On Sunday we went to a birthday party for one of Liam’s school friends. More than anything, the reason I like to go to school parties is to interact with the other parents – to hear what their kids are up to, how they are liking the school programme, what big schools they have chosen and who else’s kid is giving them a hard time. Yes, I go to the parties for Liam and Hannah to have fun and get a sugar rush, but my main reason is definitely to catch up with the other parents.
The school principal has a little boy who is in the same class as Liam, so we are often at the same parties and it gives us a chance to chat in a less formal setting. As is the norm, the moms were sitting together while the dad’s were hovering over the slippery slide trying to maintain some sense of order as the 4 year olds (and their siblings) were going buck wild. We got chatting about big school – I usually let all the parents who are on lists or who have been accepted into private schools when Timmy was all of 4cm’s in utero, talk first. Then I let the shock and horror set in when I pipe up that Liam isn’t on a list and no, he isn’t going private. At this party there were at least 6 other kids who weren’t going private so my joke about not having to re-mortgage the house to afford school fees went down well.
Anyway, I’ve done my homework, I know that children are now allowed to enter Grade R in the year that they are turning 5, so essentially this means that a child CAN be 5 turning 6 in Grade 1 (turning 6 before 30 June in the year of admission.) The previous rule was that the child had to be turning 7 in the year they entered Grade 1. Also, government schools will first accept children who are 6 turning 7, thereafter if there is space, a younger child will be considered. I’ve spoken to the school I intend to send Liam to and they have advised that based on the pre-school he attends and the caliber of student they have received from this pre-school, they would gladly consider taking Liam – but would need a letter from his pre-school confirming that he is “emotionally ready” to enter the next school phase. The Grade R programme coordinator did imply that unless I think I have a genius on my hands, I should consider letting him start the following year because it just gives the child another to mature – but it would be entirely my choice, and based on the letter of recommendation from the pre-school and the spacing issue, I wouldn’t have a problem enrolling him. Ok fine, I understand that and I respect her advice. My thing is that Liam has been in a class with these same children who will graduate to Grade R next year, since he was 18 months? He has taken part in the same curriculum, he has been taught the same life skills, he has been in the same environment and completed the same tasks as everyone else in the class – and he has excelled. Not once, has there ever been any concern about Liam’s develop – emotional, mental or otherwise, and in fact his teachers and principal alike, have told me on more than one occasion that he is the top boy in the class, bar for a very smart little girl who I have come to love who tops him in everything! He is well on par with (and sometimes above) the other children in the class – even though his birthday falls earlier in the year.
Right, so back to the party … in passing the principal announces that Liam and a few of the other younger children in the class (including her son), will have to do Grade R TWICE because they’d need to be a year older to get into Grade 1. So I immediately say no that rule has changed, Liam will be able to join Grade R next year and move straight into Grade 1 in 2015. She replies that yes maybe the rule has changed but schools are reluctant to accept younger children so she thinks everyone should just be 6 turning 7 the year they enter Grade 1. Right. I didn’t want to launch into a dictation about how I think Liam is ready and if the school I have chosen accept him, then I just need a letter of motivation from you, blah, blah. That was not the right forum for THAT discussion. Also, I didn’t want to come across as THAT mother who thinks their kid is a genius when really he is just a normal Joe Bloggs. So I just said ‘yes, we’ll need to discuss that one!”
So here’s my thing. If I had any doubt that Liam was not ready, I wouldn’t push him. If I felt that he wasn’t emotionally ready or that he would struggle to adjust, or that he needed another year repeating the same work to build him up – rather than make him bored – then I would gladly let him do Grade R twice. But WHY would I hold my kid back, IF he was capable? Also, I don’t like confrontation – I’m nervous about the conversation that I obviously need to have with the principal considering I will need a letter from her motivating why we want Liam to be considered for Grade R in the new school. And on TOP of that I want him to do Grade R in the “big”school I have chosen, rather than stay at his current school, because I’d prefer for him to move into Grade 1 with his new little friends who he would meet in Grade R, rather than starting him in Grade 1 and be the newbie without any friends while the rest of the class have all moved up together. So besides needing the motivation letter from Principal, I also need to hand in Liam’s resignation even though I know her school offers an excellent Grade R programme! Not sure she is going to like that very much!
Lastly at the back of my mind is the fact that if I held Liam back, then he and Hannah would be in the same grade and I can’t say that that bodes well with me. And I don’t want to hold HER back because of it. But even still, if I didn’t think Liam was ready, I wouldn’t insist EVEN if it meant they would be in the same grade. Just to be clear. My sister is a Grade 1 teacher, while she thinks that Liam, of course, is a genius because he is family, I actually want her to do a real assessment for me, an impartial assessment and that will be the deciding factor.
Anyway, what do you think? What’s your take on kids starting big school in the year they turn 6, versus the year they turn 7? Anyone have kids who started school earlier than 7 years of age?