Six months and beyond – Being five without school.

It’s June (Winter) here in New Zealand and we are halfway through our year without school. I have to say it really has been the most extraordinary journey and best decision we have made for Alex and our family. It definitely wasn’t without a lot of worries in the beginning, wondering if we had done the right thing. I know many people would have loved to see me regret it and fail, but we pushed on through the comments and judgment and followed our hearts.

It can be a lonely old time doing life differently, I wanted to write this for parents and caregivers who are looking at delaying school for their child because I understand that lonely feeling. I understand you feel challenged by everyone, from your family, to the person you meet in the park, that asks your child how old they are and instantly says “off to school soon then” when they proudly state they are nearly five years old. You get questioning looks when your child says they are not going to school until they are six, or you get looks of concern that your child is behind in some way. When you are tossing and turning at night wondering if it will all work out, this blog is for you. It’s to highlight the positives of extending your child’s time at Kindergarten and home without the academic and social pressures that school life brings. This is our journey but one that will be similar to all those parents who have gone before us and those that will follow along in all our footsteps.

To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is the hardest of all. Dave Mathews

Before we made a decision, I did countless hours of research. Because Alex has never been pushed to learn something I saw that he was developing naturally just as the research stated he would. Homeschoolers and Unschoolers have been on at us for years and we are only now starting to see this research in the mainstream media.

Children are amazing learners, they grasp a concept so quickly when they are ready to learn it. When children are given the freedom of uninterrupted play, learning on their own terms, at their own pace, you will see amazing things happen. You don’t need to teach something before it needs to be taught, because a child will naturally inquire and want to learn in their own time. It just takes patience from the adult to let this happen.

As Alex has grown in the past six months, his confidence has soared. In the past, he was one of those children that would happily plod along in the background, he would let the louder or more confident children talk ahead of him. He is a great thinker and sometimes you may assume that he is off in dreamland, but he is actually taking it all in, this will later be translated through his imaginative and creative play.

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Everyone Wonders about Reading and Writing

It was interesting to read in an article written by an occupational therapist that children are often not developmentally ready for writing or mark making before the age of 5 years and three months going by the (Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI). The article also goes on to talk about how children may learn to write their name at four years of age but this can lead to what’s called a ‘Splinter Skill’. The child doesn’t understand the fundamentals of what they are actually doing apart from copying a familiar picture. Parents do get very excited if their child is writing their name before their 4th Birthday, but by pushing children too early, you may be doing them more harm than good, when frustration starts and they end up disliking something we really want them to enjoy and love.

Around the age of 5 years and 4 months, Alex started to want to write letters and numbers. We have never pushed his letter and number writing and it’s been completely on his own terms. Some evenings he will sit at the kitchen table as I make dinner and ask me to tell him what individual numbers he needs, to write down a large number, such as 1 million 4 hundred and twenty-three. He often writes letters together to form words, sometimes he will ask for me to write something and he will copy and other times he will just write letters and ask what words they make. The same article I mentioned above also talks about how sometimes it can be confusing for children to use upper and lower cases together. This was definitely something that Alex communicated and when he writes letters he will write in capitals, or ask for it to be written in capitals when he copies it. I know that once his brain is ready to unscramble this, it will come naturally.

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I love this quote from the Heart School.

What I most enjoy, is watching Alex’s urges and interests immerge. Because his days are not filled with schedule and bussiness he is able to potter and tinker. He is very interested in the outdoors, hunting and gathering with his Dad. He has an interest in bugs and plants and he is always creating something whether its a hut, a hideout, making something for his bike, wooden rifle, or building random things like a drone. He has a mechanical mind and grasps concepts readily. The urge to transform is seen through everything he does.

I feel quite privileged to see this all unfold as I don’t believe his imagination and inquiry would be at the same level had he been attending school. Free play with loose parts is our philosophy for our children, there are a few other factors that go along with this, but having loose parts available, adding to them when you see the play progress and not having an expectation of where their play is going to take them is such an important part of watching and letting them grow.

With the added time that Alex has been able to spend at home, we have built a great relationship. I feel quite lucky to get to know Alex as a Five-year-old because obviously, it is very different from being four. We have the most amazing conversations about the world and how something works, we can also laugh about farts and poo. He has a day each week with me while Frankie is at in-home care and for me, that is really special.

