As the end of the year speeds towards us I seem to be answering the same question over and over .....
Are your girls going to school next year?
Quickly followed by a sharp intake of breath when I say "no, they will be doing another year in their preschool room".
I haven't been asked a question so much since the whole "are they IVF" one everytime I poked my head outside during their first year. I really do despair sometimes that other people seem to feel the need to question and judge others so rudely. But I digress...as I often do.
In NSW Australia children can legally begin school if they are turning 5 on or before 31st July in that year. My girls Birthday is in July so they would indeed qualify as did their now 18 year old older sister 'Miss Teen' many years ago as she has a Birthday in June.
Miss Teen graduated high school last year and is just about to complete her first year of university. She has always done very well academically and I am very proud of her. I sent her along to school when she was 4.5 and it has really only been in the last few years that I began to question that decision.
Miss Teen spent her early childhood coming to work with me in long day care centres and pre school rooms. She was very bright and everyone told me she would 'be bored' if I didn't send her. I did have some concerns because at that time she didn't have the greatest attention span, found it hard to connect socially and was a very sensitive child...but she was clever and ticked all the school readiness boxes. And so I pushed aside my Mummy and professional instincts and sent her to kindergarten and although I don't regret that decision I often wonder if she might have had an easier time if I had just waited that extra year and not given in to pressure from others.
As the years went by there was a fair bit of angst about all her friends being older than her and 'always being the youngest in my class'. She also watched them all getting their licenses and being able to go out to legal venues without her. She always seemed that little bit younger than many of her friends through Primary school and I believe this often led to issues with self esteem and confidence as well as making those important social connections.
I didn't think about any of this when I made the decision all those years ago.
I never thought I would be in this position as a parent again but we were blessed with our beautiful twins and the years seem to have flown and suddenly I am being asked about sending them to school. This time around I have given it a lot of thought and am feeling really good about the decision not to send the girls to start their 'formal education' until they are 5.5 yrs.
So what factors have helped me come to this decision? Many in fact - this hasn't been a decision taken lightly but I'll share what I think have been the 10 most important reasons for my partner and I.
Why won't my twins be going to Kindergarten at 4.5 years?
1. Because I don't think they are ready emotionally or socially
I think we often underestimate the importance of children's social and emotional wellbeing. I've considered all of the following..
I've thought about how well the girls are able to take and follow direction, interact with their friends, cope with differences of opinion or things not going their way.
How well they are able to communicate their needs and feelings with the use of words rather than actions and meltdowns and how confidently they currently share and take turns.
How confident they are with their self help skills, toileting and responsibility for self without others around to help them. How not being as confident in this area might impact them emotionally and socially.
2. Because I want them to play, enjoy outdoors and just explore childhood for another year
Childhood is fleeting and I fear we are expecting our children to grow up far to quickly now. I grow a little despondant when I look at the small amount of time children are allowed breaks from classrooms to play and explore outside and get their bodies and minds moving. They seem to be asking them to make a choice between time to eat lunch and time to go and play before they are rushed back indoors again and told to 'focus'.
I know I attended school many (many) years ago now but I remember outside activities and games before classes when I was at school. We came in and sat down having already run around and 'shaken the sillies out'. We then had recess and then at least an hour for lunch.
There was plenty of time to play and also eat. I'm pretty sure our attention spans were a lot better after all that physical activity too.
I worry about the children who are now being given so many labels because they won't sit still and focus in class. I know Ruby will be one of those children because she learns in a different way to her sister due to her sensory processing needs. It doesn't mean she isn't as 'smart' as her sister, it just means she needs lots of breaks to move her muscles and send information to her brain via her senses in different ways before she can sit for long periods and focus.
I fear that she will be labelled as 'one of those kids' because she won't sit still or focus in the way that she needs to in a classroom. I know just by looking at her when she needs to go and jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes or do some swinging or dancing before she can come back and focus.
I know many will say that I am her parent so of course I know that but how is a teacher expected to?
And what I say to you is that they should know because looking at the whole child and teaching in the way that they need to learn is their job. Unfortunately this aspect of teaching in formal schooling is rarely encouraged or embraced in Australia as yet and I firmly believe that it is the early childhood educators working in family day care and long day care that are leading the push in this area and trying to educate both the Government and the education department about the importance of listening and acting on the information being passed on by early childhood educators.
The Educators in Ruby and Tara's long day care pre school room understand the unique ways every child in their care learns and interacts. They use play based learning, a wonderful environment, resources and intentional teaching opportunities to support the girls growth and individual journey.
