In the US (and increasingly here) they call holding children back from starting school (if the rules allow it) redshirting – based on some sporting terminology.
We had the choice for HungryBoy. He turned five in May. If your child turns five any time between the start of school (1 February) and 31 July, then in NSW you can choose whether to send them at age four, or wait another year. We chose to send him this year. Many reasons. Although he couldn’t yet read (and very few kids can, when they start school – see this research that says that 67% can recognise their letters, and 1% can understand words in context – i.e. read), we were confident he would do fine academically. He had lots of friends in his preschool class, most of whom would be going to school at the same time as he did. He was good at sitting still and listening in preschool when he needed to (if they were being read a story, for example). And he’s always played really well with older kids – he plays better with Chatterboy’s friends than Chatterboy does, at times. And I really don’t believe size should matter in this choice, but he’s slightly big for his age, so he’s probably in the middle of his current class, sizewise.
Now, nearing the end of term 3, it seems pretty clear that it was a good decision. He’s in the top group in his class, for reading and maths (and there are a few kids clearly better than him), he has lots of friends, and when we asked him to write a list of his favourite things, “school” was one of them (along with “letrs” and “nunbrs”).
I’ve always thought that the best place to be, academically, at school (where you will learn the most) is in the top half of the class, but not too close to the top. Because that way you will have peers that you can spark off, but you will still have confidence in your abilities. So on every measure that I can think of, what we’ve done by starting Hungry Boy at school has been the right thing for him.
But every now and again, when one of our fellow parents does something a bit competitive, I imagine what it would have been like if we’d waited another year. Judging by how he’s going now, he probably would be at the top of the class. And however much I think that he’s in the right place for him to learn the best, a small part of me wants (both for me, if I’m being honest, and for him) the experience of being top of the class.
It’s a seductive thought. Enough to make me wish that there wasn’t a choice at all.
Maybe it would be better if your date of starting school was completely rigid based on your birthday. And the kids who started too young (for their school readiness) repeated a year early on. If it worked that way there would be enough of them that it probably wouldn’t be particularly stigmatised, either.