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“The hardest decision I ever had to make for my child turned out to be the very best one I ever did.”

Only About Children
Thanks to our brand partner, Only About Children

This time last year I was in a quandary.

My daughter, Emme, had just turned four. She was lively and creative and funny and vibrant. She was thriving in her pre-school program alongside all her friends. She could climb a tree and kick a ball and pretend to be Queen Elsa of Arendelle almost all at once.

But while she was happy and settled, I was in a state of turmoil about what (at the time) was one of the biggest parenting decisions I had yet to face.

Emme has one of “those” birthdays, you see.

If you have a child with a similar birthday you’d know what I mean. That grey area where she could go to school the following year, or she could wait.

Each year thousands of parents with children born in the first six (or four depending on where you live) months of the year face a similar decision throughout Australia: should she start school next year at four and a half, or should she wait till she was five and a half?

Shauna and her daughter Emme. Images: supplied.

We’d never faced such a decision before. It was one that felt monumental, almost too big for just us. We were just Emme’s parents, after all.

Together we went back and forth, over and over. I looked at statistics and research. I studied school systems around the world and in Australia. I consulted friends and Facebook and strangers on the street and I found that while everyone had an opinion, no one had an answer.

“Oh she has two big brothers, she will be ready.”

“There is no harm in waiting and spending that extra year with them.”

“You can always repeat them”.

I was told if I held her back it would be “unfair” that other children, of a similar age who went would be at a disadvantage.

I was told I would be crazy to send her so young.

It was tough.

On one hand, she went to an amazing early learning centre with a dedicated school readiness program. She was starting to learn letter and number recognition, science and maths concepts, technology skills and social competence.

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Emme at preschool, where she undertakes a school readiness program. Image: supplied.

On the other hand, she was still socially immature and reluctant to leave me.

I debated the fact that many of her friends, some even born just weeks apart from her were going to school that year, and I looked at her medical history and eyesight problems that saw her wear a patch for several hours a day, and wondered whether just one more year might really be the best way to go.

I even asked Emme what she wanted to, but she just told me she would only go to school if “Elsa” was there too. Not much help there.

In the end, three main factors helped the decision along.

The first was advice from her eye specialist, who suggested that with another year under her belt her vision might be better for starting school.

The second was the advice of the educators at her early education center. They were the ones teaching her school readiness program and knew the most about how she was doing.

And the third reason was me. I just wanted one more year with my little girl and one more year to let her learn and develop through play.

Twelve months on, and I am now confident it’s the best decision we ever made.

My once shy, anxious little girl is now more confident. She is excited about starting school next year. She has made a whole heap of new friends at preschool and still sees the old ones who went off to “big school” without her around the neighbourhood.

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"She has made a whole heap of new friends at preschool." Image: Provided by Only About Children.

She isn’t bored or under-stimulated as she learns every day at preschool, through a dedicated school readiness program that introduces important concepts like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and self-care skills. And I know she is supported by her educators who are aware of her social and emotional development too.

It’s hard to advise other parents going through this turmoil, because what is right for one child isn’t necessarily right for another.  What I would suggest is to make sure your child is enrolled in a preschool or kindergarten like Only About Children, which offers a specialised school-readiness program run by a tertiary educated teacher, as well as support by an in house allied health specialists of Occupational Therapists, Speech, Hearing and Vision Specialists who provide each child with ongoing School Readiness Screenings. That way, you can feel confident that in the year before they start school they will have the very best possible opportunities they can.

I’ve got six more months with my daughter before she heads off on her big adventure, and I know that I’ll be excited for her rather than nervous and apprehensive that we’d made the wrong decision.

Now I just have to break it to her that Elsa won’t be leaving her ice castle to sit next to her at big school. Once that news has sunk in, the world awaits her.

What was your decision in deciding when your child was ready for school?

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