APRIL 10, 2017 1:37PM Lisa Mayoh
A CHILD’S first day of school is one for the photo album, a rite of passage for the whole family — but Sydney youngster Mada Worathampitak will now have two to remember.
At four years and eight months, she started school this term only to be told in her second week that she wasn’t ready, and to come back next year. Her mother Pookie Ruengdach was told it was her maturity, not her ability, that was causing the concern, so she re-enrolled her in preschool. “My husband Tommy and I are migrants from overseas and we didn’t have any experience of Australia’s school system,” Ms Ruengdach told news.com.au.
“But after reading all the information, we tested her writing A-Z and counting 1-100 and she could also remember her address and our phone numbers. “I asked her daycare and the carer said she might just be shy as she could do well academically.”
They decided to send her, but in her second week her teacher said it would be better to have one more year at preschool because she wanted to play instead of pay attention. “She could do it, but it was her maturity, not her ability,” Ms Ruengdach said.
“We felt regret and relief at the same time — regret with what we decided was wrong and relief with the reason that the teacher had told me — but how do you know if you not try?”
HAPPY TO HOLD BACK
Knowing when your child is ready to start school can be a parent’s biggest decision, especially if they’re born in the middle of the year. According to NSW Education, children can enrol in kindergarten if they turn five by July 31 that year, and all must be enrolled by their sixth birthday — creating a potential 18-month age gap in the classroom.
Last year, just 1391 four-year-olds started at NSW primary schools, along with more than 53,000 five-year-olds and 15,816 aged six or over.
Leshly Cook, a mum from Sydney’s northern beaches, held back her son, Sean, who will start school next year when he is almost six. “It was a very hard decision but as I worked administration for a K-12 girls school for over 15 years, I could see a few students who were repeated, or had to change schools to repeat a year. I also had personal friends who sent their children early [and] were told by their kindy and care givers they were ready, only to struggle for the first year of school,” she said.
“He doesn’t mind and I feel great about the decision; another year of play doesn’t hurt any child. “To other parents, I would say take all the advice you can, but remember that only you as the parent can make the final decision. “Always follow your own instinct and intuition, as it will be your best guide.”
STARTING EARLY, WITH SUCCESS
Willoughby mum Debora Feijo sent daughter Mariana to school when she was four years and 10 months, with the youngster now going from strength to strength in year 2 at Northbridge Public School. “We did debate holding her back, however the statistics and her personality proved me wrong over the course of those 12 months before she started school,” Ms Feijo said.
“Mariana’s social skills were very good when she started, so she had no problems making new friends straight away. “Kids today are facing a much more competitive environment at an increasing fast pace with their little friends, and when you have kids that are almost a year and 10 or 11 months older than you, things take a different turn socially and sports wise.
“I only wish that this gap was never allowed in NSW — the Department of Education should be the one setting the limits between the gap and not making it worse, raising much bigger issues than maturity — like emotional and physical bullying at schools.”
STRONGER, FASTER, BETTER: WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
A global trend in education has seen parents lean towards holding their children back, with research showing little academic benefit in starting early, and great sporting benefits in starting late.
Malcolm Gladwell’s famed book Outliers explores the correlation between the age of starting sport and future success by analysing hockey players’ birthdays. He says that in many of the best leagues in the world, about 40 per cent of players were born in January, February or March, while only 10 per cent were born in October, November or December.
The book explains that the cut-off birth date for youth hockey leagues was January 1, so children born in the first three months of the year were older, bigger and stronger than their peers, leading to obvious advantages in opportunities as they hit their teens.
A New Zealand study also showed that the early introduction of literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may even be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between children who started learning at five and those who started age seven — but the children who started at five developed less positive attitudes to reading than those children who started later.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, SAY EXPERTS
So how do you know if your four- or five-year-old is physically, socially and emotionally ready for big school? Visit your local school and attend orientation days before you decide, recommends teacher Elizabeth Vincent.
“It’s always difficult when you’ve got a child who’s got an April, May or June birthday because they’re quite young to start and parents wonder whether to keep them at preschool for another year or keep them at home for another year,” she said. “Sometimes girls are ready a bit earlier than boys, but I’ve found that if they are a little bit unsettled at preschool sometimes when they start a routine at school, they actually work very well because there’s a set routine.”
Fellow teacher Debra van Aanholt said the three main things she looked at was age, social skills and how they cope with change, as well as if they can dress themselves, go to the toilet unattended and pack their belongings.
“Because all children are different, they didn’t all crawl at the same age, they didn’t all walk at the same age, they didn’t all speak at the same age — and the same thing happens with children at school,” she said. “You need your children to be able to hold a pencil, to get them to use not just pencils but crayons and paints and clay and playdough and all those things that will help them write well when they do come to school.”