It’s the end of July, and I am currently wrestling with my own thoughts, trying to decide whether or not to send my 3-year-old to full-day Junior Kindergarten in September.
The time to register her for school was in March. At that time, I was quite confident with my decision to keep our little one home with us for at least another year, especially since schooling of any kind is not required until Grade 1 in Ontario. Not much has changed since then, so my hesitation to keep her home may be nothing more than a case of self-doubt and peer-pressure.
I bring up this topic because all-too-often as parents, we do what our collective society expects us to do, rather than what is actually right for our unique children and families. When a stranger stops to chat at the grocery store, the decision to send our child to a public school is expected: “How old is she? Three and a half? Oh, so she starts school in September, how exciting!”
But here’s the thing, what’s expected might not be best for everyone.
Our little one was born at the end of November. Where we live in Ontario, school grade cut-offs are based on birth year – so our daughter would certainly be one of the youngest in her class. If she was to start school in September, she would still be 3.
There is research to say that the ‘youngsters’ in their respective grade often perform at a lower standard than their older classmates – and as a result, over time, develop lower self-esteem and expectations of their own abilities.
The age difference between children in the same grade is especially pronounced in Junior Kindergarten. A child born in January is approximately 4 years and 9 months old when they begin JK in September, while a child born in December of that same year is only about 3 years and 9 months in age. The January-baby has 20% more life-experience, and a full year’s development over the December-baby. That’s like comparing 8 and 10 year olds. Of course every child is different, but 3 year olds and almost-5-year-olds are definitely totally different, developmentally.
Add to this that all Kindergarten classes are split classes; meaning Junior Kindergarten students and Senior Kindergarten students are in the same classroom. I’m not sure I want my 3-year-old comparing herself to an almost-6-year old on a daily basis…
There’s also the question of why we decided full-day everyday Kindergarten was a good idea? I understand, that for many families, it’s a gift to no longer pay for expensive daycares when their children reach school age. But, we’ve done away with mandatory naps in Kindergarten, and at the same time introduced extended-day programming.
A regular primary-school day in our district runs from about 9am until 3:30pm. That’s 6.5 hours of school! Taking into account travel to-and-from school, that can equate to nearly an 8-hour day for kids. Extended-day programs can run from 7am to 6pm in some cases. That’s a long day for young children.
Anecdotally, I hear from friends and colleagues working in Kindergarten classrooms that the children hold their emotions and behaviour together very well while at school, but then promptly fall apart once their parents pick them up. I enjoy spending quality time with my child, and I worry I might miss out on that if she’s exhausted at the end of her school day.
As a society, our children tend to be over-scheduled, poorly-rested, sleep-deprived, and over-stimulated. I can’t help but feel that we’re starting the trend even earlier by expecting children under 5 to school for 6+ hours a day without a nap.
At the end of the day, I believe the universe is a balanced place, and for every con there is also a pro. I know that kids can surprise us all the time with what they’re capable of doing. I know that children of differing ages and abilities can be fantastic mentors to one another and broaden their view of the world. I know that having less transitions during the day, by being at school longer, rather than bouncing back-and-forth from home to daycare to school to daycare and home, can feel easier to manage for some children and their families.
I’ll continue weighing out the pros and cons for the next month or so until our schools re-open for the Fall. For now, I just wanted to start a conversation about doing what’s right for our child, our family, ourselves, instead of the default.
Often we run on auto-pilot and assume we don’t have choices – when we have many. Just like I don’t have to send my little one to school if we aren’t ready… you have the freedom to go against the grain many times too.
I’d love for you to share a decision you’ve made that others thought was “out there”, but it was just right for you. Let me know what it was in the comments below.