Monday, 8 September 2008

Starting School

It's the beginning of September, so here in the States that means the beginning of a new school year! Having young children, their schooling obviously came into consideration when thinking about emigrating to a new country. And ultimately, differences in the school schedule have affected our time table for moving.

In Massachusetts kids start school September after they turn five. The first year of school, children 5 and 6 years old, is called Kindergarten. The second year of school is called First Grade. The third year is Second Grade, and so on. Confusing, I know. I think the names are holdovers. First Grade used to be the first year of school, and Kindergarten was just organized childcare for kids not old enough yet for school. But then The Powers That Be decided that starting school earlier is better, so Kindergarten was added on as part of the public education system as the first year. Legally, children don't need to start schooling until they're six years old, but pretty much everyone starts at five.

Kindergarten is still a transition year in a lot of places, though. For children never in a childcare or preschool setting, it's the very first time away from home. In some towns Kindergarten has shorter days than the rest of the school. But because of the big push for early childhood education, almost all children now start attending preschool at age 3. Babying the Kindergartners is not so necessary, and there's a nationwide trend towards full-day Kindergarten. My town is halfway there, sending Kindergartners to school full days 2 days a week and half days 3 days a week.

Now I'm not an expert, but I've been asking around about starting school in New Zealand. There are quite a few differences. Most obviously, the school year there goes from February to December. The school year schedule is the same all across the country, rather than being different town to town as it is here.

Confusingly, what we call preschool or nursery school here in the US is called Kindergarten in New Zealand. This is for 3 and 4 year olds and is provided by private early childhood education centers. Recently the New Zealand government started a universal preschool type system, which provides 20 free hours per week of early childhood education at these private centers. That's a huge bonus for us, considering that for Bic's year of preschool last year we paid over $5000, and she only went 15 hours per week!

Kids start SCHOOL school when they turn five. The DAY they turn five (or the next school day if it's a weekend, holiday or vacation). Depending on what part of the year it is, the child is put into either Year 0 or Year 1. If it's close to the start of the year, they go straight into Year 1. But if it's later in the year they start in Year 0. School is full-day, right from the start.

Bic turned five at the end of June, and last week she started Kindergarten here (see above). We had originally planned on moving to New Zealand in November, which would be pulling Bic out of school just over 2 months after she started. Then we would arrive just before the end of the year, so probably not a good time for her to start. Because of this, we've decided to put off our move till January. This will mean that Bic can finish the first half of her school year here, and leave during winter break, arriving down under just in time to start the new school year there as a Year 1.

For more information on NZ schooling, check out the New Zealand Ministry of Education main website or their info site for parents, Team-Up.

1 comment:

Marrisa said...

Excellent post - you have all that info spot on and now I understand about Bickie starting Kindy!!! xx