should I delay schooling for my son


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I don?t know if I?m making the right decision to send my son to K1 when he turns 3yr next Sept or wait until he?s 4yr the following year. He?s one of those kids who needs lots of time to settle in and I?m very worried about his emotional state.

Even now he attends a school playgroup 3 times a week but half the time he resists going. Once he gets inside the classroom, he does play but more on his own and not with the other kids. The part he hates most is the circle time where they sing and dance, and that?s when he gets really upset and cries non-stop until I leave the room with him. This is such a shame since he knows most of the songs and if we sing at home, he will do all the hand movements himself.

Before I go on, let me explain that my son has a heart defect and has been going for regular check ups since birth and been hospitalised once for investigation. All these visits are very traumatic for him, and I believe it?s contributed to his extreme fear of people and new situations. He gets upset whenever strangers touch him or try to interact with him (we?ve even had to leave restaurants cause he won?t calm down, and even trying on new shoes will have him in tears!)

Our main worry is that he will have major heart surgery next year so I?m afraid we?ll be back to square one again and have to rebuild his confidence and self-esteem. It seems too much for a little boy to have to go through such a traumatic experience, and then have another traumatic experience starting school a few months later.

I?m torn whether to delay his schooling until he is 4 years old when perhaps he will have matured emotionally and be willing to start school. On the other hand, we don?t want to hinder his development and want to try to give him a ?normal? upbringing as possible. I?ve spoken to some teachers and they seem to think starting early is better, but sometimes I think pushing/forcing a kid may have an opposite/negative effect. The teacher did tell me of a boy who cried every day for 3 months, but I really don't want my son to go through that - but then again I'm probably more over-protective than most given his condition.

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks for listening.
Dear Mumsy
1. Most kids should start schooling by 3. Most can overcome an initial settling in period within a month. Those who don't need to be sorted out.
2. Do you kids look people in their eyes? I am a little worry about the possibility of ADHD/Autism from your description. Sorry if I offended you but I mean no disrespect.
Warm regards
I don't get it that people in HK want to send their kids to school as early as possible!! In the UK, kids start school when they are 4, but it's possible for them to not start until they are 5. I am thinking of holding my son out of school for a year because he is born in August, which would make him a very young 4 at the start of school. Considering that boys are developmentally behind girls anyway, and that a class will have some pupils who are September born....this is a HUGE develepmental gap between a boy who's only just left 3 behind and a girl who's 5!

At age 3 kids need to 'play' and just have fun and 'learn' all the social skills that will get them through all that learning! There is such a thing as pushing too hard too soon.

Example. Just this evening my friend who's a primary school teacher in Singapore was telling me that some of the boys in her class were pushed into writing so young that they never took to it because they weren't ready.....consequently, they are bad at it and will never take an interest in it because they are already bored of it, which means they wont focus on improving it and therefore will probably always be bad at writing and grammer!! To use her words....they were pushed too hard to do reading and writing when they should have been playing and doing the things that toddlers do!! (Interestingly, she also said that their listening and social skills were pretty bad because when they should have been learning those skills, they weren't).

Sorry to bang on, but I do feel quite strongly about letting kids develop at THEIR pace, and not pushing them into things they are not ready for!! So, Mumsy, I would suggest you wait...from your sons actions, it sounds as though he's not are not hindering his development if he starts school at 4.
my daughter is just like your son before she was 2yr old, except she doesn't have the heart defect & she hasn't had any traumatic experience. she's just very sensitive.

she now goes to nursery at highgate house on the peak (she is 2yr9mths). there are only 8 in the class with 2 teachers. i first started going to the mother/toddler with her when she was 1yr old. altho she's so familiar with the environment & people, she still cried when she started nursery by herself. i went with her for 2 weeks (only 3 classes/week, 9am-12noon), i waited until no one else in the class is crying, so that 1 of the teacher can attend to her throughout the 3 hrs. there are 2 other kids who went to mother/child group until they're 3.5yrs at highgate. then they both went to kindergarten directly. at highgate the kindergarten kids are between 3-5. so you child won't feel "too old" if he's in that class even if he starts at 4.

