasons. Children only get a few years to play and the rest is school life, why rush it? You will never regret holding your child back a year but may regret sending them early if they have a terrible start and year because they went too young. It's only a year when you look at their's and your lifetime after that one year can make a giant difference to their school life and future choices being that bit older. Around the world we hear of countries with higher academic levels and most of their children don't start until they are seven because they value the importance of play, social and emotional development. Finally and honestly, as a teacher, you have a pretty crappy time when you spend your day consoling distraught four year olds while children in your class that are truly ready constantly get put aside and given independent tasks because there is only one of you.
At the end of the day, whatever anyone says or thinks, parents know their child best and have to make the decision that suits their family. Some mums need or want to go back to work so I can appreciate that totally. As a parent though reading this, you may also want to consider putting your shoes in a teacher's pair. Most teachers who teach first year will have four, five and six year olds in their class and if you think that the kids all learn the same thing in their first year well think again. That sounds heavenly for a teacher to do that but it is impossible when you have three different ages in your class and all experiencing their first school experience.
You have children that have been held back and turn six earlier in the year and they tower over the little ones and are, for the most part, pretty independent and eager to get the school learning thing rolling. Then there are the large chunk of five year olds that have turned five over the middle to end part of the year. They are a mixture of super ready and not so sure but generally settle just as quick as the older ones starting the year they are assigned to in a normal sense. Then there are four year olds that will turn five between the start of school and whatever your government's cut off age is, which for New South Wales where I live is July 31st. This is where some decisions are made well and others aren't, that teachers then work very hard to deal with in terms of getting these kids physically, socially and emotionally settled into school. If your child isn't ready, please factor in what their experience in school will be like amongst a class of kids and one teacher. This is something that is so easily overlooked because most parents wouldn't even think about the larger picture, which is understandable. Of course you are thinking about your child's needs and what's best for you but have you actually pictured them in a class of 20-30 five and six year olds with one teacher, for five days a week, ten weeks of a term.
While your child recognises words in books, has a giant personality, can sing through most of the top 40 on the radio or counts passed 20, will they be lost in a class and with academics aside, will they settle?
You will find most teachers will smile on the inside when they listen to parents say their child is ready for school because they can read, write and count! As harsh as this sounds and as exciting as that is... so what.
You can throw every literacy and numeracy program and activity at your child to get them ready for school but if they are too young to separate from you and in floods of tears because they are still developing emotionally and socially, then what does it matter they know their a,b,c's! They won't use those skills in the class if they have their face against the window screaming in tears for you to come back or falling asleep at lunchtime because their bodies are still in nap mode. Don't let this freak you out but think bigger than academics because when we think of learning and school, we tend to think the use of pencil and paper.
A lot of you may have read over the years my blog Getting Your Kids School Ready, and reading this will also be a big help in either making your decision or if it's a yes to send, then helping you get your child ready for an awesome and smooth start to their first year at school. So I encourage you to read it either way.
Below is a list of reasons to send and to hold back and I guess the best thing to do is scroll through them, ticking off what you can relate too and see which group comes up as the best fit for you and your child.
- Your child fits the age cut off date (you can check this on your local government website)
- Your child separates from you happily
- Your child can follow the routine of a school day like listen, sit down when asked, follow instructions, go to the toilet independently, eat lunch without help, understand rule following etc (most of these are in my Getting Your Kids School Ready blog)
- Your child can socialise with other children
- Your child is bored and needs something everyday
- Your child is big enough to do physical activities like the play equipment or joining a sport's team
- Your child has strong enough fine motor skills to hold a pencil with a proper grip to write
- Your child recognises numbers, shapes, letters, colours and their name
- Your child would be ok with playtimes amongst a whole school of children or assemblies
- Your child understands turn taking and sharing
- Your child recognises that they are part of a class of children and it won't be like at home just about them and their needs. Can they deal with that?
To Hold Back
- Your gut feeling is to keep them home for another year
- They are too immature for school (still very much like a toddler)
- They don't do anything for themselves and ask you to do everything
- They don't separate well when you leave them
- They hit, bite, pinch other children in frustration instead of using their words
- They have poor fine motor skills e.g. holding a pencil to form lines and circles, handling small objects or using scissors at an age appropriate level
- They need help going to the toilet
- They wake many times in the night and don't sleep through consistently (this sounds unusual but it's important if they are at school everyday... it's exhausting)
- They are anxious in large groups of people, unfamiliar settings or outside their home
- They would never sit down longer than five-ten minutes at any time
- They don't follow instructions or have an understanding of them (consider school excursions where they may run off like they might do for you in the shops or crossing roads safely)
- They don't talk or socialise with others kids well
- Their speech is significantly delayed (something to get onto quickly. Don't assume they will grow out of their cute pronunciations or inability to say particular sounds)
- They are still in a season where they want to play and are learning better through that
- They don't want to go to school and feel very worried about it
- You aren't ready even though your friends are sending their children. The thought of your kids going to school with your friend's kids sounds wonderful but if they aren't ready, only you and your child will suffer from that, not your friends.
- They misbehave a lot and could use another year to grow up a little
- They are too little for team sports and wouldn't be able to do most sport and physical activities
- They fall over and walk into things a lot (delayed spacial awareness)
- Their preschool or childcare teachers are recommending you hold them back
- They will be too young to cope with high school, particularly Yr12. It might be hard to see that far down the track now and it's hard to guess either way but something to consider when your child will only be 16 years old and having the pressure of making life choices and achieving grades for that, while being a teenager
I am sure there are a crazy amount of factors you can add to the list, even small things like eating properly can make a difference but adding them up together can be a great benefit to making your decision a little less stressful.
I encourage you to talk with your partner, chat with your child's preschool/childcare teachers and discuss with friends to find what sits best with you. Whatever anyone tells you, including what you just read, take it or leave it, the choice is up to you. No one knows your child like you do and no one should tell you otherwise so be wise and really think what is best in setting up the next thirteen years of your child's school life and future career choices. Speak to community counsellors, your GP if you are really anxious about the decision and again feel free to contact me as well
©The Realistic Mum
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If you love children’s books then I have written a lovely little book on clouds changing into different shapes that you can find on Amazon and iTunes. Look for the title Look At The Clouds, What Can You See?