Three parents stood at the playground while their children played together in the garden. As they watched them play, their conversation turned to starting school. Discussing their plans for their children, it was easy for them to fall into the trap of comparing.
In Australia, children can start school anywhere between around four and a half years and six years, depending on the month in which they were born, and some element of parental choice. Take my own children for example. They are all born in March and April. This meant that I had the choice to send them off to school in the year that they were turning five or the year that they were turning six. For my first two children, we decided to wait until they were almost six, while the third happily strolled off to school at four years and ten months, eager to get this show on the road (although COVID soon stepped in and she ended up back at home, but that's another story!).
Why did we make different decisions for each child? Because we respected that each of our children were different - their personalities are different, their interests are different, their social skills are different. And here's where we were lucky. We didn't have any external pressure to not "hold them back".
When I was working in a preschool room, I noticed that there was quite a stigma around "holding children back" for an extra year, and I believe that it still exists. Sure, it might be human nature to compare ourselves to others, but parenting as a whole seems to have become more competitive in recent decades, and I worry that the pressure is really on parents (and subsequently, children) to "keep up".
This is why we need to change the rhetoric and the language around waiting the extra year before starting school. Now I know what you are thinking "but Nicole, you sent your child "early". Yep, I did. And I would do it again, she was ready to be there. But I have absolutely no regrets about my other two children not starting until they were almost six. Giving them that extra year in quality early education and care, was the most wonderful gift I could have done for them.
And that's exactly what it is. A GIFT.
We need to be the ones to change the language.
We need to support families to see the value in the gift of an extra year.
We need to make the learning that happens through play, visible for families.
We need to make our places so incredibly wonderous and engaging that families don't even hesitate to keep their children with us for another year.
And, we need to be the ones to advocate for better funding and better access for children and families, because it would be remiss of us not to recognise that for some families, the decision to send their child to school can also be financial one, given the burden of high child care fees.
So, I implore you - if you haven't already - start changing the language around waiting to start school. When a parent asks "do you think I should hold them back?", you can reply "I think you should give them the incredible gift of an extra year of.... " and list all of the amazing things about your service.
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