Kindergarten Conundrums (Mamamia!)

Hi guys,

Here is my latest for Mamamia. Today was a big day – my third one’s first day at school. And now I’m back to writing as school holidays are officially over. You know where to find me.


My three-year-old knows how to find Youtube clips of Lightning McQueen in German – also in Spanish and Cantonese – which he would happily watch 24/7, if left to his own devices. Let me assure you, he’s no multi-lingual child prodigy; he’s just addicted to the iPad.

He also throws himself on the floor and wails inconsolably, when he’s denied anything, such as…the iPad. And have I mentioned that when he’s not begging me for the iPad, he’s giving my tummy mouth-to-muffin-top resuscitation. He has a disturbing habit of ripping up my top (or my dress) and face planting into my belly, whispering the words “Oooh, tummy time.” At least I think that’s what he’s saying; it’s a little muffled down there.

All of this has me counting down the months (there are twelve left) until he can legally go to school with his siblings.

But should he? My baby is a March baby, which means that if he goes to Kindy in 2015, when he is able to go in NSW, he will be one of the younger kids in the class. Not the youngest, but one of the younger ones. I confess I hadn’t given this much thought – he’s the fourth child and it was on my list of things to think about in 2014 – but I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, which got me thinking, perhaps over-thinking and then over-worrying (Me? Never).

Gladwell writes about the factors and environmental conditions that assist children to become exceptional achievers. He notes that Canadian professional hockey teams are largely comprised of players who were all born in the first quarter or the first half of the year. The selection year for competitive hockey runs from January to December in Canada, and scouts start selecting squad players at the age of nine or ten. Children who are older in their year will generally have developed before those born later in the year (duh, you say, keep reading): they will be bigger, stronger and have greater hand-to-eye co-ordination than their younger peers. Children that are older in their peer group, Gladwell argues, are more likely to demonstrate the qualities or “talent” that pro-hockey selectors are looking for. Those children are then streamed and given special or extra training opportunities, and they fulfil the prophecy that was in part created by their advanced age. Gladwell extrapolates this example across a number of other areas, arguing that being older in one’s peer group, gives one an advantage.

Now unless watching Lightning McQueen for endless hours becomes an international endurance sport, I don’t think my son will make it into any national teams. Who knows and who cares? The point I took from Malcolm Gladwell was that being older in the year is somehow better for children.

A quick search on the internet resulted in me getting lost in various parenting forums for days. I was directed to Kathy Walker, an education and parenting consultant who has written a book about the topic, Ready, Set, Go? It was published in 2011 but as with many things that happened in the first 18 months of my son’s life, I missed it back then.

Walker writes about school readiness and emphasises the importance of this, rather than simply age as an indicator of when a child should begin school. So what the heck is readiness – my head was ready to explode and there are times I am ready to drive my son to the local primary school and beg them to take him now.

Apparently school readiness is about emotional and social maturity – it’s about being ready to thrive at school rather than just show up and cope with it. Walker provides a checklist of questions that help you determine if your child is indeed ready for school. The checklist is referenced in this helpful Kidspot article by Fiona Baker, here. It includes questions such as Can your child recognise and express their feelings and needs?

If the iPad is a need then yes, my child can recognise his needs and express them regularly.

Checklists aside (and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good checklist), I turned to the school playground for advice too. Parents told me they never regretted holding their child back from Kindergarten. Some (but not all) parents said they regretted sending their children when they were younger in the year. All parents said that each child is different and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. As far as empirical, longitudinal education studies go, it’s not awesome but it’s all I’ve got to work with.

I started investigating my options: I called local preschools to see if any would take my child for an extra year of preschool. One director said the following: “Unless you have to send your son to school for financial reasons, you would do him a great service by holding him back. Delaying his kindergarten start allows him to further grow, socially and emotionally. Whilst it’s hard to imagine your three-year-old as a teenager, he will be one in the blink of an eye, and he will have to make decisions about drinking, drugs, driving and sex. Holding him back will give him an extra year of maturity with which to make those decisions.”

Yikes. The thought of my child having sex is an image I can do without (don’t think about, don’t think about it). The thought of him getting drunk and going anywhere near a steering wheel fills me with cold fear.

The director said all of the above without judgement or criticism of parents who make different choices. She recognised she was making generalisations (“every child is different” etc) and she made some more generalisations (“boys are less developed than girls and they need the extra year of maturity in particular”).

The comment about finances was very relevant – all parents I know are working hard, in the home and outside it. We are trying to provide financially and in other ways, to meet all our children’s needs. Preschools are expensive and keeping him at home for another year has its own complications. Everything feels like a trade off of competing and sometimes costly priorities.

We have about a year before we need to make any firm decisions, during which time I will be scrutinising my youngest child’s school readiness (rather than the likelihood of him ever playing professional hockey for Australia or Canada).

When do you think is the better time to send a child to kindergarten? Have you also had the “do we hold him back” dilemma – and what has your experience told you about the best time to send children?