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I'm Happy I Held Our Son Back from Starting School

By Sarah Liebetrau - 8th November 2011

This time last year I was in a quandary. I was trying to decide whether or not to send our then-four-year-old son to school this year. My initial feeling was that he would be ready to go – he had a large vocabulary for his age, and was very curious and eager to learn. He was also very tall for his age, got along well with older peers, and had good fine motor skills. His preschool teachers agreed that he would be fine.

I went to school when I was four and a half. As far as I was aware, with my son turning five in March, there was no reason to hold him back. Given that he was our eldest child, I wasn’t aware of the current trend not to send children to school until they are at least five. Then I found out that in my mothers' group, about half of the mums were sending their March/April-born kids and half were ‘holding back’. I started asking around other friends and acquaintances to gauge what was going on. Many were holding back. It seems that some were not just thinking about the immediate ‘school readiness’ question but also about the age their child would be compared with other kids throughout school, and while sitting the HSC.  

I started to do some research about readiness for school. In many ways, my son was ticking the boxes.  In one quite significant way, though, he wasn’t. He is a sensitive soul and was still showing signs of having separation anxiety. He was okay with going to preschool but it had taken him a long time to get used to it, and he still had occasions where he preferred not to be parted from me. He also needed an adult (preferably me or my husband) around to console him quite a lot when he hurt himself or got upset. I did worry about how he would adjust to five days a week, having to fend for himself a lot more than he was used to doing. Part of me thought this was just an aspect of growing up - that he would have to live through and learn from. Another part of me started to wonder whether giving him an extra year to mature wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Then I wondered if it was just his temperament, and that by delaying a year I was holding him back from learning everything he was ready to learn, and merely prolonging the inevitable.

Then, in late September 2010, Alex broke his leg. Six weeks in a cast (a lot of that away from pre-school) dented his confidence. During those six weeks, he was also hospitalised with asthma, and brought a nasty bout of gastro home with him too. Shortly afterwards he ended up with pneumonia. In early November we took him to his school orientation day and he had a complete meltdown. He became very upset and didn’t want to go with the other children to look at the school. Later he begged me not to send him to school that year.

Looking back it seems like a no-brainer, but at the time I was concerned that his run of ill-health had caused this reaction rather than him truly not being ready for school. I thought maybe he would get stronger and better over the Christmas break and by February I may regret not sending him. I sought more counsel from people who had been in a similar position. Almost universally they had decided not to send their children early and had been happy with the decision.

Eventually my husband and I decided that we would send him back to preschool for another year. We reasoned that it would be more of a regret to send him and have him not cope than to hold him back and realise he could have been okay to go. As it turns out, none of my fears of him becoming bored have eventuated. He has had a wonderful year at preschool. Recently we attended his school orientation and the change was remarkable. He waved and happily went off with the group, telling us afterwards how excited he was to be going to school “because they teach you to read a book to yourself!”  Music to this mother’s ears.

Did you ‘hold back’ your child or send early? Do you have any tips for parents deciding when to send their child to school or generally about readiness for school?

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