Over the past few weeks, my newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram has been flooded with photos of five-year-olds in their slightly too big school uniforms, smiling for the camera as their parents eagerly celebrate their child’s first day of school.
Before I had children I heard a colleague speaking about a friend who was sending their son to a Kindergarten that children ‘Just Played At’. I remember quite vividly scoffing at the idea and thinking to myself, well I would never do that, why would you disadvantage a child like that. It’s interesting how much our thinking changes when we have children and what comes naturally to us as parents changes our thoughts and views of the world around us. However, I do know that many people think exactly like my pre-children thinking. My hope and dream is that one day that will change.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not been an easy decision to make, even though I am comfortable with our decision that Alex will not start school at five, I am still human and it can be very hard to just switch off from what is “normal”. Along with the various children on my Facebook feed, it’s been harder to see a number of Alex’s friends heading off to school, although I do have to remember that these children are in fact 6-12 months older than Alex, so we are very lucky that starting school later is quite normal in our lives.
I have been asked many times over if I will change my mind and send Alex to school when he turns five. I think the hardest part of this is actually explaining myself over and over. The other difficulty is having to listen to people justify their own choices to send their children to school at five when I think they would have preferred to keep them in Kindergarten. I actually wonder if many people would choose to wait if there were more Kindergartens that were open and supportive of having children stay on past their fifth birthday. Although many places say they do allow children to stay on, this is only lip service. To really be supportive of children staying on after they turn five, there needs to be a culture within the kindergarten that needs to be nurtured, not just some words on a sign or the enrolment booklet.
Thankfully for us, Alex started at a Kindergarten that was fully supportive of children staying until they were six years of age and they encourage this. At the time he started I wasn’t quite aware that we would go down that road, all I knew is that I wanted Alex to be able to Play in a beautiful and rich natural environment. I think when people hear about a Kindergarten where children ‘play all day’, they think that the children run ruckus and the teachers sit back in a chair talking and drinking coffee. This is far from what it is like.
Alex’s teachers are present all the time, they just aren’t crowding the children, commentating on their play, fixing their problems or putting in them up in the tree when they can’t climb it but are desperate to be up there with their friends.
The teachers work at a respectful distance, not too far and are available whenever a child needs support. They talk to the children like they are real people, not with funny voices and childish words. Instead of strict routines or low and behold no routines, they have beautiful rituals around morning tea, exercise, and stories at the end of the day. Birthdays are celebrated with love and care, not fast food and mums trying to outdo each other with cakes and treats. When the time comes for them to go to school, they don’t graduate in some fake celebration intended for university and training institutes. The child is celebrated in a way that they know they are ready to fly into life having had these special years of childhood to grow their roots.
Many people will ask “but won’t Alex be disadvantaged with his school learning, how will he learn to count, read and write”. For us these things are done in our daily lives already. Alex learns his colours and numbers from play, from spending time with us in the kitchen, in his dad’s shed, with his grandparents, his teachers, his aunt, and uncle, his cousin, and friends. Through play, building huts, climbing trees, making swords and creations he learns mathematical concepts and physical laws. Every day he learns information that will be used in school and throughout his life.
He also learns many skills through play that you don’t learn by reading a book or by sitting still on the mat. Through free play with other children he learns how to communicate, he learns empathy for others, for animals, insects, and plants. He learns how to self-regulate, he learns about grit and resilence when things don’t always go his way. He learns that adults in his world can’t and won’t always sweep in and make it better when he is sad or fix it when it is broken and give in when he is angry.
Having an extra year learning all these skills through play and nurturing the roots to make solid foundations is important. In my opinion at the age of five children are only just starting to secure those roots, why would you stop this and put them in an environment which they are generally just not quite ready for.
Below I have listed some links to articles and further reading in regards to the importance of Play in the early years. These articles along with many conversations with teachers, fellow parents, professionals and watching my children I was able to make a very informed decision about keeping Alex in Kindergarten. In this day and age it is to easy to go with the flow of societal norms, sometimes we don’t question something until it’s too late. By sharing my experiences I hope that I can reach many parents who might be questioning the current schooling systems here in New Zealand and across the world.
Feel free to make contact if you have any questions or feedback.
Further reading and Podcasts:
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rodgers
“Research shows that the majority of children are disadvantaged by starting school at age 5 and the children’s brains need them to be physically active as the neuro science shows that movement and learning go together.” – Nathan Mikaere-Wallis
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