Monday, May 27 2024 - 4:33 PM
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When to Start School

Just because children typically start school or kindergarten at five or six years of age, and first grade at six or seven, doesn’t mean that all children that age are ready for a more formal school experience away from home.

During the first seven years, the best “school” environment is where children have a wide variety of hands-on practical experiences inside and outdoors; they are free to move about, express themselves, establish positive friendships with others, and progress in academic skills at their own rate. A school program, however, is only as good as the teacher. Far too many formal school programs still try to fit children into the established kindergarten and first-grade curriculum rather than fit the curriculum to individual children. That’s why the homeschool option is so attractive in the early years.

The First Seven Years

During the first seven years, a child’s development is so rapid that even a month or two can make a significant difference in whether a child will be successful in a formal school program or not. When children start too early and are not ready to meet the academic, social, physical, and emotional challenges of school, it can affect all aspects of their lives. For example:

  • There is a greater chance the child will feel like a failure and even repeat a grade. This is very traumatic, for not only do they have to deal with failure, but they also lose their friends who advance to the next grade.
  • When children dislike school early, it often carries over into later years, and children drop out.
  • Health and physical development can be compromised. When a child may need more physical activity to develop optimally, the child is required to sit and listen. Many of these children exhibit hyperactivity or attention deficit. They are labeled with learning disabilities when what they really need, instead of medication, is large motor activities and freedom to explore.
  • When eye development is not mature, eyes can be strained when spending long periods of time reading small print. This can cause vision problems that could have been avoided if the eyes would have matured before reading.
  • When bright children start school early before physically ready, they often “burn out” after three or four years and end up getting average grades.
  • When children are passed on to the next grade without mastering learning tasks, they don’t always master the next grade tasks, resulting in gaps in their learning.
  • Children who are not socially mature and haven’t learned how to make friends often get teased in a school setting and find adjustment very difficult.
  • Often less mature children have difficulty communicating their needs and controlling their emotions.
  • When immature children begin school, they can be easily influenced by peers who don’t have the same moral values. This can lead to the clash of values between parent and child. This can happen at an age when children should accept their parents as loving authorities.
  • When immature children are pressured to learn, it results in tension, emotional instability, and unfavorable school attitudes.
  • Forcing children to start school when they aren’t ready and don’t want to go can cause them to feel rejected and insecure.

Can children start school too late?

As long as school programs remain graded with similar age children being advanced together each year, it is important that your child feels developmentally comfortable with the children in his or her class. Here are some options you might consider if your child is held back a year or two:

Option 1: Skip a grade when developmentally ready. If a child is held back because she isn’t ready to settle down and read and then is started in first grade at an older age, she will likely feel out of place socially and physically if she were to continue with younger classmates. Once maturity catches up, a child should be allowed to skip a grade to catch up with peers. During the summer, if your child is motivated, you can help her cover the basic skills she would have learned in the skipped grade.

Children who may have felt out of place and bored with younger children usually blossom when they are advanced to a level where they are stimulated with learning opportunities and have friends who are at the same developmental level.

Option 2: Homeschool until your child’s development catches up with other children his age, and he will have an easy adjustment to school. Have him establish friendships with one or two children in the class where he will someday attend. It will make his future transition to school easier.

Option 3: Consider a two-week trial period. If you have questions about whether your child is ready, have her attend for a two-week trial period. Be sure to explain that it’s just a trial to see if she likes the program. If not, you will find a better school for her. (Sometimes, it only takes a day or so to see that it’s not going to work.) If your child has settled in, has found friends after two weeks, and is eager to learn, great! If not, wait a year.

Here’s a principle to remember: Better to start late than too early—but better to advance than be bored!

Ten Things I Want When I Send My Children to School

I want my children to. . .

1. Have a love for learning and be eager to search out answers for themselves.

2. Be challenged with interesting, practical, and meaningful activities and projects.

3. Think they are smart enough and have the skills necessary to tackle new learning opportunities and be successful.

4. Feel a sense of belonging in their school by finding close friends and by feeling the teacher thinks they are special.

5. Have greater respect and appreciation for individual differences in other children, teachers, parents, and other authority figures.

6. Find good peer and teacher models for the development of positive character traits.

7. Be encouraged to develop physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as mentally.

8. Have a better understanding of God’s grace and grow to love Jesus.

9. Develop skills in a wide variety of extra-curricular learning experiences, such as art, music, physical education, and outdoor educational opportunities.

10. Be more responsible, helpful, and caring at home.

Six Things I Don’t Want to Happen to My Child at School

I don’t want . . .

1. My children to feel they are dumb and fear failure.

2. Peers who tease, ridicule, or reject my children.

3. Teachers who create a spirit of competition among children to motivate them to do their school work.

4. My children to pick up negative character traits.

5. My children exposed to violence, New Age concepts, sexually explicit materials, bad language, and deviant lifestyles.

6. My children to develop school phobia or signs of stress.

If you liked this, you might also like Knowing Names 

Written by Kay Kuzma.

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About Kay Kuzma Ed.D.

Kay Kuzma Ed.D.

is a well-known child development specialist and is president of Family Matters Ministry in LaFollette, TN. Published with permission.

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