This is a blog post I’ve written a million times in my head but have always been hesitant to write it as I want to write it in such a way that I keep my daughters experience private. That said it makes it sound like she had a stressful time of it after starting primary school which she did not, she absolutely loved it but there were certainly some take home things I learned after her first year that I will certainly be keeping in mind for the next two ladies (by I I really do mean we!). And given that it is genuinely one of the more difficult parenting decisions for some people I felt it was worth putting into words what I learned. What age our children will start school at is probably one of the most talked about topics among my friends. Over the past few years the introduction of the first free preschool year and now the second has really changed the age profile of kids starting school. Parents are conscious of their children ending up doing the leaving cert too young and want to give them that extra year to mature before they start school rather than having to hold them back in later years when it would be far more difficult once friendships have been formed. For kids born in certain months it’s a no brainer when they’ll start school, anyone turning 5 between around July to December will probably start school when they are five or almost there. Its the kids with birthdays in the earlier part of the year, especially January to April that are the harder ones, my lady is a March baby so our choice was start her at exactly four and a half or wait until she’s five and half. We took the decision to send her at four and a half, feeling and having been advised that intellectually she was ready but that is the last time I will mention intellect because it has absolutely nothing to do with whether a child is ready for school or not! Ok so maybe that’s a bit of a strong statement because in a way it obviously influences your decision, we were worried that holding her back in preschool for another year, meaning she would be in the same class as her little sister, we feared she would get bored. And maybe she would have, who knows!
The hard thing about sending a child to school is that most of the factors that influence whether they get on and enjoy it or whether they struggle are hard to preempt. Fundamentally its the social aspect and the physical aspect that are the most important. By social I mean their emotional intelligence; are they sensitive, are they street smart, are they shy, do they have older siblings that have taught them how to survive, have they experience with interacting with big groups of kids and how do they deal with that; those are some of the most important questions to ask yourself.
By physical I mean basically have they got the energy for it. There is a big difference in the energy levels of a four and a half year old versus an almost six year old and that is the age range quite commonly seen in junior infants at the moment. The days are long, they are mentally, emotionally and physically tough going for a small child, they have so much to take in from navigating the social side of the playground to grappling with phonics. The terms are long and I know for us by the time each midterm or holiday came around our lady was more than ready for the break. Another physical aspect focuses more on the smaller things but things that can knock a small childs confidence easily, a six year old is faster than a five year old and that can lead to frustration. Lots of six year olds have started loosing their teeth and five year olds generally haven’t. These may seem so trivial to us but they do mean something to a five year old who can quickly start to feel like they are not as good or getting left behind.
I hope I have approached this in a way that prompts you to ask yourself the questions that can help form a decision if you are on the fence about sending your child. I don’t believe in any way we regret sending our lady at four and a half and her being the youngest in the class BUT we will be keeping her younger April born sister until she is five and a half, without a doubt!