Are your girls going to school next year?
Quickly followed by a sharp intake of breath when I say “no, they will be doing another year in their preschool room”.
I haven't been asked a question so much since the whole “are they IVF” one everytime I poked my head outside during their first year. I really do despair sometimes that other people seem to feel the need to question and judge others so rudely. But I digress…as I often do.
In NSW Australia children can legally begin school if they are turning 5 on or before 31st July in that year. My girls Birthday is in July so they would indeed qualify as did their now 18 year old older sister ‘Miss Teen' many years ago as she has a Birthday in June.
Miss Teen graduated high school last year and is just about to complete her first year of university. She has always done very well academically and I am very proud of her. I sent her along to school when she was 4.5 and it has really only been in the last few years that I began to question that decision.
Miss Teen spent her early childhood coming to work with me in long day care centres and preschool rooms. She was very bright and everyone told me she would ‘be bored' if I didn't send her. I did have some concerns because at that time she didn't have the greatest attention span, found it hard to connect socially and was a very sensitive child…but she was clever and ticked all the school readiness boxes. And so I pushed aside my Mummy and professional instincts and sent her to kindergarten and although I don't regret that decision I often wonder if she might have had an easier time if I had just waited that extra year and not given in to pressure from others.
As the years went by there was a fair bit of angst about all her friends being older than her and ‘always being the youngest in my class'. She also watched them all getting their licenses and being able to go out to legal venues without her. She always seemed that little bit younger than many of her friends through Primary school and I believe this often led to issues with self esteem and confidence as well as making those important social connections.
I didn't think about any of this when I made the decision all those years ago.
I never thought I would be in this position as a parent again but we were blessed with our beautiful twins and the years seem to have flown and suddenly I am being asked about sending them to school. This time around I have given it a lot of thought and am feeling really good about the decision not to send the girls to start their ‘formal education' until they are 5.5 yrs.
So what factors have helped me come to this decision? Many in fact – this hasn't been a decision taken lightly but I'll share what I think have been the 10 most important reasons for my partner and I.
Why won't my twins be going to Kindergarten at 4.5 years?
1. Because I don't think they are ready emotionally or socially
I think we often underestimate the importance of children's social and emotional wellbeing. I've considered all of the following..
I've thought about how well the girls are able to take and follow direction, interact with their friends, cope with differences of opinion or things not going their way.
How well they are able to communicate their needs and feelings with the use of words rather than actions and meltdowns and how confidently they currently share and take turns.
How confident they are with their self help skills, toileting and responsibility for self without others around to help them. How not being as confident in this area might impact them emotionally and socially.
All of these factors impact on children's social and emotional wellbeing over time and to me this has been the area that we have focused on exploring the most.
2. Because I want them to play, enjoy outdoors and just explore childhood for another year
Childhood is fleeting and I fear we are expecting our children to grow up far to quickly now. I grow a little despondant when I look at the small amount of time children are allowed breaks from classrooms to play and explore outside and get their bodies and minds moving. They seem to be asking them to make a choice between time to eat lunch and time to go and play before they are rushed back indoors again and told to ‘focus'.
I know I attended school many (many) years ago now but I remember outside activities and games before classes when I was at school. We came in and sat down having already run around and ‘shaken the sillies out'. We then had recess and then at least an hour for lunch.
There was plenty of time to play and also eat. I'm pretty sure our attention spans were a lot better after all that physical activity too.
I worry about the children who are now being given so many labels because they won't sit still and focus in class. I know Ruby will be one of those children because she learns in a different way to her sister due to her sensory processing needs. It doesn't mean she isn't as ‘smart' as her sister, it just means she needs lots of breaks to move her muscles and send information to her brain via her senses in different ways before she can sit for long periods and focus.
I fear that she will be labelled as ‘one of those kids' because she won't sit still or focus in the way that she needs to in a classroom. I know just by looking at her when she needs to go and jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes or do some swinging or dancing before she can come back and focus.
