Slowing a little boy’s journey to ‘big’ school

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“I stood my ground. Call it mother’s instinct or just receiving the right information about not rushing the school years if you have any doubts about your child’s ability to thrive,” writes “Mummy” columnist KATE MEIKLE on her decision to hold her five-year-old back a year from school.  

THIS past year year, we decided to “hold” our son back. In a go-go world where everyone needs to be moving forward, it felt out of step to make the decision that our five-year-old boy needed an extra year of being a preschooler before stepping into the primary school system. 

We got plenty of comments before committing to sending him to preschool rather than kindergarten at the beginning of the year. 

“But he’s smart!” grandparents would exclaim, my friends questioned if he would be able to adjust to playing with the children in his class if he was that much older than the rest of them. All valid concerns and observations. 

But I stood my ground. Call it mother’s instinct or just receiving the right information about not rushing the school years if you have any doubts about your child’s ability to thrive. 

Our son has had a magical year at preschool. Turns out you can barely tell he’s the oldest kid there, and there are some other boys close to his age there as well. 

But for my boy, the difference between his social skills from last year is the biggest change. He’s much more interested in forming friendships, listening and focusing when the teacher is speaking and answering questions. Although it’s not his favourite thing to do, he’s picking up a pencil and slowly getting there with writing. He’ll be in a good place to start school, but by no means any better than his peers. 

The research says that boys tend to perform better at school when they start a year later. Steve Biddulph, author of “Raising Boys” writes a lot on this subject. In Biddulph’s best-selling book he wrote: “The slower development of boys’ fine-motor skills, and their cognitive skills generally, suggests they would benefit by starting school later – and so move through school a year after girls of the same age.” 

I’ve seen this play out with pen work, and comparing my son’s writing and drawing to his girl friends’ efforts, they are streets apart with their control over the pen and their general interest in colouring and drawing. Even his three-year-old sister instinctively holds her pencil correctly. 

And, yes, “holding back” is an option available to families who are able to afford another (more) expensive year of childcare, and/or manage to do drop off and pick ups from public preschools at 9am and 3pm each day, as before and after-school care is not an option at preschool. 

The extra year does mean more complexity and cost. Thankfully, in my case we have utilised the help of retired grandparents and playdates with my son’s friend after school. If we hadn’t moved to Canberra one year ago, it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s been worth it from our experience. 

As for my “boss baby” daughter, well she’s ready for preschool already! Goes to show they are all different. 

We are finishing our preschool year on a happy note and the prospect of “big” school next year is an exciting rather than daunting one for us all. If other parents have any doubts about their child’s school readiness, I recommend giving them that extra year. Take the pressure off and give them the time and support to take those important steps towards the “big school” gates. You won’t regret it. 

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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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