Every new parent's heard it: don't compare your baby with others. Every child reaches milestones in their own timeframe. Different kids will achieve at different times.
Easy enough for your pediatrician to say. Easy enough for those crazy authors of What to Expect From The First Year. Living bloody hell for the poor parent sitting on the floor at the weekly playgroup wondering why the hell Baby Quinn is walking!! in her RileyRoos while your kid is sitting happily in front of you, clapping his heart out but headed nowhere.
And so it goes. Eventually you might have another kid or two that distracts you from obsessing about those ages & stages. Maybe you don't have any more, but you still might just get over yourself and decide to smugly leave the front door wide open, safe in the knowledge that Little Ozzy won't crawl out on your watch.
And then.... then they get to preschool. Maybe you've been lucky enough to land at a preschool where they encourage play, and keep up the messages that you're doing fine by letting your kid splash in soapsuds all morning and dig in dirt in the afternoon. Maybe you've landed at one of these schools where the teachers worriedly lean into the minivan at pick up and ask if there is maybe a chance you could be practicing more of the letter sounds at home? Maybe that makes you more comfortable, to hear these oblique queries - makes you feel your 4 year old is actually getting a jump on education.
Ok, so now, fast forward to that summer before kindergarten. You mention to an acquaintance or two that you're a little worried about readiness. That maybe this modern world of all day kindergarten might be a bit much for your sweet Ebenezer. I would put money on the next question: but when is his birthday?
As in, surely the information about where in the calendar year his birthday falls will be the final say on his readiness for the world of formal schooling.
Where, all of the sudden, has the gentle talk of 'ages and stages' gone? Is this something we grow out of - getting the benefit of the doubt? Of being given the gift of time to mature and grow on our own little timeframe, different though it may be?
All of the sudden I find myself deep in the mire of a pedagogical debate, all about whether readiness for kindergarten is such a big deal. About what actually happens in that mystical magical kindergarten classroom, which is often billed as the great equalizer for 5 and 6 year olds across the land.
This I believe: kids are different - at all ages, at all stages. There is simply no way a school system or a tutoring business can address this and get everyone to the same starting line.
I am just a parent and a blogger, listening to that small voice inside that says 'maybe The School isn't always 100% right'. But I'll tell you: I've got some heavy hitters doing research that supports me in this apparent lunatic idea. First, I've got Sir Ken Robinson himself, diagramming all the holes in the current education system.
Then, today, one of our favorite advocates for childhood, Classic Play, wrote all about why your 3-year old doesn't actually have to learn how to read this year. (There are some excellent links in this article to current early childhood education research.)
So. I don't have a heavy message for you to take away tonight. Just a gentle reminder, a crazy old idea, that regardless of their age, maybe giving your kid a year to play may be the very most powerful tool for success at school.