i think do it gently. it'll be easier. but you will see difference in his behaviour once he reached 2.5yr or 3yr.
Your child sounds 100% NORMAL to me. My son started a 4 day 1/5 day program this fall at the age of 3.5. He does not cry when I leave him, but some of the children do though. Sometimes he says he doesn't want to go when we arrive. I say I know you don't want to but mommy is going now I will pick up before lunch. We kiss hug and I leave. I then leave, look in the window outside and he is always happy! I think if you have the very same goodbye process that is short and sweet and not dragged out it helps the child. Is your group parented or unparented?

Many of the children here start with a 1 or2 day/ week hald day program at age 3 or3.5,depending what time of year they were born, then go to a 2 or 3 day program at age 4, then kindergarten at age 5, but you can start kindergarten at age 4.5. We chose a 4 day/week Montessori program which is a lot more school than normal for here as my husband is from HK and was really pushing for more school, this is our compromise as the program is VERY good, the children work at their own pace, they can play together or alone. My child tends to do activites alone, I asked the teacher about this and she said it is very typical for boys to play parallel for a lot longer than girls. She said the girls tend to pair off and play together whereas the bys play alone more. She said while he does play alone and does not initiate paly with other children, if he is invited by another child to play, he play with them and ineracts with them. She said this was very normal. I was concerned as I am very shy and I didn't think he was ( he doesn't seem to be shy around stangers we meet), so when I saw him play alone a lot I worried he was a lot like me.

I do not think it is necessary to start school at age 3, if he needs more time to adjust, that is fine, he is not going to be ruined for life. On the other hand a very negative experience could set him up to hate school which may set him up for hating school years down the road.

ADHD and AUtism have very different symptoms, I did not see anything in what you were writing to indicate either.

Perhaps parented groups where he can choose to particiapte or not participate are best for now. I think it is still good to go to some groups so he can practise interacting on him own comfort level.
Dear Mumsy,

Have you decided on local or international school "stream"? If it is the former, then, you have a lot more to consider and only a mother should be making such decisions for her child.

If you would like to eventually go to international primary schools, then, there are quite a few choices here. (1) Attend Montessori, more small group and a learning pace more or less determined by the child's own learning ability and behaviour. (2) More playgroup type kindergartens like Highgate School at the Peak. Great outdoor areas, loving teachers, I believe they used to allow you to choose to go to either 3 or 2 days school per week. My son used to be ultra shy and I highly recommend Highgate, which he attended for a year. Options (1) and (2) allow your child to adapt to school in his own pace and no pushy academic schedule. But allow your child to ease into meeting "strangers".

In any case, if you do choose to start school at 3, choose kindergartens who offer small class size and avoid the ones with long school hours. It is very demanding on a 3 year old to sit through a full 3 or 4 hour school day.

Good luck.


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pls note that when i posted my reply about highgate house, i didn't see cemily's post yet, & she didn't see mine. we just co-incidently both recommend highgate. =)
We are in the same boat with our son who was a November baby, in which case he is "supposed" to start Kinder at age 2 years 10 months. Being from the US I cannot get my head around sending a sub-three-year-old off to school, no matter how I try. I am 99% decided that we will hold off for another year or half-year and maybe just do a local playgroup for this year. In fact I had a great conversation with one of the teachers at the K we are trying for, and she even recommended it might be too young to start esp. for a boy. The rub is that some tracks like ESF offer NO flexibility...either you start in your "correct" year or you don't! (at least from what they tell me on the phone)

Locals will always pound the table at how important it is to start learning as soon as possible, but if that's the case why is it that so many HK companies hire foreign born and educated people to top positions?
Mumsy, going through heart surgery is a HUGE deal. And if don't wish to traumatise him any further, just take it easy. Lots of kids all over the world do not start school til they are 4.

The Canadian International or the Australian International don't accept kids til they turn 4 in that year they begin school.