I feel like this is only an introduction to how wonderful an extra year at home or at Kindergarten can be. No parent will ever regret spending more time with their children. My advice – If you are sitting on the fence about it, do some research to back up your decision, because you will be challenged, A LOT. Find a supportive Kindergarten that is very open to children staying beyond the age of five. This is a huge part of your journey and these teachers may be your biggest supporters. It’s sad but so many Daycares and Kindergartens make a big song and dance about turning five. But really the celebration should be about the child’s next step, not about turning five. Take heed, if we ever really want real change, this is definitely one area that needs changing!

Most importantly though, follow your gut instincts, you will know in your heart if your child is ready to embark on their next journey. Learning isn’t about ticking the ‘milestone’ boxes, it’s about your child following their own path in their own time which is usually different to our adult agendas.

It starts with us – Be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

Becks.

I have some commonly asked questions that I will continue with a follow-up question and answer blog. But for now, if you are wanting to know more or have any questions feel free to ask them in the comment section below.

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Going Against the Grain

Over the past few weeks, my newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram has been flooded with photos of five-year-olds in their slightly too big school uniforms, smiling for the camera as their parents eagerly celebrate their child’s first day of school.

Before I had children I heard a colleague speaking about a friend who was sending their son to a Kindergarten that children ‘Just Played At’.  I remember quite vividly scoffing at the idea and thinking to myself, well I would never do that, why would you disadvantage a child like that.   It’s interesting how much our thinking changes when we have children and what comes naturally to us as parents changes our thoughts and views of the world around us.  However, I do know that many people think exactly like my pre-children thinking.  My hope and dream is that one day that will change.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not been an easy decision to make, even though I am comfortable with our decision that Alex will not start school at five, I am still human and it can be very hard to just switch off from what is “normal”.    Along with the various children on my Facebook feed, it’s been harder to see a number of Alex’s friends heading off to school, although I do have to remember that these children are in fact 6-12 months older than Alex, so we are very lucky that starting school later is quite normal in our lives.

I have been asked many times over if I will change my mind and send Alex to school when he turns five.   I think the hardest part of this is actually explaining myself over and over.  The other difficulty is having to listen to people justify their own choices to send their children to school at five when I think they would have preferred to keep them in Kindergarten.   I actually wonder if many people would choose to wait if there were more Kindergartens that were open and supportive of having children stay on past their fifth birthday.   Although many places say they do allow children to stay on, this is only lip service.    To really be supportive of children staying on after they turn five, there needs to be a culture within the kindergarten that needs to be nurtured, not just some words on a sign or the enrolment booklet.

Thankfully for us, Alex started at a Kindergarten that was fully supportive of children staying until they were six years of age and they encourage this.  At the time he started I wasn’t quite aware that we would go down that road, all I knew is that I wanted Alex to be able to Play in a beautiful and rich natural environment.    I think when people hear about a Kindergarten where children ‘play all day’, they think that the children run ruckus and the teachers sit back in a chair talking and drinking coffee.   This is far from what it is like.

Alex’s teachers are present all the time, they just aren’t crowding the children, commentating on their play, fixing their problems or putting in them up in the tree when they can’t climb it but are desperate to be up there with their friends.

The teachers work at a respectful distance, not too far and are available whenever a child needs support.   They talk to the children like they are real people, not with funny voices and childish words.    Instead of strict routines or low and behold no routines, they have beautiful rituals around morning tea, exercise, and stories at the end of the day.  Birthdays are celebrated with love and care, not fast food and mums trying to outdo each other with cakes and treats.  When the time comes for them to go to school, they don’t graduate in some fake celebration intended for university and training institutes.  The child is celebrated in a way that they know they are ready to fly into life having had these special years of childhood to grow their roots.

Many people will ask “but won’t Alex be disadvantaged with his school learning, how will he learn to count, read and write”.    For us these things are done in our daily lives already.   Alex learns his colours and numbers from play, from spending time with us in the kitchen, in his dad’s shed, with his grandparents, his teachers, his aunt, and uncle, his cousin, and friends.     Through play, building huts, climbing trees, making swords and creations he learns mathematical concepts and physical laws.  Every day he learns information that will be used in school and throughout his life.

He also learns many skills through play that you don’t learn by reading a book or by sitting still on the mat.   Through free play with other children he learns how to communicate, he learns empathy for others, for animals, insects, and plants.    He learns how to self-regulate, he learns about grit and resilence when things don’t always go his way.   He learns that adults in his world can’t and won’t always sweep in and make it better when he is sad or fix it when it is broken and give in when he is angry.

Having an extra year learning all these skills through play and nurturing the roots to make solid foundations is important.  In my opinion at the age of five children are only just starting to secure those roots, why would you stop this and put them in an environment which they are generally just not quite ready for.

