Age and Starting School

By Diane Lilleberg, Educational Consultant

Every year, parents write looking for interaction while making a decision whether or not to start kindergarten early, often because they have bright eager-beavers who long to be involved along with older siblings.

We all remember various “rites of passage” we experienced growing up. The thrill of “arriving” after impatiently waiting makes an important contribution to self confidence and development. You may have good reasons for considering starting early, such as when you might not be as ministry challenged, or wanting to “try it out” to test readiness, or even because you succumb to a child’s strong interest or impatient whining. If you hunt and peck at “doing school” or formal curriculum early, you may also diminish the celebration of an important rite of passage.

While rites of passage can be very similar from country to country, there are differences in the how and when. I think the decision of what age to start school should be heavily influenced by when most children start formal schooling in your home country.

While children may be ready earlier in some ways, they rarely develop evenly and often need time to catch up in areas that are more challenging. Providing time and practice to develop in challenging areas should be just as important, perhaps more important, as providing challenge for their talents.

Do not worry about potential school boredom. Challenge and pace are rarely perfect or consistent, and gracefully adapting is an important life-skill to develop. And don’t forget that a move “up” is not your only directional option. Be sure to consider a horizontal move as well. You can expand their horizon with art, music, language learning, athletic skills, and caring about others.

Looking Ahead

It is important for children to understand you value their growth in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man. If children sense parents are focused on their academic talent, they can develop an identity heavily tied to being smart. This tends to magnify perfectionist tendencies and can make them cautious in taking the risks needed to form relationships or to learn outside of an area of expertise.

Remember, your anxious preschooler will someday be an anxious teenager who may not find being a year ahead in school a benefit that offsets being the last to be allowed to date or the last to be eligible for a driver’s license. An additional year of maturity can be a wise investment toward independence and meeting the added challenges of difficult post high school cross-cultural transitions.

Moving between countries adds complexity to decisions that impact children. Resist those begging bright eyes–decisions that impact your child’s future cannot be made by a child’s reasoning that rarely includes an understanding of time, much less the future. Take a long look for them and carefully consider your child’s future before making such an important one.

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