In Australia, parents are charged with the decision on when they send their children to school – at either 4+ years of age, or 5+ years. This turned out to be a far more complex decision than I had anticipated. Why can’t we do it like it is in New Zealand where children start school in the month they turn 5?
It took a fair amount of debating with my husband, as well as with anyone who was willing to share their two cents worth before we made this decision. Along the way, I discovered just about everyone has an opinion on this topic, particularly if you were one of the youngest at school and you didn’t get to go to the pub with your mates in Year 12!
My daughter will be going at 5+ yrs. We sent her at this age for one very simple reason – it felt right for our family. She wasn’t fully emotionally ready at 4+ and I worried she would be submerged among 120 (mostly older) kids feeling a bit lost. I do not have those concerns now – she is definitely ready for school, in fact she’s enthusiastic and over the moon about reaching this milestone. We liked the opportunity for her to spend another year with her younger brother and for their schooling years to be closer together. Working flexibly, I have also cherished extra time with 5 year old her in her last year before she’s off to five days at school. These were our reasons – and everyone has their own factors to consider. Take all the advice in, but at the end of the day, this decision is personal to you and your family.
There is a lot more to having your kid start kindy than I realised. Preparing yourself and your family to transition into the school years is a common topic in the coaching and training work we do at Parents At Work. Amongst our team, I have the youngest kids – I must be one of the most “coached” kindy first time Mums in existence (thanks to my team). Nonetheless, I have still found elements of this transition bigger than I expected.
So, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about my kid starting kindy.
1. Trust your instinct on when to send your child to school – there’s no right or wrong answer. Decide what feels right for your family and go for it. All kids will be ok in the end, there will always be the younger and older kids in each year and everyone can present you with pro’s and con’s either way.
2. The enrolment process is onerous, so treat it as a personal admin priority and invest a few hours early in the year prior to your kid starting school.
3. Get on the ‘before and after school care’ waitlist early (e.g. February of the year prior) if you will need this service. These waitlists can be similar to day care waitlists. Research back up options in case you don’t get a spot at your school’s program – I know of many parents in this situation.
4. Be prepared for the reality that the school system does not align with normal working hours or the reality that most (62% according to the ABS) two parent families have both parents working. For example, three orientation sessions were required by the school, taking up the best part of three half days for child and a parent. Someone needs to take this time off work.
5. Expect to spend big on school uniform requirements, however, check out the uniform shop options before you buy new items – second-hand uniforms can be in great condition at a fraction of the price.
6. Get involved with the other parents at your school – this is your new network. Life can be a little bit easier when we surround ourselves with people who we want to help and who can help us too.
7. Ask parents with older kids already at your school for their tips and advice. I’ve got some great ideas on what I need to do to manage the 14+ weeks of school holidays each year.
8. Get excited about the little things like lunch boxes and school shoes so your excitement rubs off on your child. If you’re excited, they will be too. Seeing your little person in a school uniform for the first time can be an emotional experience.
9. Aim to work flexibly in the first month of school so you can support your child through the transition to kindergarten. Discuss this with your boss well ahead of time.
10. Enjoy the last few weeks before you enter the new world of the school system. I’ve been told by many that while the early childhood years can be draining emotionally and physically – school, on the other hand, becomes an ever-increasing logistical juggle. The top tip there is to keep extra-curricular activities and volunteering to a level that supports your kids and you – and keep it enjoyable for everyone.
Written by Kiri Stejko
Kiri is the CSO of Parents At Work, supporting organisations and individuals to find opportunities and strategies that optimise their potential and talent – integrated with family life. She is passionate about helping parents feel motivated and engaged in their careers and positive about life.