Are children too young to start school at 4 years old?

As a mother of two children who are now at school, I read this article and found it quite controversial.  I have a child who turned 4 years old just a couple of weeks before starting school and settled into school life like a duck to water, no anxiety and no concerns at all.

My other child is a spring baby and also settled with ease into school, although he is naturally a more clingy child....is it not down to the individual rather than the date of birth?  Personality and nature/nurture, play a strong part in our upbringing, does this not also effect us rather than our age?

I hope you enjoy reading this article and perhaps it will ignite a discussion on your thoughts.

 

Four-year-olds are too young to start school says the owner of a London-based nursery group, who told daynurseries.co.uk she believes many summer-born children are anxious at being taught school readiness too early.

 

June O’Sullivan is the chief executive at the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) and she believes that as a nation we are sending our children to primary school too early.

She says: “We shouldn’t be putting them in ‘big school’. They are being pushed into reception classes and school when they are clearly not ready for it, and it worries them. There are no additional learning benefits for them, as is known from research.”

Start of term photos of children in ‘little frilly socks and oversized uniforms’

 

Ms O’ Sullivan believes that if very young children stayed in a good quality nursery until they were five, they would probably be more psychologically secure.

She says: “We shouldn’t be putting them into big school at four; we shouldn’t even be having this conversation that they are being pushed into reception classes and school when some of them have just turned four.”

The early years practitioner is very emphatic that school readiness preparations for such young children is very daunting for them, and is the source of some anxiety. She says it is particularly difficult for those children “who have been with us since they were six months old”, with the nursery being “their second home.”

Ms O’Sullivan believes anxiety is caused by the children “leaving something cosy and comfortable with their friends and the staff, who love them, to go to some ‘big school’.

She is slightly dismayed at the ‘cute’ obligatory start-of-term photos on social media featuring young children in “oversized uniforms and little frilly socks”, saying "they are just as cute at five", and adding: “They’re not toys you know!”

 

In the UK the Compulsory School Age (CSA) at which a child must start school is five, according to the Department for Education (DfE), but most children start school full-time in Reception when they are four.

Some will have only just turned four, especially those that are summer born, although children born between 1 April and 31 August can start the September after they turn five if a parent requests it but this means they will miss Reception and go straight into Year One.

As a contrast, in many other European countries, the compulsory school age is six, and sometimes even seven years of age.

 

The transition process whereby children are eased into reception class from preschool or nursery can cause a lot of anxiety in itself if the child isn’t supported emotionally.

Ms O’Sullivan says: “One of the things we try to do is to understand things from a child’s perspective, so we made a film about going to school that was designed and directed by children from our Soho Nursery. They did this themselves with the support of their teacher Rosie.

There were certain preoccupations with the children that kept creeping up: Lunchtime at the new school was one of their biggest fears.

Ms O’Sullivan explained: “They were all terrified of lunchtime at school, and one of them said, “You do know that they steal your food at school”, and we said to her, “how do you know that?” and the little girl looked up and said: “everyone knows they steal your food at school, don’t be stupid”.

When the girl was questioned further, she said: “I have to have a packed lunch.”

The nursery practitioner believes the girl felt that by having her own packed lunch it meant some kind of control for her, and she was worried that at ‘big school’ this control might get taken away.

Another child said: “We all know there’s monsters in the school, and they’re there until Christmas. And then after Christmas they go away”.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “The child had, in a sense, metamorphosed his anxiety about school into a monster and had got this idea in his head that once he had gotten through this first term, he would be okay. He probably had parents talking about the first term and how it would get better and this was the cause of the anxiety.”

 

The nursery group owner points out that the preoccupations and anxieties of the children about starting school are often very different from what parents focus on when they are helping their children transition.

She says: “Parents are fixated on lots of things that you see in a roleplay area; getting them used to wearing a school uniform, getting them used to the sense of the regularity of the day, and also work around making friends, such as ‘don’t worry, your friends will be going there too - you’ll be fine'.”

When looking to transition children for nursery, Ms O’Sullivan says that the most important aspect is the emotional. Practitioners should also be led by the child: “For us, the transition is really about finding the child’s interest and trying to follow it through.”

She believes it’s vital to be able to understand the signs of a child’s anxiety; something which parents can also help with by talking to nursery practitioners about their child's fears - they, after all, know their child best.

One book that she recommends highly is the Charlie and Lola book “ I Am Too Absolutely Small for School” by Lauren Child.

Ms O’ Sullivan says: “Lola doesn't want to go to school and it’s a really good book as it’s about her own fears about going to the school rather than the school itself. It’s that kind of thing rather than assuming their understanding of school is the same as ours - maybe the things they are really worried about, we haven’t even touched upon.”

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