Friday, October 30, 2009

School days

I am back in the land of considering child care options because our day care carer is pregnant with her second child and will be finishing up in March. The situation is massively complicated by the fact that Charlie will be four and a half at the beginning of the school year, and not ready to start school. However, he won't be far off, and by the beginning of the following school year I imagine he will be well past ready. So next year I have to make sure that whatever the care arrangements are, there is a lot of structure and a lot of learning.

My childcare whinging aside, I don't understand the system we have for starting kids at school. When my mother was a kid, you started school on your 5th birthday. I understand this is how it works in New Zealand as well. At the end of the year you start, you are assessed to see if you are ready to go on to year 1 or you need another year of kindy. It's a pretty even split and so there's no big deal about staying in kindy. That way readiness for year 1 can be based on the child's progress, not a calendar date.

I understand that turning 5 doesn't magically make you ready for school. There is a wide range of maturity across 5 years olds. However, in NSW, you can start anywhere between 4 and a half and 6 years old. So this means the wide range in maturity is magnified by anything up to a 20 month age spread. And it also means that parents with children whose birthdays fall in the first half of the year have to agonise about whether to send them this year or next year. They have to estimate their child's readiness for school, factor in the impact of an extra year's child care and consider the consequences of living with a child who is now ready for school but can't start for another 4-6 months. And there are no right answers, some kids thrive when they start school early - it gives them the structure and stimulation they need and it's great. Other kids do amazingly well with an extra year of a more informal environment - they build their confidence and learn the basics on their own timetable and hit the ground running when they go to school.
And then there's the kids who start early and really struggle, feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, and the ones who stay home, only to turn into bored, horrific monsters in desperate need of structure.

Starting either at a child's 5th birthday, or with a mid-year intake and a transition year allows much better tailoring for each child's development in an environment where it is normal for some kids to do a year and a half, or maybe even two years of kindergarten. I doubt that it would be a good idea for me to send Charlie to school next year, despite him being technically old enough to start. However, I don't know for sure. Structure has been good for him on the whole, perhaps more of it would be the making of him. But there is no culture whatsoever of repeating kids at the moment, so if he started and really wasn't ready for year 1 by the end of kindy, I couldn't keep him back and might struggle all the way through. On the other hand, another year of minimal structure might reinforce some of the bad habits and make school and even more difficult transition. The fact that Charlie has to start 6 months too early or 6 months too late is ridiculous, and he's hardly alone. Odds are about 50% kindy kids' parents have spent at least some time pondering the 12 month wait.


  1. You see, this has worried me in the past and I'm not even a parent. (You can tell I am going to be the most hugely overprepared parent in the history of the world.) I didn't realise kids repeating was so unpopular at present.

  2. Well, of course, if you are that incredibly over-prepared, you can ensure that you only have children in the latter half of the year....

    But yeah, I've not heard of any child being repeated in years & years. When I was at school, by the end of primary school there were at least half a dozen kids in each class who had repeated a year.

  3. My sister's best friend started school a few months into the school year (her birthday was in July and she was "supposed" to wait til the next year) after her mother negotiated with the principal. That would have been 1991. It might be worth having a word, depending on the intelligence and flexibility of your school's principal.

    My sister's friend has since graduated from university and suffered no ill-effects from being the youngest. I'm a June baby, I was always one of the youngest til I repeated year 10 (I didn't really go the first time) to be honest, the problems with my education had nothing to do with when I started and everything to do with the way we expect all kids to learn the same stuff at the same speed.

  4. "Flexible" - not so much. Although there is another school that might be plausible. I have no idea how flexible that principal is. Mostly, though, I really can't see him being ready until mid-year, and I can't see any principal that doesn't have some catastrophic numbers problem wanting to know about that.

    I was one of the youngest kids all the way through (May birthday) and repeating was discussed every year until I finished primary school. Some kids were repeated based only on age, but it seems to have been assessed on a case by case basis and in consultation with parents. It was kind of annoying not being 18 when I started uni, but that's about it. I was probably a little more immature than other kids, but that may well have still been the case if I had waited another year...

  5. Go with your gut feeling. My son's birthday is in Feb, about three weeks after the school year starts so I sent him the year he turned five. His teacher didn't believe that kids should go to school until they have already turned five which would have meant another years wait for him, but he was ready. Now in year one, he's bigger than some of the year twos, and towers over the kinder kids. It would have been a big mistake to hold him back. Likewise if you feel your son isn't ready, then keep him back. As you say there will be a huge spread of ages in the year so having his birthday in the middle of the year won't be an issue.

  6. Mindy, the problem is, my gut feel is that Feb 10 is too soon and Feb 11 is too late.

    We'll survive and all, it won't be the end of the world, but it isn't just my problem. By not having any culture of repeating any kids at the end of kindy, if you get it wrong and your child really needs another year of kindy, it effectively can't be done. Gut feelings aren't always right, and people don't always follow them even if they were. In other words, I won't be sending Charlie to school next year, but I think the system needs to change. Kids are being lost in the cracks, and that's just wrong.