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When should children start schooling?

Something that often comes up for discussion in many forums and groups in UAE, is the right age for children to start nursery. This Gulf News carried an opinion piece which showed the responses of many people - some gave very specific ages (3.8?), while others said, 'the earlier, the better'.

What's the right age to start school?
Pic source: Phaitoon/freedigitalphotos.net

For me, schools are educational institutions. Except for the very few, they have specific curriculum and standardised activities for their students. That is why, I have always had doubts about early schooling. Up to three years of age, babies and toddlers are processing huge amounts of information. They are grasping movement, language and understanding the world around them. They are curious about every little thing and go about exploring their environment with scientific precision. Toddlers, especially, will cry to be let free when they see something that excites them. Unless playschools and nurseries can nurture that enthusiasm, they are only going to restrict the creativity lurking inside.

Can't learning be about forming ideas based on kids' own experiences?Let's look at the concept of 'learning' itself. Should it be about forming ideas based on their own experiences, or teaching them to say or do what you want them to? This doesn't mean that children don't need to learn the alphabet or numbers, but what about, say, nursery rhymes? Why should we insist on teaching them those antiquated poems that serve no purpose? I think it is important to give young children some time to explore and decide what they would like to learn. Once they start kindergarten, they will be forever sucked into the world of numbers and letters anyway.

My own experience of school brings forward its limitations. I started at age five, a year later than most, but I was allowed to skip a class and join my peers. I had no problem adjusting and was good at studies. Though my school years were great, I always felt stifled by the system. In the Indian education system, at least, the focus is on academic excellence with no room for individual growth. We are carbon copies of each other. I remember yearning to read more stories, but the library time was either fixed or limited. I didn't want to draw what the teacher told us to, but I couldn't do anything else. I was horrible at sports, but I was forced to participate in the customary  physical 'tests'. That is why my conclusion is that children should be allowed to be free for as long as possible before they begin formal education.

Kids don't show a preference for peers until after age three.I never went to nursery, and don't intend to send Little Dude either. He's already learning so much at home, and I have no doubt he'll by able to clear admission tests for kindergarten when it's time. Which brings me to something that is touted as important for toddlers - socialising. Here again, my views are a little unconventional (that's why I wrote this guest post about social lives of babies). Toddlers and preschoolers are part of our society, aren't they? They interact with our family, friends and neighbours all the time. In fact, they don't even show a preference for interacting with their peers until after age three. Playdates are fine, but not something I prioritise. I allow Little Dude to talk, play and learn at his own pace. When he starts school, he will build friendships, and he will learn to interact in a classroom environment. Children are quick at adapting to new situations.

There are quite a few moms I know who sent their kids to playschool or nursery around age two. Maybe their children were ready. I understand moms who work prefer this to having their kids stay with the maids all day, and that makes sense. There are moms who just cannot give all their kids equal time to teach them, so that is a valid reason too. I just think that no one should feel that they have to start formal education for their children before they are ready, unless their kids stand to benefit from it more than they would at home.

I'd love to hear your opinions - did you/do you plan to start school early or later for your kids?

This post has been linked to Post Comment Love and The Sunday Parenting Party.

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21 comments

VidaMarie said...

Our family made the decision to put our daughter in a half-day preschool program when she was 2.5. We wanted her to have more structure and to socialize with kids her age on a consistent basis. She has flourished, so it was great decision for us.

Tarana Khan said...

Good to know, I'll probably revisit this question in 6-7 months!

Cristina Ramirez said...

I also started my kids at school part time when they were 2 or 2.5. Mostly because I needed some time to work, and they would get to socialize and do play with other kids. They weren't "learning to read and write" but they were learning social skills and how to adapt to a world bigger then themselves. Much more valuable.

Tarana Khan said...

Thanks for sharing that, Cristina. I'm so glad that your kids adapted so well to school!

Bismah Abdelgawad said...

