Friday, May 4, 2012
To send or not to send...
I have been tossing this around for a month now. Do I send Smallest Boy to school next January? I have filled out his enrolment form but still can't quite bring myself to hand it in to the wee school next door. Why? Well, he will be 4 and 10 months at the end of January, exactly the same age, almost to the day, that Archie was when he started school in Scotland in 2003, but I know of at least 2 kids who will be in his Kinder class (equivalent to p1 in Scotland and Reception in England - I think) who will be already 6 before the start of the school year. That automatically makes my child much younger than the rest. My concerns are not about his academic ability, I'm sure he'll do fine, it's more the fact that 6 year old girls are generally less than impressed with 4 year old boys and are very happy to communicate it!
Between us John and I have experienced a number of different education systems. I attended an Anglican Primary school followed by a Catholic Secondary school in England, while he went through the 11+ system in N.Ireland attending the local Grammar school. Being a March birthday I would have been 4 and a half starting school, John being an end of June birthday was 4 and 2 months. I then taught for 6 years in a grant-maintained high school in Essex, known for it's excellent high schools. When it came to having our own kids, we lived in England and planned to have kids born in September or October in order to make sure that he (I was always convinced I would have boys!) would be one of the oldest in the class, the school age starting from 1st September. Sure enough Archie was born in October. However when I fell pregnant again no2 was to be born at the end of April making him very young in the year. In the end, none of it mattered because when he was 3 months old we moved back to Scotland and to a whole other education system. As it turned out the school age is from the 1st March making Archie very young and Jonathan one of the oldest.
In Scotland we were very fortunate, thanks to the Lib/Lab coalition at the time, to receive free pre-school education from the term after the child turns 3. We chose to send all 4 of our kids to the wonderful Dalgety Bay Playgroup for a year where they had 5 morning sessions, and then to the pre-school nursery that was attached to the school they would later attend, again 5 morning sessions a week. I had absolutely no qualms about sending any of them and in fact would not have been able to hold any of them back as this was only an option if your child had a Dec-Feb birthday. As it turned out, they also started a composite system where they started with the youngest child in the school,counted up to the number for the p1 class, then the next p1 class and so on so that all the children were in a class where the other kids were very close together in age. I know some parents took issue, but I figure the teachers generally know best and my kids were happy and learning.
When moving to Australia we found that suddenly with school age being taken from 1st August we were back to Archie being one of the older ones and rather than the 2 year gap between him and Jonathan in Scotland, they were now only a year apart with Jonathan being one of the youngest. Joseph being June was even younger again and when I suggested sending Meg, whose birthday is mid July, people raised eyebrows! Having come from Nursery where she was chosen to recite a Christmas poem at the whole school assembly and then again to all the parents, I was quite convinced that she was able and ready. I have since questioned my decision. All of her teachers have reassured me that she is academically able, but her yr1 teacher told me that she saw Meg as a leader but that she would never get that opportunity in that class due to her age, again most of her friends are a year older.
I resisted repeating her and her yr2 teacher was much more encouraging, having a daughter the same age and coming from more of a Steiner background himself. He worked all year to give her more responsibility, recommending books to read that would push her on and encouraging her to stick up for herself and be the best she could be. I am very grateful. I also knew that in yr3 she would be joining the bigger school where there were 4 yr 3 classes and more children closer to her age. She is thriving. Loving the challenge, working well and starting to look more like the Meg we knew in Scotland.
People still ask me if I'm not concerned about her senior years at school - how will she cope with exams, how will she cope with all her friends driving and drinking before her? I have mixed feeling about these questions. John was very young and ended up not doing as expected in his A-Levels first time around. He did very well second time, but opportunities were missed. I don't want that for my children. On the other hand, we are a family that talks, supports, badgers, nags and encourages! In 15 years time when they have all left I'll be able to tell you if it worked out. Our long term plan is to get back to Scotland within the next 5-10 years (sooner if the right job were to come up) in which case none of this will be relevant anyway. My argument is that if/when we go back I would much rather my kids be 6 months ahead than 6 months behind, I would rather they were in classes with their peers than with kids a year younger.
Ultimately I think that being the youngest of 5 will stand Robert in good stead for starting school. No 6 year old girl can be as mean to him as his big sister can be (not at all often, but it does happen!) and the size of the school, 3 classes K-2, is also a huge plus in this case. While a public school, they are able to do more to build kids' confidence and sense of responsibility because of the family feel and because education is seen as more than just academics, before he feeds into the larger school for yr 3. His pre-school teacher is convinced that he is ready, I'm pretty sure he is, it's just going to be all the other parents who say "Oh, he's a bit young isn't he?". If the worst comes to the worst there will be plenty of opportunities along the way to repeat, but for now he is excited to be going to Mrs B's class - maybe she's the one I should be worrying about...!
I would love to hear what you have done/plan to do.