When is a child ready for school?

When is a child ready for school?

Srijaya N Char looks at the consequences of enrolling children early in schools. 

Anything that is premature has its own disadvantages be it birth, blossoming of a flower or ripening of a fruit. Likewise, a child can be schooled before it is ready for the process. Schooling a child too early robs the child of its innate freedom. It is rather cruel to timetable the whims and fancies of children before they realise what freedom is. It may not always be the best way of parenting to schedule them according to what adults think is best for them.

A parent-child bond is something that develops out of the long associated relationship during the early years of a child’s life, both in the womb and in the crib. The emotional attachment that begins within the mother’s womb and infancy gets re-enforced only if the relationship lasts at least for five continuous years. 

Children have to first identify with their parents and other important adults in their household. It is this identification that sustains their emotional balance when they become adults. If the very protectors and providers who are supposed to be close to the child suddenly decide to push the child into an alien atmosphere before it is ready for such changes, it could cause a great deal of emotional trauma.

Decades ago, schooling for children started well after the age of six or seven. Children spent warm, secure and homely atmosphere made possible by the joint family system with uncles, aunts and cousins. It is the family that played with them, stayed with them or disciplined them. 

Children grew up with the feeling of being wanted. How could this make the children dull or stupid?  Never! In fact, by forcing the children to adapt too soon to an environment that is totally different from the one in which they have been living, they are obliged to perform on-the-spot functions that they are not familiar with or accustomed to.  The result is that they become aggressive and cranky. A child who has started school very early has no more benefits than the child who has started late. 
Modern Times

Times have undergone a sea-change and the joint family system hardly exists in metros. Job compulsions of both the husband and wife make it difficult for them to be with their child from morning till night. When there is none to look after the child at home, the parents are forced to put the child in a childcare centre. When a child is born, it brings with it a host of responsibilities Parents need to be prepared for it. How can a working couple manage a child when the jobs are demanding and become very important to the parents? 

Circumstances have thus created the need for child care centers, play homes, pre-schools kindergartens and baby-sitting centers. Call them what you may, they are now flourishing in every nook and corner of big cities. 

Starting with preschool for the child ensures that the child will be able to get into an institution and stay in the institution for at least 10 years without the parents having to run from pillar to post for nursery admissions, primary admissions and middle school admissions.  All this is done for the convenience of the parents. But it becomes necessary for us to delve deep into the psychology of the child and find out the impact of such foster care on the mind of the child and its subsequent growth. 

There is also this ‘living with the Joneses’ attitude. It has become a status symbol to start their child’s school even before its babyhood is over. Why can’t they be babies a little longer? Why should they not enjoy their babyhood while it lasts?

Another very important disadvantage of ‘infant-care’ and ‘baby-schooling’ is the physical vulnerability of the child. Children that start schooling very early are likely to catch infections more often. 

The children may fall sick oftener and may develop chronic ailments as they are not yet immune to many bacteria and viruses. Added to this, the sudden change in their eating patterns may affect their health adversely.

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University Research Center for Therapeutic Education has said that quite a few children are being pushed ‘too far, too fast’.  According to him, many bright children grow up in an ‘intellectually unbalanced way’ suffering from life-long negative health effect because of being pushed into schooling too quickly.
Psychological problems

Presently there is overwhelming evidence that very early introduction to an environment different from home is not only quite unnecessary for the vast majority of children, but can actually cause major developmental harm.

Research by psychologists at the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia among others have indicated that a child who is classified as securely attached to the family during the first four to five years of its life is the most likely person to securely relate to others all through its life.  

‘Separation anxiety’ is suffered not only by babies and children, but it is also felt by mothers. There is surely a feeling of guilt in the mother when she is forced to leave her baby in a child care centre while she leaves for work. 

The practice of sending the wife to her mother’s home for confinement or bringing the mother to the daughter’s house during that period has existed in our country form days of yore. This practice still continues in many families. It excludes the father from the scene completely if the wife’s parents are in a different town. 

However, this practice is slowly receding as many Indian couples are now settled abroad and the new mother is also a working woman who cannot afford to be away from her work for a long period. This situation gives more opportunities for the father to bond with the child, and this is a good sign and aids in the child’s development as well.

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