Too Cool for School

Clemmie in pink hat

{Ready for school?}

One of the interesting things about living in a different country to the one where you were born and spent your early years, is that it gives you a great platform for comparison. For instance, in my view, people in England are more tolerant and prepared to poke fun at themselves than their Swedish counterparts. On the other hand Sweden has cleaner air and more green spaces and things like public transport tend to run more efficiently. I could go on and on, but the purpose of this post is to talk about one difference between the two nations and that is how the education system works. In Sweden the school intake is determined by the calendar year a child was born in, from January onwards. As I was born in October I was one of the youngest in my year, not one of the oldest as I would have been here in the UK where the reception class intake includes all children who turn four before September 1 of that school year. However, the big difference is that I started school just before my seventh birthday, not just after my fourth birthday as my daughter is expected to do this coming September. I should point out that the system in Sweden has changed slightly since I lived there and children now start in Year 0 (equivalent to Reception) the year that they turn six (although it is not statutory schooling at this stage and parents do not have to apply for permission if they want to take their kids out of school for holidays etc)

In the last year I have had major reservations about my daughter starting school so young. With my boys it was never really an issue as they were born in late October and early November respectively and were almost five when they started in Reception. It seems almost absurd that my daughter and her cousin, who lives in Sweden and is only six months younger, will be three school years apart. As my sister’s daughter is born in January she will be six and a half when she starts school in 2017, the same year that Clemmie moves up to year 3 at the Junior School, having already completed three years at infant school!

Despite being a third child, Clemmie seems younger than her brothers did at the same age. Careful and shy until she gets to know people, she finds new situations like birthday parties incredibly daunting, preferring to sit close to me rather than joining in. On a more personal level, I really feel like I am making great headway in bringing her up to be bilingual and I know that as soon as she starts school, English will start to take over as she will be expected to ‘read’ books and do homework pretty much from the start.

I have looked into other options, such as enrolling her at the American school that I went to as their formal education starts later, but with two other school age children, logistically speaking it is just not possible. In Ireland, parents of children born between May-August can decide if they want their child to start school just after their fourth or fifth birthday. It seems that England is slowly moving in the same direction and after reading this article on the BBC News site I thought it was worth asking about the possibility of deferring Clemmie’s school place for another year. This afternoon I met with the head teacher at the local school and spoke to her about my concerns. She has promised to check the rules for deferment requests with the council and get back to me next week. I know it is only a very slim possibility but if there is any way that I can keep her in preschool and at home with me for a year longer I will definitely take it.

Part of me does wonder if I only feel like this because I know that, for us, living in another country with a different approach to early years education is not a far-flung fantasy but an option that we could easily have chosen. The majority of the people around me seem pretty happy to accept the status quo but whether that is because they are actually happy about it or because they have never been presented with any other viable alternatives is another question.

29 thoughts on “Too Cool for School

  1. Very interesting post. I would also have my reservations, considering your making great progress teaching her a second language at home. It seems very archaic to have the school system force a child into Kindergarten at only 4 years old. I hope you get a favourable response soon!

  2. I am with you on this. I kept my children at home until they were 5 and my youngest went to school when she was almost six. She is thriving and will go on to go to university just like the other children some day. My attitude is “what is the rush?” As I always say, things changed the day they replaced the word “play school” for “pre school”.
    I live in Ireland but I think the British are gone mad as regards young children being expected to sit and learn and the number of hours they go to school. Here in Ireland they go to school from 9 to 1.30 for two years and then until 2.30 for the next six years. The funny thing is that in Britain no one seems to mind kids leaving education at 16!
    You are right to be concerned. Best of luck to your little one.

    • I know, it is absolutely ridiculous. I am absolutely certain that when they get to 18 my daughter will not have any advantage over her cousin for having started school three years earlier. Here they are expected to do full days right from the start as well – 9am-3pm which is a lot for a (just) four year old. X

      • Oh my goodness that is a very long day. My 12 year old still doesn’t do hours like that.
        However maybe it is very child friendly with lots of play and stories.

      • Yes it is a long day and while I think it is fairly play based at the start it is still proper school and I know from my previous experience with my older children that they start with the reading and homework very early on. You would be surprised though – some people over here think kids should start formal education at the age of two. Lunacy if you ask me! X

  3. In Canada (at least Ontario) children start JK (junior kindergarten) in the calendar they turn four. Since school starts in September many children are still 3. I was one of those children and so was my first born. My eldest ended up doing fine in the half-day program, but I am concerned about my youngest (turning 4 at the very end of the summer, just before the first day of school). This September the kindergarten in our district will move from a half day model to a full day model with approximately 35 children per class, 1 teacher and 1 assistant. This makes me cringe! My youngest is far more “busy”, not as academically inclined as his brothers (read: he can’t sit still), loves to play and will get silly at any invitation. Basically he is a three year-old boy. My husband and I have agonized over this decision for quite some time and have decided to enrol him in a private school that is only half-day, has 10 children per class and is more focused on child-centred learning. There are so many factors that we considered but ultimately I just feel like this is the best for my child. I have caught several “looks” from other parents/teachers/principals who think that I am over analyzing and crazy for giving up a full-day where my child will be at school, but it just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think it’s the best fit for him. Trust your gut – you’re her mother and know her better than anyone 🙂

    Boy, kids are stressful, no?

    • Sorry for the late reply – for some reason your comment ended up in my ‘spam’ box, no idea why. I just found it and rescued. I am so with you in everything you say and you are definitely doing the right thing. It is a bit like that here as well, I’m sure half the people think I’m crazy for trying to hold my daughter back a year. The majority want their four year olds to do full school days from the start as it is free child care. I would happily choose another school like the American one that I went to, but logistically it is difficult as I need to be able to drop the boys in the mornings and I don’t want them to suffer or feel like I’m not there for them. I would be so happy with the kind of school that you’re talking about but the British private schools seem to have even longer days than the state schools so that’s not an answer either.
      So yes I’m with you – stressful indeed! xxx

  4. Your daughter is adorable. Are you allowed to home school where you are? The first year or two are really easy to do. My kids and I only needed to spend an hour or two doing formal work each day during the first couple of years.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  5. Wow, three years does seem like a pretty huge age difference – particularly at that age. I’m sure she’ll be fine though, and maybe her older brothers will be willing to offer a little bit of advice. 🙂

    But thanks for sharing! I definitely learned something new today.

    • Thank you. Yes I agree, she will be fine in the long run. It just irks me that she is expected to start school so early when all the research shows that a later school start is actually better for the children, X

  6. I would be nervous as well if my youngest was about to start school. She will be 4 in June and will have another year of preschool.
    I’m sure Clemmie would blossom whichever way she has to go, but I hope it works out the way you would like and that you get to make the decision.

    • Me too. It’s a long shot but I finally managed to get hold of someone in school admissions yesterday who told me that yes, I can apply to have her place deferred for a year. I’m also going to look at the American school that I went to on Tuesday where she could start Pre-K in September. Unfortunately it is expensive and not altogether practical with the boys at a different school. We will see, it might come to nothing but I feel that I owe it to her to try. xxx

  7. Starting school is definitely something that makes you consider your options. I do agree we wouldn’t have thought so hard if we ‘d just lived our lives in the one place. Options are good but they do increase the workload when it comes to making choices.

    As it stands, I’m happy enough with the education system here (and both kids are in the top half of their age bracket – the opposite to what they’d be in Australia). Hope your youngest does just as well as her brothers.

  8. You get the choice if they are a Jan or Feb birthday to send them at 4.5 or 5.5 yrs, as from 1st March there is no choice, so spring babies will be 5.5 yrs when they go!

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