Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Starting School: the case for holding back a year

While we're on contentious issues of over-under parenting, and you dear readers are weighing in to the discussion, let me put another one to you.

Both Bear and Mitts are at the younger end of the age spectrum in which they can enter their designated years, to the point where their entry is considered optional. Presently they are on the conventional track, but we're certainly giving it some thought.

There is quite a bit of literature about suggesting there are advantages to starting school a wee bit later than the present 'standard', particularly (see for example Steve Biddulph in Raising Boys) for boys. I didn't need to read this to have my own view that it isn't great being at the younger end of the year. I was. Coupled with being a lateish developer and rather skinny anyway this left me feeling small, underdeveloped, overwhelmed, and unconfident.

The case for getting them in and through school in a hurry has never persuaded me either. But on the flipside I found school slow and intellectually boring until about year 11 (when my lack of study habits slammed up against a suddently ramped-up curriculum) and don't want to inflict even more boredom on my kids out of a desire to overcompensate for my own miseries.

As with the public school debate, this quandrary has an element of public good versus personal interest: if everyone holds their kids back, even when they are a fine age for normal school entry, then this just pushes some of the problems out a year for kids at the younger (or smaller, or less developed) end.

School planning is also listed as a reason to stick to 'the program', although given the state has planned so badly for our own kids and is only just starting to catch up on the baby boom(for example the kinder expansion now belatedly being built at a centre in Northcote) this argument doesn't persuade me.

Reflecting on what a good child care centre we have has softened some of the Kinder angst expressed in previous posts. This starting age question isn't a teeth-gnasher, it's simply a choice we are faced with and an interesting dilemma. And we simply can't tell whether such a choice might have a minor, or a profound, impact.


Mindy said...

Mr Six started at 4 and 11 months and had his fifth birthday late Feb. He was bursting to go and his preschool said he was ready socially (and they have advised parents in the past to give other kids another year) so we were happy with our decision to send him before he turned five.

Miss 3 (who could go to school the year after next) won't be five until late April which is a bit more of a dilemma. Again we will take advice from her preschool and gauge her eagerness to go. I was surprised that in NSW kids can go to school as long as they turn five before 31 July.

I think it all depends on the child and also if they have strong friendships with other kids who are going to school at the same time.

MsLaurie said...

Sample study of one here, but I went to school quite early - I was not quite four and a half before starting prep. The original idea was that I would go to prep at one school, and then repeat it at another school the next year, but it never quite happened.

So I ended up going to high school at barely eleven, and uni at barely seventeen.

I have to say, apart from the final year of high school/first year of uni, where everyone else could drink and get their licence, that being about four-five months younger than the next closest kid in my year made very little difference.

But it does depend on the kid - some are ready for school (I was champing at the bit and bored witless at creche), and others cannot cope. You know your kids, and you'll get a better sense when they're a bit closer to the decision date.

Jeremy said...

I'd definitely go with later - being a youngster did not help.

And if they're bored, give them extra-curricular stuff to work on. A language, an instrument, whatever.

Armagny said...

"A language, an instrument"

Funny you mention these, given the're probably the 2 most likely things they could have foisted on them!

Bit of learning life skills like swimming and catching a ball couldn't hurt either...

Zoe said...

Ask the childcarers/kindy teachers. They'll be in a position to compare your child to children entering school.

And I wouldn't expect a sport or instrument outside school to compensate for being bored at school.

If school's boring as bat poo, they will probably struggle to develop skills of application.

Unless they love the instrument/sport straight away (which would be lucky, but not impossible) they might reject something forever something that they would have enjoyed.

I cried on the first day of school because I was too young, and had to go home for a month until I was 4 ys 9 months.

Helen said...

Hey, I also have an opinion on this one! (Are you surprised?!)

I watched Sagittarian Girlchild start school and thrive, cautiously, until she took off like a rocket around 3rd grade. Then I saw Boychild, born late in the year, get into trouble again and again and nearly get put off school for life until he repeated a year, then the rubber hit the road around grade 4. Yes, he was srsly undercooked. And I disagree that it's not a teeth gnasher this one, because I did ask for another year in child care and was knocked back - then I asked for him to repeat Prep and was knocked back. Then when he had to repeat grade 1, we had this really srs conference and they said "y'know you are not upset by this decision, strangely." YES BECAUSE ITS BEEN WHAT IVE BEEN ASKING FOR FOR YEARS (ahem.)

As with everything, there's a lurk to it: there's a certain type of parent that will hold their kid back so they'll have an edge in marks, so they think. To me, the benefit of keeping them back - aside from the very great benefit of more unstructured play and dreaming in early childhood - is social. Remember the stage I'm at now - I'd hate Girlchild to be out at those parties and facebooking and experimenting with alcohol and also being 1 or 2 years younger. Ditto in O-Week at Uni. I think this matters.

Helen said...

Oops. Sorry. Boychild, born EARLY in the year, therefore young starter.

Memory fail.

seepi said...

As a girl who was very very tall at a young age, I had a different view.

I think our own schooling radically colours our plans for the offspring.

A friend from a 'rigid, structured sausage factory catholic school' is going for a hippy trippy school for his kids.

Another friend who was never pushed to study hard wants a really academically excellent school for hers.

And me - I struggled to fit in, so I'm leaning towards the friendly, supportive hippy school too. Although in reality it was continuously moving schools that made life hard for me.

Sorry for the essay, but school is on our minds too right now.

Armagny said...

Don't apologise! I enjoy long comments and hope with posts like this that they're a chance to unload and put different views.

Taking all on board. Bit busy to reply right now but this is all very useful stuff.

Helen v interesting you say that because, in contrast to most of the literature that focuses on where the kids are up to at entry point, much of my concern has been thinking ahead to high school and yes even O week. Once this call is made the consequences unfold for decades...

Anonymous said...

I agree pretty strongly with MsLaurie. Its not the age that really matters its what the individual child is ready for. I ended up at uni at 16 (in SA they used to start children a bit earlier anyway) and it made very little difference.

I think some of the behaviour problems of children are simply from being insufficiently challenged by what they are studying and they get bored at school. I think we underestimate what some are capable of an instead try to fit them into what has been deemed appropriate for their age.

Unknown said...

I like Zoe's advice: ask the kindergarten/child care people. They'll know if the kids are ready.

We held back (March birthday), and it was the right decision because our boy was really not ready socially for school (it's the playground you have to worry about; not the classroom!). And I liked the idea of him not being the youngest, later on.

But then he got a bit ahead of his cohort, so he skipped grade 4, and so now we are back where we started. But he's doing ok, and developed lots of confidence, I think, from not feeling overwhelmed when he began.

All of which is to say there aren't hard and fast rules...