Delaying Prep. It seems that as a parent you just cannot win, no matter what decision you make. Once your child reaches school age, it seems that everyone becomes an expert in primary education and it can make you question your own decisions.
Our decision to delay Prep for our son was an emotional one and so we decided to block out all the well-meaning advice from friends and family and instead, consider just two things – our gut instinct and the research.
When deciding to delay Prep, follow your gut instinct
We know our son better than anyone, we see him more than anyone and we know better than anyone if there’s a concern that may pose a problem. Not only is he on the young end of the spectrum, we know for a fact that he’s not mentally mature enough to deal with the challenges and structure of Prep. He’s also a little behind in his literacy and would find it challenging to keep up in class. These things alone trigger our gut instincts that delaying Prep is the right thing.
Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters told The Courier Mail that some children are just not ready for schoolbecause of the overload of content and the crowded curriculum. This is our son – he would be left feeling extremely overwhelmed. Ms Walters also said something that gave us some relief in our decision, “If the children are not ready, the best gift parents can give them is an extra year to be ready … it’s about their social and physical development.” This was reassuring.
We considered the Scandinavian way
We were amazed to read that Finnish children don’t start school until they’re seven. The decision to delay formal education is based on the belief that children are not yet ready, and instead, the focus is on creative play and staying active. There is no reading, writing or maths until they are seven either. And what shocked us the most were the tests that revealed Finnish students produced some of the world’s highest scores in maths, science and reading. This was definitely food for thought and evidence we were making the right decision.
The psychologist’s view on delaying Prep
Psychologist and education academic Dr Amanda Mergler outlined some points that we considered when making the decision to delay Prep:
- How well does your child pay attention?
- How does your child interact with other children?
- Does your child enjoy structured activities?
- Can your child follow simple and clear instructions?
- Can your child communicate effectively with others?
- Can your child use the toilet independently or ask for help?
It was obvious after answering these questions that our son would find Prep hard. Dr Mergler also suggested speaking with the school you intend to send your child to and discuss what they expect from your child regarding their behaviour in Prep
Dr Mergler, together with Professor Susan Walker, published a study, ‘This is possibly THE hardest decision a parent has to make. Deciding when your child is ready to start Prep’, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 42(2), June 2017, which found the decision to delay Prep is becoming more common with the child’s age in relation to the cut-off date being the most common reason for the delay. This was comforting to know that we were not the only parents making a similar decision.
Not surprisingly, Dr Mergler also suggested that a parent’s gut instinct is often the best indicator of whether to delay a child or not. The expert opinions of a psychologist and an academic really allowed us to put any concerns to rest knowing we’d made the right decision.
Delaying Prep wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve ever made. We researched the issue thoroughly and though some of the information was conflicting, it really came down to us knowing our child the best. And though children are certainly very resilient, we knew that we did not want our son’s introduction to formal education to be something he would learn to ‘cope’ with. Instead, we decided to wait so that when he was truly ready for Prep, he could fly.