Neva Poole is a North Shore mum of four-year-old daughter, Eden and one-year-old son, Archer. Alongside being a mum, Neva juggles writing articles and social media content for clients and sporadically updates her blog. She’s also a passionate volunteer with the Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association.
Are you ‘red shirting’ your preschool child?
There’s a trend that some parents are following in Sydney, where they deliberately hold back their child from starting at ‘big school’ to give them a competitive academic advantage over their peers.
According to Ian Wallace, Family Psychologist, red shirting is a ‘practice that began in New York in the early 2000’s and quickly spread from there to here.’
I have been investigating it. Why? My daughter was born in March 2010 and her birthdate puts her right on the fence of either being sent to school in 2015 or staying put in preschool for another year.
Anecdotally, I have discovered that most of the other mothers in my Mother’s Group are ‘holding back’ their children from starting big school. The reasons are varied – they believe their child is not emotionally and socially ready for school; some mothers have been open about wanting to give their child a competitive advantage over other children in their peer group; some mothers wish to ensure that their child will be with other friends that are also being ‘held back’. Finally, some mothers simply want to be able to spend more time with their child before they embark on 13 years of schooling.
Being unsure what to do, I re-enrolled my daughter in her current preschool for 2015 and then for good measure, enrolled her in the next-door primary school and another primary school just out of area.
The experts suggest that you attend orientation days, to familiarise yourself with your chosen primary schools – ‘see the classes and talk to the kids and teachers’. So, I did just that.
I discovered that I agreed with authors like Jane Caro, who wrote in What Makes a Good School?: ‘All that parents in their heart of hearts want is a school that loves their child… it is all about loving the specialness and individuality of each child.’
The orientation days emphasized the importance of personal and social skills versus the academic ability of the child, as these skills could be taught.
Could I encourage my four-year-old daughter to share, take turns and play co-operatively with others within a couple of months? Would she listen to the teachers and do as she was told?
I encouraged my daughter to dress up and play and held innumerous play-dates at home with her friends. I took her to innovative play centres, including Wannabees Family Play Town in Frenchs Forest, where the focus is on developing the child’s emotional and social skills through dress up and role-play.
Wannabees is set up like a mini-city where children can experience first hand being a doctor, fire-fighter, hairdresser or even a banker or TV producer. The majority of staff at the Family Play Town are qualified child-carers and educators, and they guide the children through the different attractions as well as let them discover the city for themselves.
It is thought that role-play engages with your child’s emotions, cognition, language and sensory motor skills. It also helps your child to discover their own leadership skills, acquire language ability, problem solve, develop empathy, explore their imagination and build social skills.
I felt all of these things to be incredibly important, especially after reading Kirstine Beeley’s book ‘A Parent’s Survival Guide to Starting School‘. Kirstine states that: ‘Being at school is (one of) the first situations when (children) come across the need to share equipment and/or adult time with other children. Giving children lots of opportunities to be able to build their sharing skills will really help them to interact properly with other children when they begin school.’
And, I continually try to provide a good model of social behaviour to my daughter, as ‘children tend to learn a lot from observing the social situations around them.’ (Dr Sandra Heriot and Dr Ivan Beale in Is Your Child Ready for School?)
So, what did I decide to do in the end?
It was a frank discussion with the Preschool Director that informed my decision.
‘Your daughter is ready for school,’ she said. ‘She has displayed great resilience, having no episodes of crying, separation anxiety or tantrums. In essence, she’ll be fine at school.’
We have decided that we should take the plunge and send our daughter to ‘big school’ next year.
Now all that remains is the ‘simple’ decision of which school she should attend…