To School or Not to School, That is The Question

I’m not normally a fan of Miranda Devine’s opinion pieces, but last weekend (Jan 31-1 Feb, SMH News Review, p.7) she wrote an article that could change my mind about her writing altogether. She was quoting research that demonstrate the lack of substance to the majority opinion within the Early Childhood field that children should be held back from school for as long as possible – especially boys.

For the uninitiated, preschool teachers have been advocating holding children back for years. Because of the myth that this is beneficial, further fanned by Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys, I have had the hardest time trying to convince parents, especially parents of gifted boys, to send their children to school early. While I taught at preschool, I used to agonise over parents who politely declined my advice about sending their boys to school. I had to watch eager, bright-eyed and curious big boys with healthy self esteem shrink into dull eyed little boys, whose friends had left for school. By July of the following year most of their parents felt sorely uncomfortable, when their child’s boredom turned to challenging mischief because of pent up frustration at being kept small. But even then, most parents stubbornly held on to their strategic decision that their child would benefit and was bound to do better than others. Miranda put it brilliantly: “Knowing you’re the king pin but that you’re only that because you’re older can’t be all that good for self-esteem”. How right she is, and imagine the even worse scenario of being overtaken by someone in your class who is 18 months younger – a distinct possibility! At least, this is what the research has found, because apparently the advantage of being older eventually disappears. As I wrote in my early entry article (available on this website), age has little to do with whether a child is ready for school. My experience tells me that readiness is about a child being keen, and the research shows that it is also about social and emotional maturity. So if you are thinking of ‘holding your child back’ until s/he is 5 or 6, especially if s/he is gifted, it may be worth your while to give away Steve Biddulph’s book, suspend the early childhood myth that “children should be allowed to be children” (what exactly is that, anyway, in today’s 360 degree super-information 24/7?), and read the research. Hopefully you will be convinced of the evidence. As an added benefit, you will gain a very proud and happy child who is allowed to continue to be who he or she is – growing, developing, learning. Incidentally, earlier research has also shown that children who appeared to be immature, became more mature by simply attending school. An added problem for parents of gifted children is their child’s relative emotional immaturity in comparison with their intellectual ability, so a good idea is simply to visit school with your child and ask “do you want to go to school next year?”. In the end it is about trusting the child and the process and allowing the child’s readiness to decide when it’s time to move on.

Here is a reference to the research article that inspired Miranda Divine to write hers:

Elder, T. E. & Lubotsky, D. H. (2009). Kindergarten entrance age and children’s achievement: Impacts of State policies, family background, and peers.(The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources. It will be published sometime in 2009).