They understand that some children need to run around before they can sit still for periods of time and they work with schools to ensure they pass on as much of this information as possible to support the children as they move onto formal learning. Unfortunately I also know that often this information isn't seen as important or dismissed as 'too difficult or requiring time that isn't available''.
3. Because I believe they will learn more attending their current preschool
I know we are lucky to be able to afford to send our girls to their preschool. I know that many find this difficult and so sending children to school when they become eligible is a huge drawcard for many parents as it means no more expensive childcare fees.
But I will say that we have made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that we can do this. We have gone without things because I know how very important these early years are to the foundations of a child's learning.
The search can be lengthy but I urge you not to give up as it is so important to get it right!
I've shared tips for parents choosing centre based care here and home based care here if you are interested in more information about my thoughts on this.
I realise that this isn't an option for all families but I'm just sharing the reasons behind our decision.
4. Because their 18 year old sister started when she was 4.5yrs
As I mentioned above....having the benefit of hindsight and a glimpse into the future of the schooling world has been a huge factor in our decision!
5. Because I don't like how NSW kindergarten has become so focused on young children meeting academic outcomes and stages.
I don't want this article to become a debate, these are my personal thoughts and reflections and obviously not those of all educators or parents or indeed school systems.
But what I do know is that there seems to have been a huge shift toward expecting kindergarten children to jump from play to meeting unrealistic academic expectations.
I've read the NSW Kindergarten syllabus and let's just say it doesn't inspire confidence. I know there are some brilliant schools and teacher's out there following and implementing this syllabus but the trick for parents is finding them.
I could write a whole post on this topic as I feel quite strongly about it but perhaps for now I will just encourage you to do a little research about the syllabus and curriculum in your area when deciding what age to send your child!
6. Because my girls will struggle to get through a full day of school physically
Ruby still often needs a afternoon nap. At the very least they need some quiet time in the middle of the day to recharge or trust me it gets very ugly very quickly! They don't sleep at preschool but they don't go to preschool everyday...schooldays are very long for a 4 year old!
I have heard many people over the years talk about how their kindergarten children always seem tired or fall asleep in the car every day on the way home. I'm not sure why this is considered by many as a good thing?
7. Because they do not currently have the attention span, concentration and focus required for the current system of formal education (and I'm ok with that..they are only 4!)
Not much more to say about this point really, I think the whole focus and sitting still to listen for long periods is an expectation that is often a little misguided when we talk about 4 and 5 year olds. It's something I don't want to force upon my girls especially when I know the opportunity for physical play will be lacking in school
And please keep in mind I am talking about concentrating for extended periods, I realise of course that they do need to be demonstrating some focus and ability to concentrate by this age and my girls both do.
8. Because it doesn't matter that they can read, write, count and name colours. It doesn't matter that they can tick off all the boxes on a school readiness checklist. They aren't going to be 'bored' or 'left behind'.
Just because they can write their name, count numbers and talk about colours doesn't mean they are ready. I know there are many 'school readiness' checklists and these do play an important role but they shouldn't be your sole indicator of whether a child is ready for school as you can see from the reasons I have already discussed above.
Even if a child is excelling cognitively it doesn't mean they will be bored if they don't attend school, it just means they are ready to be further challenged in their play based learning. There are always ways to extend a child's learning journey that are appropriate to all areas of their development...not just one.
9. Because they are going to be in school for a long, long time...I'm not concerned about this being a race to the end, I want it to be a slow continuation of their learning journey...and when they are ready it will.
There are 13 years of formal schooling ahead of them, I'm not convinced that waiting until they are 5.5 yrs will ensure they are left behind or alternatively ensure they will excel academically.
Neither forms a basis for our decision, what does is the fact that I am able to give them a little more time to find the pace they are comfortable with. I don't see the point in rushing them, I'm just aiming to give them a better chance to learn in the way they need to in the years to come.
10. Because I know my children, I know what they love to do at the moment, how they explore and learn and why they enjoy doing it this way.
And because it is our decision as their parents.
The age you send your child to kindergarten (or kindy, prep, reception, transition, pre primary depending on what area of Australia you live in!) varies across our nation and I have absolutely no idea why but it makes it an even more difficult decision for parents to make unfortunately.
Ultimately though, no matter what part of the world you are parenting in, it is a personal decision that should be made based on your children and your family's own unique needs, values, interests, strengths and perspectives!
And please don't think I am against formal education or teachers...that is most certainly not the case, I just think it is an important decision with many different factors to consider and we shouldn't feel pressured into thinking otherwise.
I wish you luck on your journey....just quietly I'm also pretty happy not to be sending my 'babies' off through that school gate just yet..
Do you have a middle of the year Birthday child? How did you decide when the time was right?
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