Ready for school – or not?

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Mum question:

I’d love your opinion and the opinion of other mums out there who have chosen not to send their kids to prep (QLD) as it is not compulsory, and just send them in grade one. My daughter will turn 5 in March of next year, so she will be on the younger side of the kids that start prep as the cutoff is June 30. Academically she’s ready but next year is going to be a really hectic year in the family – spending time between dad’s and mum’s house (not together), with a lot of driving between suburbs as the school is in a central location not near either of our houses. I also don’t think she’s emotionally ready to go. She goes to kindy 5 days a week, (although I often keep her at home when I don’t have uni) and still after all this time she cries and clings to me when I leave. The kindy staff think that she should go to prep but I know what an incredibly stressful time it will be for all of us if she went – she would have to go to a family daycare for before school and afterschool care when I have work/uni commitments, it would be incredibly stressful and impactful upon my state of mind and wellbeing, which she picks up on and I don’t want that.

I am leaning towards keeping her in daycare where she is used to going for another year and just putting her into grade one instead and bypassing prep altogether, by this time I will have graduated uni and settled into an area where we will stay put for a while. My friend thinks she will be fine if I just try and teach her basic literacy and numeracy as well as maybe taking her to a prep tutor once a week, and allow her to do a lot of play based learning and investigating. Am I disadvantaging my daughter by not sending her to prep? She’s smart and she would thrive there, but she still cries for me when I take her to kindy and I am unsure if she is emotionally ready to go.
I would love some help, I’m very stressed and hoping I’m making the right decision for her future and not hindering her education!

Pinky says:

I think you have almost answered your own question just by writing it all down. I personally have strong views on sending children to school too early: they need to be able to manage whole days away from you; they need to be confident enough to play and hold their own with peers; and they need to do all this without feeling stressed, because a stressed child isn’t available for learning.

When we discuss the age to start little ones at school, it’s worth considering that a child who is almost six, is a whole year older than a child who is still four years old – this extra year is a quarter of the younger child’s age. This is a lot of development that gives an older child a head start. It’s nothing to do with intelligence or learning capacity. Some younger children will cope just fine, but do you want your daughter to ‘cope’ or do you want her to be a leader with great self-esteem because she is mature and ready to separate from you and feels emotionally available to learn?

It sounds as though you have a lot of family and personal stress and you are very conscious how this impacts on your little one. Before and after school care will make the days very long for a little one who still needs you a lot. By keeping her in a familiar environment for another year, you will be creating a buffer against further stress. This will not hinder her education at all – in fact, rather than start her in grade one next year, you could start her in prep.

If you start her straight into grade one, she will be one of the younger children and the school environment will be new to her, whereas the other children will have had that year getting used to the school environment and many will be older than she is. You can make this decision next year, depending how confident she is then. If she engages in some extra activities – eg a dance/ sport/ music class during this year, this may help her social and emotional readiness too.

Take the stress out of this for yourself and your little one. You are mothering consciously, you have a lovely bond and you are sensitive to your child’s needs.  Trust yourself and follow your heart. You will do what is best for your child.

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