The great thing about HK is that you can always find a school to suit the needs of your child (provided to have access to international schools). Whether or not your child starts school at 2.something or 3 or 4 will not affect his future. It's merely hype and as a working mother, I see it as a way to assuage my guilt. And since in general (from personal observation), in HK, the norm is to NOT have one parent stay at home, the kids are sent off to school at an earlier age.

It's more important that at this age, he is nurtured and grows up in a warm, caring and loving environment. So many studies have shown that this is sometimes a LOT more important to the outcome when he is an adult rather than when he starts school.

As a teacher, I can say this much - Going to school shouldn't be a traumatic experience. The negative outcomes outweigh the positive outcomes!
DoraT, your remarks are ignorant.
Only in HK/Japan do children 'have' to start school by three. One of the many reasons why many people (including vast numbers of local Chinese) will not send their kids through the local system, is because of the immense pressure that the children are put under - by parents who spout the same ideas you just did. School is 3 which leads to exams at 4 is just nonsense. Playing at 3 in a structured learning environment is not so developmentally necessary that a sick child should be scarred by the experience.
Autistic? Clearly you don't know what this work means. Same for ADHD. Not all children develop the same way at the same time, and this doesn't mean there's something wrong with them. A little child who has had constant medical monitoring is bound to have some issues with new situations.
MAJOR HEART SURGERY. Do have any idea of what that would entail? We;re talking a bout a 3 year having their chest cut open, their ribs cut and spread, and a long recovery time.
No doubt you feel that he should be 'sorted out' if he doesn't behave at the click of the fingers.
The other advice given here is sympathtic, and understanding, Yours is judgemental, ill-informed and irrelevent.

Mumsy - many educational experts believe that there is an argument to be made for boys starting a year later than girls. I'm not sure where I stand on this one, but surely the emtional well being of your son is the most important thing. His 'schooling' will be interruted with the surgery anway, so I would think it is better for him to feel secure, happy and safe. His health and happiness is more important than if he can know his alphabet by 3.5.
I have friends with premmie babies who have kept their kids back a year and they all say that it was the best thing they ever did. At the end of 13 years of school, then university, who cares whether he started at 3 or 4?
Just keep him happy, and the best of luck to your little one for the coming years.
I would like to thank everyone for their positive and encouraging thoughts.

It is most likely that we will defer schooling for another year, and having made this decision I feel so much better like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Our dilemma of whether to start school at 3yr was always about my son’s social/emotional development – whether it would help or traumatise him further - I never once thought it would make him smarter or give him a better head start. Back in our days, we just went to school when it was compulsory - I don’t even know if kindergartens existed then - and we all turned out well.

I’m not opposed to early schooling but it should be in an environment where the child can learn/develop freely at their own pace, and not made to sit still and listen and be handed homework every day (even my friend’s 2yr old gets homework at local nursery).

DoraT – I was surprised by the ADHD/Autism comment but no offense taken….and yes, he has very good eye contact.

Anyway, I’ll continue to take him to Parent/Toddler playgroups and just take it slow and easy. Thanks again.
Hi Mumsy - when we first arrived HK I kept hearing from other parents that you 'have' to start them w/ school early blah blah blah. the truth is, no you don't have to. you do whatever is suitable for your child and for youself. my son was born Sept05 as well. he is very outgoing and has been going to 3 hr schools five days a week and loves it. but it's not for everyone - you can tell that class size for 2 and 3 year olds are a lot smaller than 4 years old - most expats still send their children to school at 4yo. your son's health sounds like a more important factor though - once they start school they start getting sick - my son started in october and has been hospitalized from gastroenteritis and gotten really bad chest cold twice. if he is going to endure a major surgery your priority should be to nurse him and make sure he is healthy and happy. most international schools that we're looking at don't start until 3 or 4. and even at 3yo, the class size is small. best of luck and really, don't worry too much about his social skills - he's been traumatized w/ strangers poking at him and 'hurting' him and it's understandable that it's difficult for him to trust. additionally, kids at 2yo are still doing parallel play, no worries if he doesn't play with other kids. he has time. Goodluck and i hope this helps.