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.