"What age should my child start school?"
This is a common question that concerns many parents. It is complicated if your child's birthday happens to fall near a closing date for new school enrolments.
There are many factors to consider including: a child's gender, his or her general readiness and maturity and also family circumstances such as sibling proximacy.
However as a general rule I advise parents not to rush children down the academic track. It is tempting to get children off to Pre School or school at the earliest possible age, particularly if your child is socially aware and generally a bright spark.
It is a mistake to assume that an early start in any area is a good start. The Finnish experience stands out as a beacon for parents and educators all over the world. Even although Finnish education authorities have delayed the start of school until as late as seven years there appears little or no gap between educational performances at the later end of school. In fact, in terms of dropout rates and readiness for further education those kids seem streets ahead.
Currently, in many Western countries we seem to hell-bent in shaping environments for kids from the earliest possible ages to maximize learning and child development. Nothing wrong with that per se but we must keep it in perspective and remember that kids need time, space and opportunity to be kids. That means that they should not always be in an adult-structured environment or live in a childhood that is an adults' version of what a child should be. They need space and time to explore, climb, hide, balance, bounce, and use their imaginations. And adults do not have to do all that much to allow this to happen. Kids will climb and bounce on furniture, hide behind chairs and turn a living room into a space ship given half a chance and the television off.
It is tempting to underestimate the importance of parents' as a child's first early teacher. Pick up a parenting magazine and you will see all sorts of advertisements for early childhood classes ranging from movement through to music classes. Okay, there are some experiences a parent can not provide but I am unsure of the wisdom of cluttering child's early lives with music, ballet and tennis lesson and neglecting the chance of giving them a chance to daydream, explore and just muck around.
Children's basic needs do not change. The foundations of early social, physical and mental needs are laid in the first seven years – and it is through play that children develop most.
What has changed is the amount of time a child spends sitting rather than being active, the ever-shrinking age that stress can kick in and how some kids barely have time to be kids.
Providing opportunities for outside play and activity at home is important. One-to-one interaction with a parent is important to boost confidence, promote language development and teach problem solving and perseverance.
The best start for a child is to have the chance to grow up in a relaxed atmosphere with the time and space to explore its physical and social environment; to mix with his peers in a mixture of structured and unstructured environments and plenty of language and experiential rich one-on-one time with a trusted and caring adult. It sounds a lot like home!