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'I regret sending my daughter to school too early'

Tom Huntley

I RECENTLY travelled to Canberra. We bravely took small children into the non-soundproofed viewing gallery of the Senate at Parliament House.

Ironically, we happened upon a debate about the starting school age for Tasmanian children. Proposed changes by the government could mean that Tasmanian children will be the youngest children in Australia to enter pre-school.

Zealous words were thrown around relating to the possibility of three-and-a-half-year olds in formal schooling.

Opinions from early childhood experts were cited. Tales were retold of desperate parents who would be tempted by financial constraints.

I was captivated. Our two-and-a-half-year-old, however, wanted to run up and down the steps and blow the tufts of hair on the person's neck in front of us.

I felt like pointing at my little wildling and saying "there is no way that in just one year from now, she would be ready for the formalities of a school setting!".

However, there was no lending her out to be a specimen for the impassioned Tasmanian senator, as I swiftly left because I couldn't control her volume. Because she is two.

As we exited, I looked over at our six-year-old. The debate had brought to the surface my own niggling guilt. She had started formal education too early.

Rewind to almost three years earlier. She was eligible for government kindergarten (what we call pre-school in South Australia), due to being within the 'cut-off' of turning four within the first four months of the year. She had a hefty vocabulary and asked me about a thousand questions a day.

But during orientation, she just cried for me.

A part of me had been happy with the timing: she was starting kindergarten when we had a newborn at home. I was happy with how it could work out.

But it didn't. Not really. She went off to kindergarten, as a three-year-old. There was not a single drop-off that she didn't run to the fence, wailing for me. There wasn't a single drop-off that I didn't feel my heart in my throat, as I saw the panic in her eyes when I announced that it was "time for Mama to go".

Panic ensued over the holiday break, before school was to start. How would she cope? I took up nail-biting again that summer.

She went off to school with her backpack that seemed almost bigger than she. There were actually no tears (from her) on the first day. To a degree, she had accepted that this new world of learning was her situation and that was that.

But to me, I saw a four-year-old. I could still vividly recall spending thirty minutes clicking her into her car-seat when leaving the hospital after she was born. And now, here she was, not even five, and she was whumped into 32.5 hours each week of formal schooling.

In many European and Scandinavian countries, the minimum starting age for school is six. Parents of children in Sweden can choose if their children commence at age six or seven. Sounds pretty good to me.

Later in the year, I took her out of school for four weeks to visit my sister in London and attend a writer's festival. The change in her was instant. Not even jetlag could stop her from wanting to run, play and learn about the world while on trains, planes and buses. She started eating more. She was less tense. She was much happier. Just as a five-year-old should be.

I felt awful. Had I listened to my intuition, we would have taken a step back and kept her home for another year before beginning pre-school.

I look at her now, and she is flourishing. If this had been only her first year in school, that beautiful brain of hers may have been subjected to much less stress.

Parents are the best judges of their individual child's capabilities. There would be children who would be mentally and emotionally ready for school at an earlier age, certainly.

But for me, conditioning our daughter for a long-hour environment and plucking her out of her rose-coloured pre-school world at three years old is a source of guilt that I can't quite get past.

This story originally appeared on Kidspot and has been republished here with permission.

Topics:  education heymumma parenting school

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