Is your kid ready for big school?


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?

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14 thoughts on “Is your kid ready for big school?”

  1. If the child is age-right, and if the school accepts him, the teacher must change her teaching style to accommodate the child! All children can be taught! I sent my son in the earlier group, and he has done fantastically well! I’m so glad I didn’t hold him back! You know your son better than anyone else. I believe you’ll make the best decision!

  2. Ok, here’s my opinion (which I know is not what you want to hear but it comes from experience) – A is an early January baby, she was tested at her school and declared school ready for the year she would have turned 6. We considered many options, and at the end decided not to send her. In stead we sent her to the “Big school’s” grade R where she thrived. She went to school last year and turned 7 just before the school started. I am so totally happy we did this – she excells! Keep in mind that it is these days more often done to send a kid later than earlier – several kids in her year turned 7 the October to December before they came to grade 1 – by no means is she the oldest. Some kids may then be more than a year older than yours in grade 1(We are already keeping L back to do this with him – C is going at the moment in his “normal” age group – they are late September, full term October babies).

    Also keep in mind that grade R is from next year part of the formal Primary school’s foundation phase and not pre-school any more. I can see with C (their school did it this year already) that the pase is fast. Grade 1 is a huge adaption to make and the pressure is incredible. It is terrible to keep a child back later in life (then they really are with none of their friends )- much easier to send him on in the year he falls in , whatever the government says about the July policy. It is still what is followed by most parents and schools. Also make sure what the school’s parent to student “real” ratio is – in other words how many kids in front of any teacher in the class. We have a max of 25 which is excellent and means a teacher can help a kid that struggles. If it is anythign close to the “standard” 37 I would not even considered sending my kids early.

    Another thing to remember is sport – sport teams work in “under” groups – so under 7 falls into the group that turns 7 in a specific year. So he will be in a team younger than most his class mates and will have to do sport with a grade lower than him – does not make for great social integration at school – I fear this with L that we are holding back. I have seen with A that most friendships are made out of class in extra mural activities.

    Maybe, send him to grade R where he is now, and then redo grade R at the big school – he will be in a new school and make new friends there- it will not feal as he is repeating a year – it is exactly what we did with A.and she was fine with it. (She is one of the top academic achievers in her grade).

    I am not sure what the gap is between your two, and when Hannah’s birthday is, but consider her a year later too. I promise you, you will not be sorry. Let them be a kid for one more year, what’s the rush? Ultimately each child has to be sent when it’s right or them (hence my twins are in two different grades). I wish you luck with this very tough decision.

    Please read this post of mine: http://juggelingactoflife.blogspot.com/2010/11/on-decisions-made-and-confirmed.html

    Just to conclude, I had many discussions with A’s teacher last year when we had to decide for L. She said that most boys specifically, when having a birthday late in the year they turn 7 in grade 1, struggle through their primary school years, where going to school a year later would have them flying through school.

    Good luck! (and sorry about the book)

  3. DO NOT DO IT!!!!! Kiara was in exactly the same situation – she had been with a class of kids older than her for over 2 years. She was coping – emotionally and work wise. She did 2 school readiness tests – passed them both. Her psych said – move her up. Her teacher said move her up. My mom (a teacher for 30 years) said move her up.

    So I moved her!

    Grade 1 was ok – not great but ok. Grade 2 the wheels started falling off. We are now in Gr 4 and when she gets 50% we throw a party!!!!! There is a very strong possibility we are going to have to repeat her this year.

    YES she has some visual issues BUT the assessments we have done with the visual therapist and educational psychologist have all said she is emotionally immature which compounds things. YES she has friends in her grade and appears to cope fine with them but it is only when I chat to other moms or really watch their interactions that I can see she isn’t on their level.

    Cameron repeated Gr R and he is an A student. I can’t say for certain that it would have worked out differently but it is the only thing I did differently.

    Also I have a few friends whose kids started early – based on their birthdays and all of these kids struggle.

    We underestimate the difference that year makes. Your child will never catch that year up even if they do repeat at some point.

    So I would am a huge supporter of starting the year they turn 7 and doing Gr R twice if neccessary!

    Maybe this doesn’t happen to your kid, maybe he is fine and copes and it is all great but once you make that decision you can not undo it! I would rather err on the side of caution on this one while he is to young to really know!

