When should children start school?

16 September 2015

Dear Friend,

I've read a lot of posts recently about kids starting school, some asking when is the best time for children to start, some saying 4 is too young to start, some saying their child was ready. In fact my lovely blogging buddy Natalie over at Confessions of a Crummy Mummy gave an interview on this morning about this exact subject. The too much too soon campaign hit the headlines in September with a series of experts recommending children in the UK do not start formal learning until the age of 7.

I am in awe of the mums who came out fighting to support their children. Those who knew their kids were not ready yet and went to great extremes to prove this and delay their school start. I am also in awe of those mums who put their own anxieties to the side to help prepare their little ones to start school because they knew that they were ready. The thing is as a mum a teacher and an Expat, I have the ability to look at this argument from a different, rather unique perspective. 

In Holland children also begin at 4 but are not legally obliged to attend until age 5. What did we choose, to start at age 4 or age 5? Both boys started school at the age of 4, one in September as his birthday was in the summer holiday and one in March. As school is not compulsory, if they were really tired I could keep them at home for the afternoon. But I must admit, I didn't take advantage of this flexibility, opting instead for the structure and all kids are free Wednesday afternoons and Friday afternoons up until group 5 anyway. The first 2/3 years in Dutch education are dedicated to learning through play, developing motor skills, acquiring language and building vocabulary.

I strongly believe that the Dutch have got this right because they are setting their kids up to be a success. Dutch kids are given time to settle into school and feel safe and secure so that they are ready to learn. All the leg work has been put in place, developing motor skills, playing with words, breaking words down into sounds, blending sounds, listening to stories, talking, talking, talking... Of course it helps that Dutch is very phonetic (unlike English). But children are not being pushed to begin formal learning too early.

The Dutch are not alone many European countries do not begin formal education until later and have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being.

The Dutch system also enables children who are struggling to repeat a year. Whilst I believe this is extremely difficult for older children who can have problems adapting to a new social group, for young children this can be very beneficial. It can be very difficult for young children who are constantly struggling to keep up with the main class. As a teacher I have lost count of the number of times an early years colleague has said; s/he could do with another year in Reception.

We are a few weeks into the school year and the little man has started in group 3 (he is 6 years and 7 months) this year he will learn to read and write... He was nervous about going back to school and kept saying but mummy I can't read. His worries and mine have been totally unfounded. The speed at which he is learning is unbelievable and he is super interested too, he reads everything; posters, signs, bottle labels, subtitles. It is amazing! How is he learning so fast? He was ready!!!

Parents should have more input into when their child begins school, after all, they are the ones who know them best. I have read parents accounts of their children being labelled as failures or underachievers at the age of 4. 
How can a child be a failure at 4? 
Surely, it is not the child that is the failure, it is the system. Aren't we putting too much pressure on kids, parents and teachers? Shouldn't we be listening to the experts? 

There should be more flexibility. Otherwise we are just attempting to squeeze children into an antiquated system instead of adapting or improving our system to suit the children? 

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Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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