Below I have listed some links to articles and further reading in regards to the importance of Play in the early years.  These articles along with many conversations with teachers, fellow parents, professionals and watching my children I was able to make a very informed decision about keeping Alex in Kindergarten.     In this day and age it is to easy to go with the flow of societal norms, sometimes we don’t question something until it’s too late.   By sharing my experiences I hope that I can reach many parents who might be questioning the current schooling systems here in New Zealand and across the world.

Feel free to make contact if you have any questions or feedback.

Becks

Further reading and Podcasts:

Books:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rodgers

Free to Learn – Peter Gray

The Sacred Urge to Play – Pennie Brownlee and Kimberley Crisp.

Podcasts:

“Research shows that the majority of children are disadvantaged by starting school at age 5 and the children’s brains need them to be physically active as the neuro science shows that movement and learning go together.” – Nathan Mikaere-Wallis

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2595176/what-3-to-7-year-olds-need-to-learn-nathan-mikaere-wallis

https://www.ted.com/speakers/sir_ken_robinson

Facebook Pages to follow:

https://www.facebook.com/KimberleyCrisp.ProfessionalDevelopment/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When To Start School

About the time I started writing my Kidsplaynz blog, I was also starting on a journey of finding out about alternatives to starting school at five years of age.  The idea of children still starting school at five years has plagued me for so long, and especially since I have discovered the wonderful world of play, loose parts, homeschooling and unschooling.   It’s led me down paths I would have never even thought about; it has made question everything I have previously learnt about learning and it has opened me up to a whole new world of ideas and peoples philosophies.

However, although I have changed and my mind has been opened, I forget that the rest of the world has not and New Zealanders are still very much programmed to think the day our children turn five they should be off to school.  So much so that some children will have their birthday on a Tuesday at Kindergarten and Wednesday they are sitting in the school classroom.  Do parents not think that maybe it would be good to give their children a week off to transition?  As adults, most of us do that when we change jobs or go on maternity leave etc.  It’s a big transition going from usually a very nurturing environment to the school system.

One of the things I have learnt very quickly is that going against society makes others upset.  I have never really been a person to conform, but I think I have always gone about it quietly, I have never made loud statements, or dressed differently, had blue hair, tattoos and piercing that “say hey look at me, I think differently to the rest of you”. So in a way to feel judged all the time or have people think you are judging them because you are going against the grain is a new experience and it gets tiring.  But also it makes me question myself and my beliefs constantly.   Conversations will usually start with someone asking us “What school are you sending Alex to?” and then me saying “I don’t think I will start Alex in school until he is 6 years old” and generally people will give you that look…”Oh, you are one of those people!”   they then quickly go on to say how they could never hold their child back and that they are quite ready for school and how they have been able to say their ABC’s since they were 3.5 and they can write their name backwards, you get where I am going with this.

The thing is I don’t question that Alex would fit into school at 5 years of age and follow along like every other 5 years old.  What I question is, while he would sit in school for 6 hours a day, what is he missing out on?   What is he missing by not being able to play all day at Kindy and what would he be missing out on at home with us his family?   Answering that question makes the decision easier, I know well and truly he will be learning more life skills in an extra year out of school than in school.

 

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Quote – Flow Issue 18

 

I am writing this blog this week because I have cemented my decision in myself, it has been a hard one as you see above, going against the grain of society is way up there, but I found that talking to a few people who have been there and done that and had no regrets, has confirmed that parenting with your heart is alway the best option.

I also wanted to write this in case one other person who reads this is struggling with the idea and is lost and needs to have their thoughts confirmed may do so.

I am fairly blessed to have a supportive family, who I have been able to openly talk through the process, they have read the books and the research, they have asked questions and made me think about the pros and cons.  I have a supportive Kindy environment who encourage parents to keep their children in Kindergarten until they are 6 years of age, so I know Alex will be happy in that environment after his 5th Birthday.

I think as parents and teachers we need to get past the competition and pressure we place on our children in all aspects of life from education to extra curricular activities, learning is not a race nor a competition with the next person.  Learning is a personal journey and one you want your children to enjoy.

Becks

Further reading and Pod casts:

Free to Learn – Peter Gray

The Sacred Urge to Play – Pennie Brownlee and Kimberley Crisp.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2595176/what-3-to-7-year-olds-need-to-learn-nathan-mikaere-wallis

https://www.ted.com/speakers/sir_ken_robinson