When it comes to our children we want to do what’s best for them, but it’s not easy to know exactly what that may be. One dilemma most parents face is when to send their child to school. Here are some tips to help make the decision.
1. How can a parent determine if their child is ready for school?
When we take school to mean an Early Years programme where children have a more structured play-based day with a meaningful curriculum, whether they are ready to start or not depends entirely on the child and their developmental stage.
Often times you can tell if a child is ready by observing how they are coping with pre-school playgroups. You may pay attention to their social skill development, basic problem solving skills, communication skills, and emotional maturity. That being said, a child who attends playgroup for too long, may start acting out or being bored before they have “outgrown” the playgroup setting and are ready for a more challenging and stimulating environment. Visiting a school and having a “try-out” day may also provide some insight into the child’s readiness for school. Some schools will do this as part of the admissions assessment and they may ask that your child has reached certain milestones, such as being potty trained, being able to spend time without their main caregiver and being able to eat and dress independently, before they start school.
2. Is it better for a young child to be at school or at home with their parent or nanny?
This depends on the child and the home environment. If the child’s parents or nanny have the time to provide developmentally appropriate activities and challenges, a child may do well with a few more years at home. Children from the age of 3-4 typically are ready to join some sort of pre-school setting where they have the opportunity to develop social skills, make friends and interact with others. However, every child is different and is it important for parents to consider their own child’s needs.
3. Are there any risks in sending a child to school when they are not ready?
If a child is sent into school before they are developmentally ready, they may show signs of prolonged distress (i.e. continuous crying at drop-off, difficulty to settle in to the school environment or routine, challenges with social interactions, etc.). If parents think they have sent their child to school too soon, they can discuss the possibility of starting again later or even repeating the year with the classroom teacher.
4. Am I harming my child or putting them at a disadvantage when the child is ready for school but I am keeping him/her at home?
This all depends on what they are doing when they are at home. If you have the time and enjoy your interactions and family time at home with your child this is perfectly fine, Typically I would recommend sending children to school when they are “ready” and when you are ready. Perhaps this could be introduced as half days or a number of days a week to allow you and your child the best of both worlds. Schools provide children with the opportunity to socialize and develop critical social skills.They will need these skills to be successful in later years, and they need ample time to develop them. They will also need to develop healthy attachments with their parents- meaning that they need to be able to be away from their parents for “long” periods of time. Going to school is the beginning of developing a child’s healthy sense of independence. Although it can be hard to send your child to school, and you may wish to keep them close, it is typically in their best interest to let them develop a world outside of the family home. If a child never does this, he or she could end up being fearful of being without his/her parents/nanny, or joining in other unfamiliar social engagements.
5. Do children get sick more often when they are at school rather than not going to school yet?
Places where children get together, such as a school, will allow easier spreading of germs. While we all want our children to be healthy, we can’t keep them away from germs altogether and children do get sick. Most schools will ask that children be vaccinated to prevent the spread of certain infectious diseases. At KIS there are strict cleaning protocols, which include disinfecting toys and furniture on a regular basis, and more often if there are signs of illness in the class. Children also learn about healthy eating and hygienic practices, such as washing their hands and sneezing into a tissue, allowing them to be more aware on how to stay healthy. It’s also important parents keep their child home at the onset of an illness in order for their child to recover quickly and not to infect others. For most healthy children being exposed to germs won’t have any severe consequences and in fact it may boost their immune system. However if your child has a serious medical condition you may want to consult with your doctor before your child starts school.
6. Which language should I speak to my child once they start an international school?
Although it is important for you to be able to speak English (so you can communicate with teachers and support your child’s learning), I encourage parents to speak their native tongue at home. It is important to develop both a child’s first and second language and additional languages. The development of their first language will encourage and form the basis for the development of their second. The first language functions like a foundation upon which the second can be built.
Still, it is always good to check on your child’s English language development, share stories and books, maybe listen to music in the car too. If they are struggling to develop English over time, contact the child’s teacher to discuss why this might be.
7. How can I prepare my child for the first day of school?
You can expect a few tears the first few days of school, or even after a few weeks when the children find out the new routine is here to stay! Don’t worry about this, it is normal and the teachers know how to help children settle. A few things you can do to make the transition easier are to visit the school a few times before your child starts, so that the environment is no longer unfamiliar. Start preparing the morning routine and explain to your child how the day will go. On the first day introduce the teacher to your child and let your child know the teacher is there to help. When it’s time for you to leave, say goodbye to your child, let her know when you will be back and then leave, don’t be late picking them up, it's stressful to be left until last. Stay calm and assured and trust the teacher, they have dealt with this many times before.
8. What if my child doesn't like school and/or doesn't settle in well?
Communicate openly with the classroom teacher and ask his or her advice. Seek out support from the counselor if settling-in issues prolong.
9. Will the school care for the child at the same level as I do at home?
The school will always have your child’s best interest at heart. It will make every effort to ensure that your child is safe, happy, and learning. Of course, it is impossible to protect children against everything. There will be the occasional flu, the possibility of arguments between friends, and the challenges of learning new skills. However, these are all experiences that help children grow and become resilient. In addition, it is important to understand the philosophy of the school that your child attends. A school is never going to be able to mimic your parenting style exactly. However, it may have a certain approach to life, learning, and overall child-rearing that compliment your home practices. Understanding the philosophy and teaching style within a school will help parents to determine whether a school is the “right fit” for them.
By Alexandra Schuur, Primary School Counselor at KIS International School and Linda Belonje, Director of Marketing and Development at KIS International School