Yesterday I realised something, and it scared me a
My (beautiful) niece turned 3 at the start of the month (it wasn’t this that scared me – I didn’t forget her birthday and win Rubbish Aunty of the Year Award or anything, don’t panic). For the purpose of this post I’ll call her Munchkin, for the same reason I call my daughter Bear. Anyway, Munchkin is walking, running, climbing, talking, feeding herself, answering questions, asking questions (lots of), remembers things we’ve done or said weeks ago and generally does all the things you expect of a 3 year old. And while it does scare me that she’s 3 – because it feels like only yesterday that she was born – it wasn’t this that scared me yesterday either.
Bear turned 1 in August. She’s not yet walking, although she is a sofa surfing pro and a pretty proficient climber when we’re not looking. She is very good at babbling (can’t think where she gets that from), waving, clapping, making animal noises*, playing with her toys and will certainly have a go at feeding herself although it usually ends VERY messily (but this isn’t scary either, it’s just a pain in the bum to clean up).
*Horses, cows, snakes and bears specifically. Anything else is just “baa”, apart from sheep which just prompt silence.
What scared me yesterday was that, in September 2016, both girls will start school. Scary eh?
Things are different in Wales, see. Children start in a compulsory nursery class at primary school the September or term (depending on the school) after turning 3. In England, they start in reception the September after turning 4. So being an October baby, Munchkin will be one of the oldest in her year at nearly 5, while Bear will be one of the youngest in a class of children that are already starting school a year earlier than their English buddies
There are a few things I do realise; it’s a nursery class – it’s not ‘proper’ primary school. But it is compulsory, it’s within a primary school, there’s a uniform, there are attendance records and the same fines/controversy for holidaying in term time, and it’s 9:00–3:15, 5 days a week – so school days that are only quarter of an hour shorter than primary school itself.
I also realise that, despite being unable to picture Bear any older or more grown up than she is today, she will change enormously between now and school and she will be doing all the things that Munchkin is doing now when the time eventually comes. And when she’s there I realise that education will be nothing but good for her.
Finally, I realise that things could all change anyway – the age at which children in Wales start school could increase from 3 to 4 as part of local Council cuts. But like a lot of people, I don’t think this would be a good outcome either – it might be that sending Bear a bit later would suit us, but for children born October-January, for example, I think the delay would be rightly unwelcomed in our area.
Being an end of August baby myself, I was always one of the youngest in my academic year and I don’t think it did me any harm. In fact, it only really became an issue when everyone else was turning 17 and taking driving lessons, then 18 and going to pubs and bars legally. I’m really impatient and I wanted to be doing those things too, without using my friend’s ID to get me into Atlantis on Eastbourne Pier…crazy days. But I don’t think my impatience really counts as a vote against being the youngest in a year.
I know that being the youngest in the year won’t do Bear any harm in the grand scheme of things, either. But a 12(ish) month age gap in the very early years surely equals a huge gap developmentally within a year of just-3s and nearly-4s? The school we’ve got our eye on for Bear actually has 2 nursery classes – one for the younger half of the year, and one for the older half. This does soften the blow, admittedly, although perhaps a compromise of 2 intakes a year into a single class would make a fairer playing field for all? Especially as, come reception class a year later, they’ll all be together anyway.
You know what, I expect most parents find the school start a scary business. Perhaps even if they told me Bear had to go off into the world of school at the age of 10 I’d still cry like a baby at my little girl growing up (no ‘perhaps’ about it – I’ll always be a crier). But with a lot of my parent friends living in England, and being an English girl born and bred myself, it seems so much more pronounced that my baby will head off in her uniform, long socks and school shoes a whole year before a lot of her friends.