I know many will say that I am her parent so of course I know that but how is a teacher expected to?
And what I say to you is that they should know because looking at the whole child and teaching in the way that they need to learn is their job. Unfortunately this aspect of teaching in formal schooling is rarely encouraged or embraced in Australia as yet and I firmly believe that it is the early childhood educators working in family day care and long day care that are leading the push in this area and trying to educate both the Government and the education department about the importance of listening and acting on the information being passed on by early childhood educators.
The Educators in Ruby and Tara's long day care pre school room understand the unique ways every child in their care learns and interacts. They use play based learning, a wonderful environment, resources and intentional teaching opportunities to support the girls growth and individual journey.
They understand that some children need to run around before they can sit still for periods of time and they work with schools to ensure they pass on as much of this information as possible to support the children as they move onto formal learning. Unfortunately I also know that often this information isn't seen as important or dismissed as ‘too difficult or requiring time that isn't available”.
3. Because I believe they will learn more attending their current preschool
I know we are lucky to be able to afford to send our girls to their preschool. I know that many find this difficult and so sending children to school when they become eligible is a huge drawcard for many parents as it means no more expensive childcare fees.
But I will say that we have made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that we can do this. We have gone without things because I know how very important these early years are to the foundations of a child's learning.
I searched and searched and sat on a waiting list for ages so that I could send the girls to this wonderful place. There are many educators all across Australia (and indeed the world) providing the same important experiences for children though…in both long day care and family day care.
The search can be lengthy but I urge you not to give up as it is so important to get it right!
I've shared tips for parents choosing centre based care here and home based care here if you are interested in more information about my thoughts on this.
I realise that this isn't an option for all families but I'm just sharing the reasons behind our decision.
4. Because their 18 year old sister started when she was 4.5yrs
As I mentioned above….having the benefit of hindsight and a glimpse into the future of the schooling world has been a huge factor in our decision!
5. Because I don't like how NSW kindergarten has become so focused on young children meeting academic outcomes and stages.
I don't want this article to become a debate, these are my personal thoughts and reflections and obviously not those of all educators or parents or indeed school systems.
But what I do know is that there seems to have been a huge shift toward expecting kindergarten children to jump from play to meeting unrealistic academic expectations.
I've read the NSW Kindergarten syllabus and let's just say it doesn't inspire confidence. I know there are some brilliant schools and teacher's out there following and implementing this syllabus but the trick for parents is finding them.
I could write a whole post on this topic as I feel quite strongly about it but perhaps for now I will just encourage you to do a little research about the syllabus and curriculum in your area when deciding what age to send your child!
6. Because my girls will struggle to get through a full day of school physically
Ruby still often needs a afternoon nap. At the very least they need some quiet time in the middle of the day to recharge or trust me it gets very ugly very quickly! They don't sleep at preschool but they don't go to preschool everyday…schooldays are very long for a 4 year old!
I have heard many people over the years talk about how their kindergarten children always seem tired or fall asleep in the car every day on the way home. I'm not sure why this is considered by many as a good thing?
7. Because they do not currently have the attention span, concentration and focus required for the current system of formal education (and I'm ok with that..they are only 4!)
Not much more to say about this point really, I think the whole focus and sitting still to listen for long periods is an expectation that is often a little misguided when we talk about 4 and 5 year olds. It's something I don't want to force upon my girls especially when I know the opportunity for physical play will be lacking in school
And please keep in mind I am talking about concentrating for extended periods, I realise of course that they do need to be demonstrating some focus and ability to concentrate by this age and my girls both do.
8. Because it doesn't matter that they can read, write, count and name colours. It doesn't matter that they can tick off all the boxes on a school readiness checklist. They aren't going to be ‘bored' or ‘left behind'.
Just because they can write their name, count numbers and talk about colours doesn't mean they are ready. I know there are many ‘school readiness' checklists and these do play an important role but they shouldn't be your sole indicator of whether a child is ready for school as you can see from the reasons I have already discussed above.
