It is useful that there is a rule about when small children should start “big school”, even if parents sometimes want their children to start school early or late. If all the children are the same age, then the teacher has some basis for understanding the children in her care.
Keeping age constant in the jungle that is an entrance level classroom is a necessary mercy for the teacher. This is a simple rule, but one that apparently is not so easy to implement.
There is a critical age for reading readiness, but it spans a wide age range as reading acquisition is based on the development of earlier phonological awareness. A very small, bright group of children teach themselves to read around age 4 or 5. Most children will be ready to start some emergent literacy training at age 5, and at 6 they should have all the underlying skills to acquire literacy easily. It is highly possible to teach a 4-year-old to read but it must be noted that at this age their mother-tongue acquisition is still in the process of being mastered. A good Grade 0 program should concentrate on the skills of emergent literacy, allowing the Grade 1 teacher to build on this solid foundation towards consolidating confidence in the child.
Most parents lack objectivity about their children, due to an understandable and natural pride. This can manifest when parents are thinking about whether their children should proceed up the school with their age cohort, or whether some special arrangement should be made for their child. The rationale for wanting to start early or skip a year is usually a belief that a child is too bright and might get bored.
Childhood boredom is a frequently misunderstood phenomenon. A bright mind is generally a self-starter, not a passive recipient. Children learn through their exploration of the world. The learner who actively engages with opportunities, who creates, who thinks and links will do well in both a Grade 0 and a Grade 1 class. The “bored” child probably needs to discover something vital about herself in interaction with the world and this discovery may well be easier in Grade 0 with its focus on play, rather than in the more formal structure of a Grade 1 class.
Teachers generally prefer children in their class to be on the older rather than the younger end of the age range. A bright child, pushed prematurely to start school, may well cope in the foundation phase, but hit difficulties when those around her are a year ahead in reaching adolescence.
Remember, too, that if a child is developmentally delayed, motorically, linguistically or emotionally, keeping him back may not solve the problem. The developmental difficulty needs addressing as a priority, although during that time it may be easier for the child to be in a less stressed learning environment. Take professional advice.
By Gael Beckett
Article published in the Your Child magazine 17/4/2008, and reproduced courtesy of www.YourParenting.co.za