  4. My Mother is a teacher. She has Grade 4’s. Often it is in THAT year that the emotional immaturity comes into play even if there was previously no problem with it. The jump from Grade 3 to 4 is HUGE! Based on all the stories that I hear about emotional maturity coming into play at SOME point, I would not do it. You know your kid, you WOULD know if he was ready. But ultimately you don’t know how this could play out in a few years. I am all for waiting, in fact Child2 is going to start school a year later which doesn’t necessarily suit me but at the end of the day it would be in HIS best interests to do it that way.
    I know it’s a tough one, so good luck with whatever you decide. If you DO decide to send him then I would say to keep an open mind and to explore ALL the options first. xx

  5. I didn’t know that. I was in the same situation with Lorelai this year. She started school earlier and if I kept her in the class that she was then she would also have to do Grade R twice. I made the decision to keep her behind as I didn’t want her to do grade R twice. Good luck with your decision.

  6. SA must be one of the few countries that have this rule. Where I’m from kids start grade 1 or primary 1 as it is called at 5 and in many cases skip the 6th year, so by the time they start high school (which is grade 7) they are between 10 and 11!!!! And all my 3 siblings and I were a product of this. Looking back it worked well fo 2 of us and for the other 2, it might have been better to keep them back for a year. What I’m trying to say is one cap does not fit all and you have to make the decision as you know your child, but trust the teacher’s opinion also and pls don’t just base the decision on the fact that he must be a certain age or the other!!! Like we all know age aint nothing but a number, maturity is very key. Good luck with the decision making xxx

  7. Thanks guys, for your comments. Very valid and compelling cases you make! It is a tough decision, and one I need to pray about. Will do a follow up post when I’ve come to some more thorough conclusions!!! xx

    1. Good luck my friend – one thing I did forget to mention yesterday is bullying – no matter how good your school is there is always soem fo that going around. If another child was kept back and yours sent early they could be one and a half years older than yours and this does leave the window that yours will physically and mentally be the weakest and be bullied.

      Praying for peace in your heart.

  8. I starred this post last week so I could think about it and comment nicely 🙂

    I am an early child and while I totally excelled academically, socially was not so great.

    I just love Cat’s comment – she said everything I would want to say and based on real, current (not 30-year-old) experiences.

    Can’t wait for your follow-up post!!!

    PS you’re on my list to meet up with this year – you keen?

  9. I am mama to 4 grown daughters. And ALL my kids started school at 5 going on 6. Not one of them had emotionally unready-for-school issues. Enrol Liam when you feel he is ready. All the best meaning measurements and people in the world do not know your child like you do.
    Gogo Yvette

  10. This is the question I have been bothered me and still is. I have had kids who sail through school. Excelling in high school them failing hopelessly at University and then opting to rather take a year off studies. I personally feel that because they are with older kids in school, they are keep up and even grow up faster.
    We have a dilemma ourselves we are returning to SA from the UK and my girls according to the school I have registered them will be placed into a grade lower than the UK they are way advanced here as thry started school at 4years old. My 8year old now reads beyond her years. However she is maturing very fast and this is my worry if I put her with her age group she will be a child for longer and enjoy school. If put her forward she will have big expectations placed on her and also have to deal with homework above her level. She will also be exposed to so much more physiologically out children are growing up way to fast.
    She will complete school at 17years old instead of 18 and in the greater scheme of life does finishing school early really matter. No it doesn’t. I hope you follow your heart on this one.

  11. This is the question I have been bothered me and still is. I have had kids who sail through school. Excelling in high school them failing hopelessly at University and then opting to rather take a year off studies. I personally feel that because they are with older kids in school, they are keep up and even grow up faster.
    We have a dilemma ourselves we are returning to SA from the UK and my girls according to the school I have registered them will be placed into a grade lower than the UK they are way advanced here as they started school at 4years old. My 8year old now reads beyond her years. However she is maturing very fast and this is my worry if I put her with her age group she will be a child for longer and enjoy school. If put her forward she will have big expectations placed on her and also have to deal with homework above her level. She will also be exposed to so much more physiologically our children are growing up way to fast.
    She will complete school at 17years old instead of 18 and in the greater scheme of life does finishing school late really matter. No it doesnt.I hope you follow your heart on this one. My feeling says keep them back even if you feel they will keep up with their older peers in the longer run it will pay off ESP when the homework starts to pile up!!! England is one of the few countries where kids start school so young and there has been no great benefit. Where as in Germany kids start older ( the year they turn 7) and they excel.

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