Should the pram face forward or backward?
Should the first solid food be pear or rice cereal?
Should I supplement with formula?
Should I tell him about the tooth fairy?
Should I leave notes in his lunch box even though he can’t read because he’s only three?
This is just a tiny fragment of the unnecessary babble I worried about when my son was young; pretty standard worries that are long forgotten when your child moves on to the next stage of development.
It’s completely natural and normal to care deeply (even worry) about things that mean a lot to us at the time, it’s hard not to fixate on some of these issues and believe they are really the most important decisions we have to make. It’s also extremely common to realise years later that actually it makes no difference at all.
Even some of the really big decisions are almost impossible to discern in later years. I challenge anyone to go into a room full of teenagers and point out who was bottle fed and who was breastfed, who was subjected to controlled crying and who co-slept with their parents until they walked out of the bed themselves. These often very important decisions have no real ramifications on the 16-year old child provided they grew up in a loving environment.
But there is one decision we are forced to make early on in our children’s lives that I am still fixating on. It’s a decision we often look at in terms of the four-year-old and very seldom in terms of the 16-year-old. And that is school starting age.
Recently The Daily Telegraph reported the kindergarten starting age could be raised to meet a new national standard. This would be done to avoid circumstances where four-year-olds share kindergarten classrooms with children as old as six.
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The proposed plan would only allow children to start school if they turn five on or before April 30, instead of July 31. While this push follows concerns from parents who worry about social and emotional gaps between kids of different ages in the same kindergarten class, which I can only imagine being harder on the teacher than anyone else, I can’t help seeing this from the vantage point of the mother of an older child.
Like any parent, the decision at what age to send our son to school was huge. We looked at our four-year-old and saw that he was small for his age, he was young (some might say immature) and needed more time to play. It seemed given that he should spend another year playing in the sandpit and making a mess before he entered formal education.
But he was so bright (no bias right?) and he seemed ready to learn. What if he got bored at preschool, what if we were potentially damaging his whole education by keeping him back a year and making him slide down the slippery dip when he could be mastering phonics?
Ultimately we decided another year of play would be the best path for him and so he entered his first year of school a month before his sixth birthday. While I was always confident with our decision I am still thinking about it and its repercussions of this now that he is 16.
There are kids in my son’s year ten class who are a full year younger than him and while they are as awesome, well adjusted, smart and successful as him they are much younger. And while this should not be an issue there is something I’ve learned about kids in year ten; they think they are big shots. It’s not so much about the age as it is the year of schooling. They are not juniors at high school and they do not have their final exams looming large just yet.
This is their year of experimentation.
They are going to parties, they are experimenting with alcohol (even though it’s not legal it doesn’t mean we should pretend it’s not happening), they’re hooking up and experimenting with their sexual identity, they’re choosing subjects to study in their final years of school. All pretty mature stuff.
And while you probably can’t actually tell the difference between the kids who are 15 and those who are about to turn 17 they are all doing the same kind of thing – not just in class and academically, but out of the class and socially.
Maybe it’s just the protective mother in me but every time he goes out to a party (potentially drinking), gets a bus to work (having to behave responsibly) spends time with his girlfriend (making serious decisions) or even just hangs at the beach with his friends – I am grateful that he has a few more months of maturity over some of his friends.
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Now that he’s nearing the end of his schooling it’s his decisions that matter and I’m glad he’s making them at 16 going on 17 rather than at 15. Because when you’ve only been alive for 16 years every extra month counts.
All that said I can’t help thinking that I might look back at this on his 30th birthday and wonder if the age he left school really mattered at all…
Lana Hirschowitz is kind of a worrier who is trying very hard to transform into a kindness warrior. It remains a work in progress. In between worrying (and reminding people to be kind) she espouses her opinion on most things on Facebook here.