I have a 17 month old at home. I don't think I will be ready to send him to school for a few more years. I am not working either so I have lots of spare time.
For those moms who it do work out for I am happy for you :)

Tarana Khan said...

That's true, it doesn't work out for everyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Alexandra Mercer said...

I've taught three to five year old children in school and I don't feel it was best for them to be in school at such a young age. My experience of working in schools coupled with the knowledge I gained when completing my child development degree led me to the decision to home educate my children. I now home educate five of my six children. #PoCoLo

Loubelle said...

A very interesting post. My youngest is 3 in January but I have not taken up the free nursery place she is allowed. I don't think at this age she will benefit from being away from home for 3 hours a day since she is already learning so much at home. She will begin her formal nursery education next September.
I'd rather they started reception a year later as well or have the option of delaying for a year. My son was the youngest in his year (August birthday) and would really have benefited from another year at home to mature. On the other hand my eldest daugther is a September birthday and was ready to start and has thrived.

Tas D said...

Little Z is a late leaver here in that his birthday is after September so he'll be a much older 4 than a lot of the other children. This suits me fine. If it were up to me I wouldn't send him till he was 5 or 6 :). I'm only going to send him 2 or 3 mornings to nursery too. He learns so much at home and this precious childhood is flying by so quickly.

Tarana Khan said...

That's admirable, Alexandra. I wish I could do the same, but they don't recognise homeschooling back home, at least not yet.

Victoria Welton said...

Grace started nursery just after she was 2 for 2 days a week. I think it eased her nerves of going places without me and to an extent I think it was easier when she started school as a result. I do think part-time - a couple of days - is fine early on but not too much too soon! A really interesting post. Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

Tarana Khan said...

Thanks for sharing that. I'll be in the same situation as you, since my son is born in October. I'll have the benefit of putting him in school a year later, when I think he'll be ready.

Tarana Khan said...

I agree with you, Tas. If it was up to me, I wouldn't send him to school by 6!

Tarana Khan said...

Thanks for sharing that, Victoria. As I said, every child is different, and some at more outgoing than others. Glad to hear nursery worked out for Grace!

Jaime Oliver said...

my personal opinion is full time schooling should not be until they are 5 :-) x

Mummy Tries said...

This is a really good post. Unfortunately some folk don't have an option as have to work. We made the decision for me to go back two days a week after starting a family, and both our girls have gone to nursery for those two days from just under one. It wouldn't be my first choice, but we need to extra £££...

Tarana Khan said...

That's true, it's only parents who stay at home who really have this decision to make. For working moms, it goes without saying that their kids are better off in the company of other carers than with a nanny at home.

Orli D said...

It's a very important subject, and I guess it's individual for every child and mum. I think we all have a firm opinion about this subject, and though I did not choose to go the same route as you, I can see the point in what you are saying, and totally agree with it. I had a different set of things to take into consideration, and chose to send my boys to nursery for half days. I think it's about finding the right school for the child. My eldest's reception class was very much proper-school-oriented, while my youngest's reception is very much play-oriented.
I think in the end of the day, it's your needs, your child's needs, what you can (or willing) to give him at home (we, for example, are very bad at messy-play here and wanted the kids to still be able to do that, and we needed them exposed to English, which is not the language we speak at home), and what the school can provide...
I hate making decisions :) But I loved your post!

RACHEL TaoOfPoop said...

For some reason, I completely missed this post, Tarana! I just saw it featured on Prickly Mom! I'm so glad she featured it, b/c it is a subject that haunts me. I love the communal, social experience of school, even for a young child, but worry about ALL of the things that you have mentioned. You have given me something to think about. Great post!

Tarana Khan said...

Thank you for sharing your views! I agree that every family has different needs, because school serves so many purposes. It's really about what you want your child (and family) to get out of it. Your point about language is a very important one. English isn't our first language either, but I prioritise it to prepare him for school.

Tarana Khan said...

Hey, I missed that I was featured! So glad you agree and thank you for stopping by.

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