Even if a child is excelling cognitively it doesn't mean they will be bored if they don't attend school, it just means they are ready to be further challenged in their play based learning. There are always ways to extend a child's learning journey that are appropriate to all areas of their development…not just one.
9. Because they are going to be in school for a long, long time…I'm not concerned about this being a race to the end, I want it to be a slow continuation of their learning journey…and when they are ready it will.
There are 13 years of formal schooling ahead of them, I'm not convinced that waiting until they are 5.5 yrs will ensure they are left behind or alternatively ensure they will excel academically.
Neither forms a basis for our decision, what does is the fact that I am able to give them a little more time to find the pace they are comfortable with. I don't see the point in rushing them, I'm just aiming to give them a better chance to learn in the way they need to in the years to come.
10. Because I know my children, I know what they love to do at the moment, how they explore and learn and why they enjoy doing it this way.
And because it is our decision as their parents.
The points above are our personal thoughts and reasoning, you might totally disagree with me and that is perfectly fine, you don't know my children and I don't know yours.
The age you send your child to kindergarten (or kindy, prep, reception, transition, pre primary depending on what area of Australia you live in!) varies across our nation and I have absolutely no idea why but it makes it an even more difficult decision for parents to make unfortunately.
Ultimately though, no matter what part of the world you are parenting in, it is a personal decision that should be made based on your children and your family's own unique needs, values, interests, strengths and perspectives!
And please don't think I am against formal education or teachers…that is most certainly not the case, I just think it is an important decision with many different factors to consider and we shouldn't feel pressured into thinking otherwise.
I wish you luck on your journey….just quietly I'm also pretty happy not to be sending my ‘babies' off through that school gate just yet..
Do you have a middle of the year Birthday child? How did you decide when the time was right?
Happy Whimsical Hearts says
Great post Jode! I was comfortable sending my lad to preschool/kindy at 4.5 because it is a Steiner school. I agree it is personal choice, and I agree withe the observations you have made about schooling.
Danya Banya says
I have an end of May baby, and interestingly in our area it is assumed that we’ll be ‘holding her back’. We’re going against the grain and are sending her to school next year. I love your post. I think you are right – it’ a decision to be made based on the actual child in question.
Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky says
I think Mum (and Dad) knows best 🙂
Kate Grono says
If I could keep my baby back another year I would, because I think that an extra year of play could only be beneficial. She is a September baby though so no option either way. I have found that kindergarten for my 6 year old this year has been far more academic than I expected. It would be lovely if the curriculum could include more free play, art, craft, outdoor and quiet time wouldn’t it?
Totally agree with all the points you’ve made. My son is turning 5 in February, he will be doing another year of kinder and I’m so sick of everyone questioning me or looking down their noses at me (especially my mother in law). He’s not ready for school socially or emotionally and we had an independent assessment to confirm this. I’ve got to try and ignore peoples negative words and just remember that it’s their opinion but he is my child and it’s my opinion and gut instinct that matters. Great article! Thank you. Lara
Bekka Joy says
Love this post Jodie. Miss Daisy is 4.5 as well and soooo many people assume she’ll be going next year but we are holding her back until 2016. I don’t even like the term ‘holding her back’!! I think we’re benefitting her just as you’ve detailed above not ‘holding her back’ from anything except conforming to our less than perfect education system!!!!
As a teacher I almost always recommend that children wait until the year they turn 6! 🙂
Glad to be able to visit your blog this afternoon, I hope that means that you’re back!!!!
i live in canada.. and our kindergarden classrooms are play based, im pretty sure they just moved towards this, and they have added early childhood educators to every classroom as well. on the same note though they still focus on “sit down and learn” priorities as well… after reading this post it makes me feel like i should have waited the extra year before putting my child in to kindergarten as he doesnt do so well socially , he needs guidence when trying to join a group.
