It’s June (Winter) here in New Zealand and we are halfway through our year without school. I have to say it really has been the most extraordinary journey and best decision we have made for Alex and our family. It definitely wasn’t without a lot of worries in the beginning, wondering if we had done the right thing. I know many people would have loved to see me regret it and fail, but we pushed on through the comments and judgment and followed our hearts.
It can be a lonely old time doing life differently, I wanted to write this for parents and caregivers who are looking at delaying school for their child because I understand that lonely feeling. I understand you feel challenged by everyone, from your family, to the person you meet in the park, that asks your child how old they are and instantly says “off to school soon then” when they proudly state they are nearly five years old. You get questioning looks when your child says they are not going to school until they are six, or you get looks of concern that your child is behind in some way. When you are tossing and turning at night wondering if it will all work out, this blog is for you. It’s to highlight the positives of extending your child’s time at Kindergarten and home without the academic and social pressures that school life brings. This is our journey but one that will be similar to all those parents who have gone before us and those that will follow along in all our footsteps.
To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is the hardest of all. Dave Mathews
Before we made a decision, I did countless hours of research. Because Alex has never been pushed to learn something I saw that he was developing naturally just as the research stated he would. Homeschoolers and Unschoolers have been on at us for years and we are only now starting to see this research in the mainstream media.
Children are amazing learners, they grasp a concept so quickly when they are ready to learn it. When children are given the freedom of uninterrupted play, learning on their own terms, at their own pace, you will see amazing things happen. You don’t need to teach something before it needs to be taught, because a child will naturally inquire and want to learn in their own time. It just takes patience from the adult to let this happen.
As Alex has grown in the past six months, his confidence has soared. In the past, he was one of those children that would happily plod along in the background, he would let the louder or more confident children talk ahead of him. He is a great thinker and sometimes you may assume that he is off in dreamland, but he is actually taking it all in, this will later be translated through his imaginative and creative play.
Everyone Wonders about Reading and Writing
It was interesting to read in an article written by an occupational therapist that children are often not developmentally ready for writing or mark making before the age of 5 years and three months going by the (Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI). The article also goes on to talk about how children may learn to write their name at four years of age but this can lead to what’s called a ‘Splinter Skill’. The child doesn’t understand the fundamentals of what they are actually doing apart from copying a familiar picture. Parents do get very excited if their child is writing their name before their 4th Birthday, but by pushing children too early, you may be doing them more harm than good, when frustration starts and they end up disliking something we really want them to enjoy and love.
Around the age of 5 years and 4 months, Alex started to want to write letters and numbers. We have never pushed his letter and number writing and it’s been completely on his own terms. Some evenings he will sit at the kitchen table as I make dinner and ask me to tell him what individual numbers he needs, to write down a large number, such as 1 million 4 hundred and twenty-three. He often writes letters together to form words, sometimes he will ask for me to write something and he will copy and other times he will just write letters and ask what words they make. The same article I mentioned above also talks about how sometimes it can be confusing for children to use upper and lower cases together. This was definitely something that Alex communicated and when he writes letters he will write in capitals, or ask for it to be written in capitals when he copies it. I know that once his brain is ready to unscramble this, it will come naturally.
What I most enjoy, is watching Alex’s urges and interests immerge. Because his days are not filled with schedule and bussiness he is able to potter and tinker. He is very interested in the outdoors, hunting and gathering with his Dad. He has an interest in bugs and plants and he is always creating something whether its a hut, a hideout, making something for his bike, wooden rifle, or building random things like a drone. He has a mechanical mind and grasps concepts readily. The urge to transform is seen through everything he does.
I feel quite privileged to see this all unfold as I don’t believe his imagination and inquiry would be at the same level had he been attending school. Free play with loose parts is our philosophy for our children, there are a few other factors that go along with this, but having loose parts available, adding to them when you see the play progress and not having an expectation of where their play is going to take them is such an important part of watching and letting them grow.
With the added time that Alex has been able to spend at home, we have built a great relationship. I feel quite lucky to get to know Alex as a Five-year-old because obviously, it is very different from being four. We have the most amazing conversations about the world and how something works, we can also laugh about farts and poo. He has a day each week with me while Frankie is at in-home care and for me, that is really special.
I feel like this is only an introduction to how wonderful an extra year at home or at Kindergarten can be. No parent will ever regret spending more time with their children. My advice – If you are sitting on the fence about it, do some research to back up your decision, because you will be challenged, A LOT. Find a supportive Kindergarten that is very open to children staying beyond the age of five. This is a huge part of your journey and these teachers may be your biggest supporters. It’s sad but so many Daycares and Kindergartens make a big song and dance about turning five. But really the celebration should be about the child’s next step, not about turning five. Take heed, if we ever really want real change, this is definitely one area that needs changing!
Most importantly though, follow your gut instincts, you will know in your heart if your child is ready to embark on their next journey. Learning isn’t about ticking the ‘milestone’ boxes, it’s about your child following their own path in their own time which is usually different to our adult agendas.
It starts with us – Be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi
I have some commonly asked questions that I will continue with a follow-up question and answer blog. But for now, if you are wanting to know more or have any questions feel free to ask them in the comment section below.