Do I let her start school at 5 years old?

Lately I’ve been feeling a little torn. Emma turns 5 this summer and with that we had just assumed that she would be starting school. Back in The Netherlands, children are allowed to start school at age 4 (in what can best be compared to pre-k) and almost all kids do. It took Emma a little getting used to when she wasn’t able to start school when she turned 4 – as she had seen all the other kids she knew start at 4, when we still lived in The NL. We had to explain to her that this too is different in America, like so many things, and that here she would be able to start school when she turns 5. She’s already super excited to start school in the fall. Especially as she isn’t going to preschool.

And then… I recently read a lengthy blog post by one of the moms I follow on social media, about why she and her husband are holding their kids back one year. The points she made really struck a cord in me. I won’t go into too many details on what she wrote. ( I will link to her blog post at the bottom of this post, should you want to read it.) Suffice it to say, kindergarten isn’t what it used to be. A lot of the standards for kindergarten today are what used to be the standards for first grade and are not developmentally appropriate for all 5 year olds. Some kids will no doubt reach those standards without having to put in extra effort. And some will struggle, as their brains just aren’t there yet. I did my research on the rules, regulations and standards for our state and I cannot even begin to explain how shocked I was. I used to teach 16/17/18+ year olds and some of the social-emotional goals that are set for Kindergartners are goals we used to set for students completing their education with us. No exaggeration there. I am dead serious. Before I got my bachelors degree in education, I got my first bachelors degree in pedagogics (a specific area of social work). A big big part of that degree was learning all about lifespan development and being able to help set developmentally appropriate and achievable goals for clients, while also being able to spot deviant development and to help those clients construct goals and plans for both short and long term improvement. What I read as far as the standards for kindergartners goes, freaked me out. Do I really want to put my newly (!) 5 year old in an environment where she is asked to achieve goals that might not be appropriate for her yet? It hurts my heart to think about what this could potentially do to my sweet daughter’s confidence, should she be asked to achieve goals for which she isn’t ready.

Emma is a bright young child and I think she is ready for school in the sense that she is ready to branch out beyond our family unit a little. She is excited about learning, making new friends, all that good stuff. She is sweet, will stand up for her friends and has a vivid imagination. She can also be easily distracted, has yet to learn some more persistence when things don’t work out right away and can get quite frustrated. Having said that, I -like any mother- firmly believe this child can do anything she sets her mind too. She has two stubborn parents and that is both a blessing and a curse. 😉 I called my best friend, who lives in the UK, to talk about this. Her son is just a few weeks older than Emma and started school this past fall. I wanted her opinion, as she has experience with all of this. I wanted to talk to her about her son’s experiences with reading, as Emma has very little to no interest in letters (which is fine). She, in response, called over her son, got out his backpack and asked him to read a book. And he did. And I cried. He knew a lot if sight words, was sounding out the words he didn’t know… It was amazing to watch. It warmed my heart and besides the pride that I felt over MY Monkey (as he is affectionately known), it brought a sense of calm. It proved that it is very possible for a child to grow leaps and bounds in a skills to which they are new, even at the tender age of 4.

However, fact of the matter is that she is an immigrant child whose first language is not English. We have been working on exposing her to a lot of English and she even attended an English preschool before we moved to the US. And though she continues to impress me with how much English she is learning and how well she does in social settings, where Dutch is not something she can fall back on necessarily, I do worry about how this would translate to school life for her. All this has caused me to seriously consider whether I want to send Emma to school in the fall, or if I too want to hold my child back one year, to give her a little more time to integrate, develop her language skills and for her to (age appropriately) mature a little more. Should we choose to hold her back, we considered it a must to enroll her in some type of preschool, because she is ready to branch out. Keeping her at home for another year does not feel like the right path for us.

I am a worrier by nature. The way I process, is by going over all possible outcomes of any given situation in advance, so I can feel prepared and confident going into said situation. I am calm and confident when things go awry, but that usually leaves me with some self doubt and what ifs to work through afterwards. It’s just how I’m wired. I don’t always assume the worst, but I do want to make sure I have thought that possibility through as well. Also, I like control. (Type A personality, anyone?) I’ve already become much better about relinquishing control and letting go over the years. But with this particular phase, that of education… I don’t know. Perhaps it comes from being a teacher for so many years and having seen first hand how important those formative years are for the rest of one’s school career. It’s very possible that I have done all this worrying for nothing and discover in a year or so that Emma was SO ready and is thriving in school (sticking that in the uni, as my sister would say). That is the dream. It could also just be this: I loved school. Not so much the social aspect, because I was never very good at that. But learning… feeling challenged. My happiest years as far as education goes, are without a doubt when I was in college, studying pedagogics. I grew up there, I learned so much. I grew as a person and I think I really blossomed there. My hope is that my children will also love to learn. All that to say, I would hate for Emma (or Max) to start out struggling. She doesn’t have to engage in the same love affair with school as I did, but I also don’t want there to be negative associations with school. I saw up close what negative school experiences did for one of my brothers and it was heartbreaking to witness that journey. But. I cannot project my fears or worries onto my child.

So. After many conversations with my husband and with some of my best friends, Jasper and I decided that we will most likely be sending Emma to school in September. Sending Emma to a preschool isn’t something we’re able to afford right now. Honestly, if it was, I think our decision would have been different. But the bottom line for both of us, is that we each believe Emma is ready for that next step outside of the home. She has me, at home, where I can devote my time to supporting her should there be any struggles. And lastly, we have decided that -to best prepare Emma for what will be asked of her in Kindergarten- from now until September I will homeschool her. We have purchased a play based (so important!) homeschool preschool curriculum and starting Monday, I will begin following that curriculum with her. Max will also join in on the fun and that way will benefit from Emma’s journey too. And then, we will see. I am working on learning to just let go and trust. This is yet another prime example of one of those times that I have gone through all the options and possibilities. We have now chosen what feels like the right path given our options and all that is left for me to do is to accept. Side note: I also reserve the right to change my mind, should we find an amazing preschool that fits our budget, haha. But that’s parenting, right? Leaving room to be flexible, should the circumstances change. (And don’t they always?)

If you have personal experiences with what I’ve written about? Have you struggled with this or is it something that is in your future? I would love to hear about them, should you feel inclined to share. I feel sharing experiences makes us better parents. Don’t want to do so in public comments? Send me a DM on Instagram or shoot me an email!

Want to read the post by Susie at Busy Toddler that sparked this conversation? Click here. It’s an amazing perspective.

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