Oh Crap, We Are The Parents……Big Girl Decisions. Last week I think we finally realised that we are grown ups, parents and decision makers when it comes to the kids. Amelia is almost 4, (end of March) and to be honest we have really just winged it along in the last 4 years (Now let's be clear here when I talk about winging it, it's far from being a breeze or walk in the park, there's been lots of struggles, wanting to pull our hair out and as we come close to being parents for four years, sometimes we look back and feel as though we have barely had the chance to come up for air in those 4 years, and can't quite believe that we are at the stage of making "Adult" decisions for our little girl).We have never been in a position where we have had to seriously sit down and talk about her future, that our decisions could shape her life, the weaning, toilet training, choosing a nursery, teaching her rules, they just came along naturally and we found our way, but this week we had to make a big decision. What am I taking about? SCHOOL or BIG SCHOOL as Amelia calls it. The acceptance letters to Primary Schools in Ireland will be out in the next few weeks and any parent with a 4-6 year old is no doubt questioning….Is My Child Ready For School?
Compulsory school start ages vary enormously worldwide. In Northern Ireland, children are obliged, according to the law, to start school at four. In England, Scotland and Wales, however, the age is five, as it is in the Netherlands and Australia. In Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France and Spain it's six, in Sweden it is seven and in Ireland a child is entitled to start in a junior-infants class anytime between their fourth and sixth birthday. In Ireland, most children start primary school at the age of four or five. Legally, children can be enrolled from the age of four, however some parents choose to wait until their child is older. Irish children must start their education by the age of six. That's a potential two-year age gap between pupils, which can result in significant differences in development, motor and social skills, and all-round maturity. As a friend who is a public health nurse pointed out, children need to learn more from play in those early years. Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, has spoken about why he feels children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest and advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).This is what led us to having to make the decision about whether or not Amelia would really be ready for school this coming September. Is she mature enough? Would she struggle.
It's something that has us questioning whether there is an optimum time to begin school or not – is there a point at which a child’s brain is ready to begin soaking up what they are being taught, or are we effectively wasting our time – and theirs – by applying premature pressure on children that are just to young? All children develop differently. I personally don't think that there is a universal best age to start learning to read, there's no cut-and-paste rule for the perfect starting age . Some people learn to read so easily they can’t remember doing it. Transition to school involves adjustment to new experiences and physical, social, behavioural and academic challenges and expectations. The way in which each child responds has the potential to impact on their progress and future schooling.
I don't want Amelia to feel lost in school. I don't want to run the risk of her falling behind and then find it difficult to catch up. I don't want to ruin her confidence. Montessori has been a great starting point for her,it's a great way of getting your child ready for the Mon-Fri, sit in a classroom and have structure to their day. We were 100% sure we would send her in September, until a few things over the Christmas period made us question was she really ready. While academically I think she would be fine, she just is not mature enough. She can't sit still, and this will come with time.
So what decision did we make? And how did we come to that decision? We spoke to everyone! People that know Amelia, family and friends that are primary school teachers, friends that have sent their kids at 4, 4.5 and 5. The general cosensus was to hold on to her. (let her have another year in Montessori). A colleague of my husband said something that really struck a cord when he asked for her advice
"You will never regret holding on until she is 5, but you may spend your life regretting sending her too early and feel guilty if she struggles"
and a colleague of mine, who has 3 grown up children, one in Leaving Cert, said that she sent her daughter to school at 4,
"she didn't struggle, kept up with her older peers, but now is 17 and is just not ready for big exams and facing University this coming September"
This week we made the decision that the one person who could help us make up our minds was her lovely Montessori teacher. The person who spends 5 mornings a week in a classroom environment with her. She would know and we would trust her opinion. As we thought, she doesn't feel that Amelia is ready, and really she just confirmed what we already knew. If you feel your child is ready to start school, speak to their preschool teacher and get feedback on their classroom behaviour, abilities, social skills, comprehension and concentration levels. Children need to have the skills to cope with that transition as well as flourish in an alien and academic situation. It’s about moving from a friendly environment at pre-school or home to one where the adult-child ratio is very different. The more children can do for themselves, the more successfully they will function at school.” how well young children settle in their first “real” schools can have long-term implications on their education. If a child is not ready and falls behind, they may have to repeat a year which can have devastating effects on their self-determination and progress.
I feel a huge amount of guilt and anxiety over our decision. Most of her pre-school peers will head off to their chosen primary schools this September. The kids that she has sat beside for the last year, her best friends and her arch enemies (those vary on any given day). I feel guilty that when we pass the school and she shouts out " that's my big school and I'll go there when I am 4". Turning 4 is a huge milestone for Amelia, its the age she THINKS she can light a fire (no lie), drink a coffee and most importantly wear high heels. She knows she is 4 soon, I don't have the heart to tell her yet that she has to wait until she is 5.
We are in such a great position here in Ireland, The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme (Her Montessori) provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age free of charge, 5 mornings a week for 3 hrs. Children are eligible for the ECCE scheme if they are aged over 3 years and not older than 5 and a half years. The State pays a capitation fee to participating playschools and daycare services. In return, they provide a pre-school service free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range for a set number of hours over a set period of weeks. This means that we can continue in the same Montessori, somewhere she knows and is comfortable for another year, and no doubt come September 2018, we will all be more than ready for her to skip into BIG SCHOOL.
THE VERY BEST OF LUCK TO ALL OF YOU WAITING ON SCHOOL PLACES AND MAKING THAT BIG DECISION ON WHETHER YOUR CHILD IS READY OR NOT! I REALLY HOPE THIS HAS HELPED YOU!
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T, A & H xxx