Perhaps have a conversation with his teacher Cassandra, that might put your mind at ease. If you feel he needs extra guidance I would certainly bring it up as something you would like focused on.It sounds like they have a good system with play based classrooms and early childhood educators so if he is happy when he attends i wouldn’t worry too much, I would just open those lines of communication though x
I agree some children are starting school too early. In western Australia children start kindergarten in the year they turn 4. The problem most parents face is the chances that a school will allow you to start your child later is unheard of. Is it something that is met with resistance in your state? I know children who did not attend kindergarten in my state and when they did enrol the following year the child was placed in the pre-primary class which is the year above kindergarten despite the concerns of the parents and teachers.
My girls have a June Birthday and they only have to attend by July of the year they turn 6 so luckily that works well for us. My eldest attended when she was 4 turning 5 in June but I didn’t realise i could wait really which is a shame. I do wish the government would all get on the same page re starting ages across Australia and also lift the age. Some countries do this so well.
this post has really struck a chord with me! We live in UK where children start nursery when they turn 3! My daughter is at the “older end” of nursery (she’ll be 4 in Oct) and has just started her second year still in nursery I’m concerned as as lovely as her teachers are they don’t seem to get her! She only goes every weekday morning for 3 hours but she is such an imaginative child loves playing outside loves to sing and dance and make up stories I’m afraid she won’t fit in with their idea of structure! I feel guilty constantly that I’m crushing her creative free spiritedness and forcing conformity! I wish in hindsight that I’d started her at main school at 5 (although nursery isn’t complulsory here you are put under pressure to send your children to nursery to “ease them into school life at 5”) now she is in the system I don’t feel I can get out! She’s extremely bright ahead in numeracy and literacy and she’s already starting to read, but because she isn’t as social as theyd like her to be I’m worried it will might her more introverted! Sorry for the ramble once I started typing I couldn’t seem to stop!
Thank you for a great thought provoking post! X
I totally get where you are coming from Leanne! Some children just don’t enjoy structure before formal schooling (and even then too of course!) However, don’t feel you are stuck and can’t get her out – you are her Mum and know her the best so do what your gut tells you to. Let her explore all the fun creative things she loves to do at home with you and then to cover the socialising aspect do lots of trips to the park, a playgroup (in Australia that’s where parents attend with their child in a group to play for a morning – am sure you have something similar?), playdates with family friends…lots of options. I’m sure you are certainly not crushing her creative spirit by her attending nursery school – there are no doubt many positive aspects to her mornings but if it worries you please don’t feel powerless xxx
Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) says
I have an October baby and here in Canada the cut off date is Dec 31. So if they turn 5 within the year, they are supposed to start Kindergarten. I almost held her back, but it is very frowned upon here by the school system. So I weakened and let her start when she was 4.
If it had been more accepted here to wait, I definitely would have.
She’s did okay, but she would have been better of waiting. (She’s in grade 3 now.)
I hear you Susan, still seems to be frowned upon here in Australia too. At least we have until the year they turn 6 but I would actually like to see that lifted even more.My now 19 year old started school when she was 4 and like yours was fine but I know she would have found her schooling a lot easier had i waited, at least i learnt my lesson for this 2nd time around with my twins!
Thanks for stopping by!
Bozena Kotowski says
My twin boys will be 5 in November and we decided to hold them back. But the comments we hear from friends are just tiring
Jenny Kirkby says
My daughter will be six in February just after she has begun school (nsw). We felt really lucky to live in an area where “holding back” is the norm and 5 year olds are really well catered for in our local daycare and preschools. My daughter’s preschool class last year had 20 children in it all of whom turned 5 between February and May. I was so grateful for the extra time my daughter had in their beautiful environment with wonderful caring teachers – and that class of kids learned some of the most amazing things- unrestricted by the necessity to learn to read and write they explored all kinds of wonderful topics – dinosaurs, symmetry and patterns and other great mathematical concepts, indigenous culture, Frida Khalo, Picasso and so many other things. And I know that she now will start school as ready as she’ll ever be!!!