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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
'Too much too young for my son'
By Angela Harrison
BBC News Online Education staff

primary class
Lessons get more formal in year one
"Luke sometimes hides under a desk and makes strange animal noises, barking like a dog."

Not the words you hope to hear when you send your bright and bouncy four year old off to school for the first time.

But my son was just two weeks past his fourth birthday and I had just found out how hard it can be for some children to settle into school and formal learning.

We had looked into delaying his entry into school by a year, but were told by the head teacher that this would make it harder on Luke, as he would have to go straight into Year one, without the "settling-in year" of reception.

Silent protest

He had been at a nursery school for mornings-only for the previous year, where he had some informal lessons in numbers and the alphabet.

But like many boys of his age, he could scarcely hold a pencil and found it hard to sit still for any length of time.

At school, the animal noises usually coincided with literacy sessions. If he did stay in the group on the carpet he would sometimes refuse to join in out of protest.

Luke's very experienced teacher seemed to accept his behaviour as pretty normal and did make some allowances: "He's a boy and a very young boy," she said.

He probably enjoyed more time playing with the sand than many of his class-mates, some of whom are a almost a whole year older than him.

As David Bell has said, some children will be ready for the more formal lessons that now come with year one, but many children will not
But literacy and numeracy are obviously part of the reception curriculum and only so many allowances can be made.

Now, at the grand age of five and a half, he looks back to his reception year and says rather sadly that he spent a lot of time sitting by himself next to the teacher's desk.

Not a memory you want to stay with your child as they look back on their school days.

Now England's chief schools' inspector, David Bell, says some schools struggle to help children move from reception class to year one, when the toys and sand are firmly put away and lessons get more formal and demanding.

I hadn't really braced myself for bump two.

"I hate school," Luke said tearfully a couple of weeks into year one. He cried for several nights saying he did not want to go in the next day.

He couldn't explain why but I could piece the jigsaw together.

He'd been telling me how he'd been on the "sad faces" of the board and had had to miss some play-times after various misdemeanours were added up.

One of his teacher's behaviour management techniques is to have a sad face and a smiley face on his whiteboard and to add children's names to it during the day. At the end of the day, the slate is wiped clean.

A chat with his teacher confirmed what I thought: that Luke was having trouble settling down to the formal lessons and instead wanted to play the clown to get laughs from his friends.

Favourite things

For now, the tale has a happy ending.

His teacher, a newly qualified teacher in his late 20s, understood Luke's difficulties and has been brilliant at helping him to settle, curbing his unacceptable behaviour and encouraging him with his work.

Luke now says school is one of his three favourite things, after football and spaghetti bolognaise.

He left the animal impressions in reception, is a confident reader, good with numbers and perhaps most importantly, has an inquiring mind which fortunately was not turned off learning by the rigours of the curriculum.

As Ofsted's chief inspector David Bell has said, some children will be ready for the more formal lessons that now come with year one, but many children will not.

Children 'start lessons too soon'
19 May 04  |  Education
Pupils 'need far more' play time
23 Dec 03  |  Education
Tests 'cause infants stress'
25 Apr 03  |  Education
Children more confident readers
02 Dec 03  |  Education

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