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.


  1. Hi Sandra
    I am a teacher and a mother that has had experience in two systems. My 3 daughters were born in November, May and June. My eldest started school in NSW when she was 5 years old and was just fine. My very articulate, highly sociable next daughter started school at 4 years 8 months. She was fine for the first two years of Kinder and Year 1 but seems to flounder from Year 2. We repeated her when we moved to Queensland in Year 6. This is something I am still not convinced about even though she is now 22 and very settled in her career. My youngest daughter started school in Sydney at 5 years 7 months and has not looked back. When we moved to QLD after her first Kinder year we went against the 'ADVICE' of the school and kept her down in Year 1. She is now in Year 11 and is one of the oldest kids by far but she is confident, mature and capable. I teach at her school and am really happy with my decision.
    My biggest advice would be that it is totally your decision! Don't let schools bully you into enrolling saying that this is the right age for this year level. It is your decision and there is no hard and fast rule about age except if you are trying to push your child up.
    From experience young girls do cope better than boys. Boys that are more mature in their year level definitely seem to settle and socialise better.
    Wow thats a lot of words but I must admit I am passionate about this and often advise parents that come in to enrol their child to go home and think about where you want your child at the end of their schooling, mature and making good decisions or still immature and undecided about their future. Yes repeating is an option but it really isn't the best one as socially it can be very difficult. Plus I must admit having your baby at home with you another year is pretty precious! Anny:)

  2. It's so strange reading about all the different school systems and their entry criteria!
    Chloe was born in May when I was in England, but I then moved back to Scotland way before her formal education started. Being a May baby, she was one of the oldest in her intake at primary, and it showed. She was so ready to make the move from full-time nursery to P1 and when she got there she did well academically.
    However, as some of the children were almost a year younger than her, I saw that she had an easier time getting along with the teachers than her peers! She was ready for new games and experiences, and they were still discovering things Chloe had long since bored of.
    I do feel she could have been turned off school if she hadn't had such a great P1 teacher who gave her genuine extension work, so she could remain challenged and work maturely at her own pace. She's now in S3, and any difference is much less obvious now that she is in ability classes for her Standard Grade studies. I do feel though that she could have coped quite well if we could have skipped a year for her, but by the time it was offered she had developed some firm friendships in her yeargroup and I didn't want to make a change.
    I, on the other hand, was a January baby, and so I was one of the youngest in my year at 4 and a half. Mum says she was asked if she wanted to keep me back a year, but I was already reading & writing before I went to school, so she sent me, and I did fine, sitting my O grades at 15.
    I guess there is no universal answer to when a child is ready for school, it's more an individual question of when your child is ready for school.

  3. Ooh, this is a such a big issue, isn't it? Except that with Luca it was somehow very easy for us to make the decision. He is 4 and is a Feb baby, but we're not sending him to school next year. It's so funny how different things to do with parenting can have me leaning in all sorts of directions depending on how convincing each one sounds, but this one I've stood firm. He's a highly sensitive child for one and he just wouldn't be ready for a school environment. Cognitively he would be fine, but emotionally he's not ready. More than that though, I believe that a longer childhood in which to play, explore and be free can only be for their greater good. I don't want him to be the youngest and be affected by negative behaviours in the playground, and I don't want him to be the last to develop when he gets to his teenage years (something that happened to a friend of ours who didn't take up swimming professionally all because he was too self-conscious as the last child to develop in his year). It feels right, no matter what other people are doing. That's what you have to do. Do what feels right in your heart. Good luck.

  4. A little thought here from Denmark....a child has never been sent to school too late but many has been sent too early.....
    Im a mom to 4 kids and they have all been 5-6 years old before going to school. Being the oldest in a class was never a problem.

  5. I would keep him home with you another year. They're little for such a short time. He'll be that much more ready to go then, and you'll have more crayon and play dough time together, which is a precious and all-too short-lived thing.

    Ultimately, you know your child, and you'll know better than anyone if he is ready. If he isn't, then keep him home and relish the time. You'll never regret it.

  6. Dear Sandra,
    first of all you shouldn't worry about the other parents saying if he isn't a little young.
    But as you may know I'm from Germany where kids usually don't start school before they are 6 (before that they go to Kindergarten which in my opinion hasn't got a lot to do with school). Well, at least two of my kids were/will be at least six and a half on their first day of school. And to be honest, I feel sorry for the one who will be six years and a month when she will have to go to school. We have a saying over here: The serious part of life will begin soon enough. But that is only my feeling. If you feel he is ready to go then send him to school. If you don't, then don't send him.

  7. Oh Sandra, this is such a tough one. For our first boy, it won't be an issue, as he turns 5 in January and starts school a few weeks later. For our second, he'll either be 4.5 or 5.5... obviously I want to keep him back until he's 5. But there is such a mixed reaction, with some parents sending their children before age 5 and I have heard about what you're saying here, some parents keeping their children back until age 6!! Personally, I think that is a bit too old. But who knows what the right thing to do is.
    I agree, that Robert will probably already have a confidence and maturity that comes from being part of a large family, but I guess each child is different.
    Good luck with the decision, I look forward to reading about how you go and what you choose to go with xo

  8. Wow, I could write a whole post in response to yours but as this isn't the time or place (note to self: write post on this topic on own blog, stat) I'll just comment that I think the answer is, there is no right answer. Not in the abstract, at least. It comes down entirely to the child in question - and you are truly the only person who knows whether he'd sink, cope, or thrive - and the school. My son probably would have coped, but as he is academically bright we wanted him to really enjoy school, not just scrape through his first year; on the other hand, one school was so keen to get their mitts on him they offered to put him into special ed classes to help him cope, though his only "problems" were youth and sensitivity. So, not that year, not that school, and on those points I think we made the right decision. Never mind that, halfway through this held-back year, I've just heard a child psychologist speak who's caused me to question all that - that's for my own post, too. Nice to meet you, btw. LOVE your blogname and really looking forward to spending some time here.


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