A few days ago, during a meeting for our new preschool, us moms got into a discussion of our older, soon-to-be kindergarteners, and the topic of the cut-off age for enrollment was brought up.

You see, in the US, school begins in the Fall, which is in September, unlike in Malaysia, where school commences as the year begins, right after New Year’s Day.

Needless to say, this took a lot of getting used to, because of the cut-off date of birthdays for qualifying students, which is usually August 31st of the year. For a three-year old preschool that begins classes in September, a child would need to be three by August 31st, and for a four-year old preschool, a child would need to be four by August 31st, and so on and so forth.

For example, Raeven, whose birthday is in June, would qualify for school the same year she turns the required age. For Skyler, who turns three November this year, she will have to wait until the next school year to attend preschool because the cut-off is August.

The interesting dynamic here is in terms of development, Raeven will be considered one of the youngest in her kindergarten class, because she would have friends who may be like Skyler, who have turned six by September, October, November or December of this year, while she would only do so next June. And in the same vein, Skyler would be one of the oldest in her toddler’s class of two-year olds, because when she attends toddler class in September, she would be just two months shy of turning three.

Because of insurance issues, schools adhere to the cut-off date requirement strictly. In fact, parents of children born in late August or early September, are often advised to let their children wait a year instead of trying to squeeze their kids in on the same year, so as to put their children ahead of the class the following year because they would be developmentally a year ahead than the rest of the class.

I confess that I had trouble accepting this at first, for this is a very strange concept to an Asian, to delay school to get ahead. In Malaysia, parents are always scrambling to put their kids in school early by at least a year.

“My child can read and write already! She may only be three but she is ready for kindergarten! Test her if you don’t believe! “

Sadly, this need to be smarter younger, smarter faster, is more often than not due to the parents’ kiasu attitudes than their child’s real ability, driven by meer peer pressure aka other kiasu parents. 

For all our cool Asian calculative logic, we seem to hold on to the irrational belief that with enough pressure and discipline, our children can exceed their potential – without even finding out what that potential is. School readiness, and sometimes developmental milestones, to an Asian mother or father, is but a state of mind. Like the spoon that is said not to exist, we disregard what is solid fact, deciding that we can bend and even wave them away with a flippant “Aiya, this is all just gwailo bullsh*t”, and continue to push our kids forward because “so-and-so’s six-year-old is already doing calculus!”

When I told Lokes about moms holding their borderline-age children back a year so that they will be developmentally ahead of their class, the first thing he said was, “That is so fake!”

What my illustrious husband means is that the child is actually given a false sense of security and achievement because when it comes down to the fact and figure, he is five, and therefore should really be in kindergarten, learning kindergarten things.

I then asked, “So which is more ‘fake’? Pushing a four year old who’s not developmentally ready to kindergarten or holding back a newly-turned five year old for one more year of preschool?”

When I sat down with Rae’s four-year-old class preschool teacher for her year-end eval May this year, I was told that Rae was more than ready for kindergarten. Like any normal parent, I was relieved. Relieved that Rae is socially and developmentally ready. Relieved that she’s got all her fine motor skills down pat. That she can draw figures that have necks and torsos, not just legs growing out of heads. That she can cut out shapes. That can colour, occasionally, inside the lines (even I have trouble doing that!). That she is able to listen to instructions and follow them. That she is able to stand in line, and sit in a circle and participate (sometimes, more than required). And most of all, that she can deal, quite normally, with the whole emotional mindfield of Making and Breaking Up with Friends.

So what about her academics? Surprisingly, we never even discussed it. As far as I know, Rae is already reading words off my blog and is able to write words that only a mom would understand like MOMIILAFUVRMUC. But if her teacher, who has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and 20 years of experience working with kids, is not making it a priority – so will I.

As for Sky, I know that she will be more than developmentally ready for her school age since she will be held back a year, if we continue to stay here in the US. And that’s fine with me. You can call it ‘fake’ ahead, or accuse me of becoming more Americanised.

I’ll just call it plain Cutting My Kid Some Slack.

ps. I joined a few groups in Facebook called Asian Parents Are Too Crazy About Grades (950+ members!) and APS – Asian Parents Syndrome and Against Strict Asian Parents and AA: Abnormal Asians who aren’t smart and defying the Asian stereotype discussions, just to see what the discussions are like. There are Asian kids in there, of about 10-18 from all over the world, lamenting over their high-pressure kiasu parents. Some talk about wanting to run away. Some talk about ways to rebel. There is even a thread asking how some high school kids are coping with rejections from Ivy League universities. Most complain that no matter how well they do, nothing is ever enough for their parents.

I wonder: Will this be my child ten years from now?

It is a frightening thought.