Since I made the decision to send Mikah to school as a 4.5 year old and not a 5.5 year old, I have had a few requests for a blog about it. I am guessing that the mothers asking are mothers of children born from February through to June. I am convinced that a mother of a child born June – January don’t really know how lucky they are. They are told when their child needs to start school, no if and no buts.
5 years ago when my obstetrician suggested I be induced on April 1st I had to laugh. No way was I having an April Fools Baby, I would send out the obligatory message to my friends and family that I had my beautiful baby safely in my arms and of course would change my Facebook status only to leave people scratching their heads at whether it was a joke or not. So the date was set at March 31. After that I never really thought about whether her birthday date was a “good one” or not. It just was.
Until she started preschool. And then the questions started, to hold her back or send her early. What were my plans? My early childhood training had always taught me to tell parents to HOLD BACK. And so that was always my answer. She would be having a “bonus year” as I prefer to call it. 3 years at preschool was fine by me.
She was so happy at preschool and why wouldn’t she be? I’m convinced that whilst we don’t always remember it once we are grown up, preschool is the most magical time of our lives. It is a place where all you have to do is play. Experiences like the mud kitchen are never repeated again through life, music lessons, hours of singing, cutting, drawing… What could be better? I would watch her walk in to the home corner and play in the make believe kitchen and then cruise over to the dress up box where she would transform into a fairy, a witch or a clown. Preschool was a place where they could be whom ever the kids wanted to be. Mikah would wear tutus with gumboots or dresses and no shoes. It was where she was learning about self-expression. I would watch her bury her little toes into the sandpit with such joy on her face that she could have been at the beach in the Maldives. No teachers are “Mrs”, often not even full names are necessary but their nicknames are fine, and professionalism from them would still include daily cuddles and kisses. I would drop her off every day thinking how lucky she was, I would walk out the gates every day knowing she was safe, happy and loved there.
A few months into our second year at preschool I started looking at Mikah and kind of comparing her to her friends. She spoke like them, looked like them (in fact was at least a head taller than most of them) and I felt that the gap that I used to see was definitely narrowing. She had also developed an interest in writing letters and doing basic arithmetic. I started having meetings with her teachers to see what they thought but still in the back on my mind I was convinced she would be staying back because well..why not? The teachers at preschool (who I find are understandably generally pro-staying back) started to make me think otherwise. And so the toing and froing began. I think I drove people around me slightly mad. I would talk to my friend who is a child psychologist, another friend who had been through the same decision the year before, parents from her new school… I would finish each conversation and be sure of my decision but then next conversation with another person would represent another perspective would make me reconsider all over again. People were saying things like “she may be ready now but imagine her at the end of school, dealing with HSC as a 17 year old”…. Um how can I even comprehend what needs my now 4 year old will have. I’m sorry this could not be a factor in my decision. And to these people I smiled and nodded and then ignored them.
Ultimately I felt like it was for the preschool teachers and I to decide together. I didn’t feel like my training as a kindergarten teacher actually helped me that much because I didn’t see her in that setting. A child is always different for her mother. I needed to see that she could stand up for herself in a playground, speak up in a class setting and really could handle moving schools, especially as she was only going to be with one friend from preschool. I knew she could do the physical things like go to the toilet by herself, fill up her water bottle and put her shoes on but I needed to know that she would be able to waive her arm in the air and ask the teacher half way through class if she could go to the toilet by herself. I needed to know that she had the concentration to sit in a class all day and not zone out from exhaustion. Most importantly what I wanted from my daughter was not just to survive each day at school, but also to develop a love of learning, to flourish, to develop friendships and to grow into her full potential.
I read studies which for the most part pushed the benefits of being “held back”. And I would challenge her teacher about it all, but the truth was in the pudding. And my sweet little pudding convinced me more and more that she should go to school, and I was running out of arguments to suggest otherwise. She made me realise that “holding her back” would be exactly that. Holding her back from learning and from growing.
Believe it or not I found the decision of which school to send her to much easier then the decision of which year she should start in. So I enrolled her in a beautiful public school and that was that. It seemed like she was going.
So last week marked the end of term 1 and Mikah is absolutely flying. She settled into school beautifully, she has made friends and has truly excelled. There has never been a day where she hasn’t wanted to go to school and when she was sick one day she actually faked feeling better (even with a 39 degree temp) just so she could go.
Let me tell you, for those that are making this decision now, school is no joke. The jump from preschool to school is an absolute leap for you and for our little ones. I can’t believe how much these mini children are expected to do. They put on their uniform and all of a sudden they have to be big school children, I know that statement seems obvious but there seems to be a shift that happens almost overnight. I teared up at parent teacher when the teacher told me that at the beginning of term there was a break down in communication and the office hadn’t send the teachers the children’s birth dates until later into term and they were surprised to find out how old Mikah actually was. Validation for me. I listened to their description of her as I turned the pages of her workbook and felt immense pride. Proud of her growth and of my decision.
I have some advice for any mothers that have this really really tough decision to make:
- Speak to your daycare/preschool teachers and be guided by them. They know what they are talking about and have only the best intentions.
- Keep it all context, any decision can be changed. Nothing is set in stone. This one was a hard one for me. I didn’t like the idea of repeating or changing schools but I have seen it been done and the kids are really fine.
- Try to avoid googling all the studies. There will always be arguments for and against. Rather study your child.
- Own your decision. My husband and I agreed that it was really important from day one of term one that it was right decision for Mikah. If she was bullied, it wasn’t because she was young. If she acted out, it wasn’t because she was young. In other words we couldn’t keep coming back to this decision throughout her schooling. We had made what we felt was the right decision for there and then and we would vowed to guide her through whatever happened and not continue to reflect on our decision.
- Do what is right for your child, don’t follow the trend – whichever way it is swinging that year.
6. Plan better next time. Don’t just calculate ovulation, calculate potential birth dates and do whatever you can to avoid this decision… Only Joking! Good luck and feel free to contact me if you need to!