My son recently started his formal school career here in Copenhagen almost eighteen months later than his peers in the UK. Although he has been able to recognised letters, write them and spell his name (and other simple words) for some time, he has been reluctant to learn to read at home with us as he wants a ‘real teacher’ to teach him. Reading and writing is the first thing he has had to learn that he needs to be taught – walking, talking and social norms all come from observation and copying what a child sees around them. He is just starting phonics in his nursery class and it is very relaxed yet already I can see how much he is learning and I believe this is because he is now ready to sit down, listen and learn in a structured way.I read and enjoyed ‘Raising Boys‘ some years ago and one of the key things the author talked about was education and boys. He cited the Scandinavian systems as being perfect for boys who are not ready to learn and sit still at the age of four and to be forced into formal education that early can have a negative effect on their idea of education for many years. Especially when you throw in the level of measuring and testing kids in the UK have from as young as six.
Here in Denmark there is no formal education until the age of six and this is the preschool or nursery class, which is seen as the bridge between formal education and daycare (either in an institution or in the home). This is the year when children begin to be exposed to the three Rs but also a time for everyone to get used to school and a more formal environment. The years before this are seen as an important time for children to be children – to play, explore, develop socially and culturally. Education experts say that children entering education at the ages of 6-7 consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of well-being.
Whilst most children don’t read very well until they are at least eight they have, statistically, caught up with their peers in the UK by the age of 10 or 11 and are perhaps more mature in general by that age as more of an emphasis has been placed on being responsible and social, for example many ten year olds are taking themselves to school and home again before they can read a Harry Potter book.
I recall staying at a friend’s house when her daughter was around five and there seemed such a lot of pressure put on them to do homework, which was actually just reading together. I understand expat families’ desire to accelerate their children as the lateness to education seems problematic to them based on their own experiences. I have the resources for my son when he is ready, we encourage him to read and write within the games he plays, and we have always read books before bedtime (and at other times of the day) but I keep in mind that he is only six years old and I don’t want him to feel pressured about education just yet, reading should be fun.
I struggle a little with this lateness to reading as I love reading myself and I can see that my son will too but I have faith that the system works and he will be reading and enjoying it when the time is right rather than seeing it as a chore. I sometimes feel inadequate as a mother when I see people I know in the UK on social media with sons the same age as mine reading chapter books and writing stories but I realise it is just a different system not a real problem. After all by the time he is 10 he will be learning two other languages other than English, will be reading and writing at his age level and will have the confidence to learn and be curious.