OPINION

When is the best time for youngsters to start school?

Choosing when to start your children at 'big school' is not always easy, especially when your children have birth dates very early in the year. Photo file
Choosing when to start your children at 'big school' is not always easy, especially when your children have birth dates very early in the year. Photo file

Deciding when to enrol your child in kindergarten is not always as easy a you would think.

This would be a challenge for many parents at the moment as schools are beginning to open their enrolment books for the year of 2022.

If your child is born in the second half of the year it is pretty straight forward - you enrol them for the year they will be turning six. Effectively they will already be five when they start 'big school.'

But the decision to enrol or not to enrol is a little more complicated when your child has a birth date that is earlier in the year.

That was the case for all three of my children. My son was born in early March and my two daughters were born in early January.

My husband and I had to decide whether they would start school in the year they turned five - putting them among some of the youngest children in their year. Alternatively we could hold them back and they would be six (in the case of the girls) or almost six (as was the case with our son) when they began big school.

To a large extent we relied on the guidance of their preschool teachers.

We also relied on ticking a few boxes that we had been told were good starting points. Can they tie shoelaces, can they write their name, do they socialise well.

Once they ticked those boxes we made the decision to begin the enrolment process - and it can be a process, with interviews and open days at the school stretched through the year leading up to that first official day at kindergarten.

Based on those ticked boxes we chose to send our children in the year they turned five. That meant they would be among the youngest in their respective years. We determined that if it appeared they were not ready to pull on the school shoes when the time finally came we could always make a last minute change.

As it turned out all three of our children were ready and eager to head off to big school when the special day finally arrived. The only tears, on that first morning as we dropped them off to their new classroom, came from me.

Of course there were other children crying on that first day but the most emotional response I got from my children was "see you later mummy, have a good day."...Oh and a kiss on the cheek.

They returned home in the afternoon equally happy, very chatty but definitely tired.

I determined by that response that my husband and I had made the right choice in sending them to school in a year that would make them among the youngest in their class. And we continued to be happy with that choice. Each of the children coped well in their school environment and few would have ever realised that our children were significantly younger than most others in their respective friendship groups.

As it turned out many of those in the friendship groups of each of our children were among the oldest children in their year. Furthermore, my youngest was actually called mum by her older peers because of her habit of organising everyone. Some may say bossy, we call it confident.

As the years went on she also became a bit of a sounding board for her friends whenever they were seeking a little friendly, non-judgemental advice. Hence the nickname of 'mum' that stuck.

It soon became clear that age was not a barrier for our children. They held their own in class and in their social interactions and confidence.

The first time that age became a frustration for our children was when they started to play their sports at a more competitive, representative level - around the age of 12. They became a little frustrated by the fact that they could not play in the same age group as their friends.

Initially this age-related hurdle had me seriously considering holding my third child back a year before she started kindergarten. She was significantly younger than her brother and sister so I had the bonus of hindsight.

However, she had other ideas and was frequently found dressed in her older sister's hand-me-down school uniform. As far as she was concerned the wait to go to big school was already too long. So off she went to kindergarten just three weeks after turning five...and she loved it.

Meanwhile, the anticipated negative of not being able to play in the same sports teams as their peers quickly turned into a positive as each of my children developed additional bonds with a new group of young people.

Then it became a challenge for me as the birthday party guest lists suddenly included more names - the sporting friends and the school friends.

The second time my children felt like their age was holding them back was when their friends started to get their learners permits and driving licenses. I had to remind my eager teens that their time would come. That feeling of being left behind passed quickly and before I knew it I was a nervous driving instructor in the passenger seat or one of the parents at home worrying with every trip they made once they secured their license.

And the third time being one of the youngest in a friendship group became a frustration for my children was when all their friends were turning 18 and celebrating by going to the pub or similar licensed event. Again they felt left behind but that time soon passed.

If I had my choice again, to start my children early or later at school, I wouldn't change a thing. But remember each child is different.

Mumma Jak has three children and is familiar with the challenges of parenthood. She is well aware that every child is different, every day can be different and a parent's approach needs to be different according to the situation at hand. She is happy to say she fumbled through, motivated from the perfect starting point - unconditional love. The good news is that all three of her children have become normal functioning adults.

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This story Mum's the word: When is the best time for youngsters to start school? first appeared on Southern Highland News.