How do we decide what is the perfect age for a child to start school? With Montessoris and nursery schools mushrooming in every nook and corner of the city, parents are often confused on the issue.
At a party, I overheard a group of young mothers discussing (read boasting) about the academic achievements of their kids. “Ahmer is doing so well at school; he has been going for hardly a year but already tries to speak English (which is the ultimate aim of most parents!),” a young mother declared pompously. “May I know how old is Ahmer?” I
couldn’t help asking as she herself looked so young. “He will be three next month,” she announced proudly. “What a shame,” I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, “Don’t you think he should have spent this year with you at home?” The arrogant mother gave me a disdainful look before turning back to her friends.
When asked the reason for opting to start their child’s schooling at a tender age, when he/she can barely talk, is not even potty trained or is uncomfortable when left alone with strangers, most mothers often say, “We want time for ourselves,” or “We want a few hours of peace when the little tyrant is not around!”
To attain these few hours of peace, they sacrifice their sleep (and that of their child), bathe and dress him, cajole him to take his breakfast and then sleepily drive him to school. To be picked back after three to four hours! Once back, the child has to be pampered, changed, fed and put to bed for a nap. Handling a cranky young child, who is exhausted from the strain of going to school, is another hectic activity for the already tired mother.
If we calculate the time and energy enthusiastic mothers spend in all these efforts, we will find that instead of the so called ‘some hours of peace’ or ‘time for ourselves’, they actually lose the few hours they can devote to their personal activities.
Call me orthodox, but I am against sending children to school at such a young age. When my daughter-in-law, Saira, wanted to send my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson to pre nursery, my reaction was a firm no! And as I am very possessive about him, she complied although reluctantly. But she often complained laughingly that her son was considered a ‘Jahil’ among her friends who teased her for not sending him to school. “His grandmother knows better,” was the only weak argument she could produce. Now at six plus, he is attending a reputable school, is in the same grade as his peers and doing fairly well in his class.
Hina Nauman, a young mother, who herself teaches in one of the elite school in Karachi, says, “My personal experience was different with all my three children. With my first born, I was an over enthusiastic mother. Giving my child the best of everything was my prime aim. He was not even two months old when I eagerly set out to register my son in a reputable school! I remember being told at some schools that I was LATE!
“My eldest started school when he was 2.5, which I think is a good age for kids to start. My second born started school at 18 months which from experience I learnt was too early and a sheer waste of money. I had put undue pressure on the child, the effects of which I faced till he was in grade 1, as he seemed tired of the same ‘school routine’. My third child also started school at 2.5, but he fared better as exposure to elder siblings had made him more mature.”
Sheeza believes that for a stay at home mother, this is the time to enjoy your child and develop a lasting bond with him/her. “I enjoyed the years with my two children and as I taught them basics like alphabets, numbers, shapes, colours, parts of the body, etc, they did not lag behind when they started going to school.”
Hina’s suggestion is, “Don’t fall for the school scam, sadly like all other commercial ventures; the education sector (especially the private schools) is one big racket. Instead of sending your under age kids to school, indulge them by sharing activities like reading out to them, taking swimming classes, playing simple games, collecting flowers or butterflies. In this way you will pay less, enjoy more and feel more bonded with your children.”
Being an old timer, I firmly believe that it is really unfair to the child to make him leave the safe haven of home and venture into the outside world before he is four. Young mothers usually do not agree. Saira still feels that her son started school a bit late, as her second born attended a pre nursery at age three. “There is a difference, however subtle in the approach of my two children,” she says wistfully. This may be what we call the generation gap!