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Youngest or Oldest in Class? - The Age-Old Dilemma

I was always amongst the youngest in my class, and for some reason, it filled me up with a lot of pride. If you asked me why back then, I had no idea, other than maybe the fact that despite being the youngest, I could outperform my peers academically. After all, we come from the generation when performing well academically was more important than anything else.  


This was true however only right up till the time I went to b-school, and realized that my batchmates, who were older and had more experience were by and large more worldly-wise than I was (not true of all for sure, there were batchmates younger still who thrived in the environment).

The point is, I eventually reached a stage where I felt that it was important to gain more experience before being thrown at the deep end of something I was potentially unprepared for, and it also gave me the chance to introspect what I had missed out during my earlier journey. For instance, while I was a good student, I missed out on a lot of extracurricular activities, possibly because being younger than my peers meant that I could focus more on one thing rather than multitask, whereas my sister, who was always older among her peers, could manage both rather well.

Cut the chase to the last 10 years, where I gained the experience of raising toddlers at Morning Glorie (play school in Gurgaon, now also online homeschooling program in India) while interacting in depth with their parents. This was truer as I was the one in-charge of their counselling during formal school admissions.

The Big Drama of School Admissions

While this may seem harsh, I stand by calling it the big drama of the year. Not only in most major metros, today, even in smaller cities, there is typically a huge circus around school admissions. The release of forms, the rush to apply to the major schools, waiting with bated breath for a shortlist or waitlist, committing financial resources (often to multiple schools till one gets admission in the school of choice). 

One important aspect of the procedure though - the age cutoff defined by schools.

Now in cities like Delhi, the criteria is pretty clear, 3+ as on 31 March of the year admission is sought in. No debate nothing. So either your child is eligible for nursery or they are not.

A city like Gurgaon, however works slightly differently. There are schools with two chains of thought -

1. Children should be older before they enter mainstream schooling as they are not ready at a younger age. These schools define 3.5+ as the age criteria for nursery admissions.

2. Children should enter mainstream schooling as early as possible. These schools stick to the 3+ age cutoff.

Other states and cities again have different age criteria, ranging from 3+ to almost 4.5 by the time a child is eligible to join nursery (or 2 years to grade 1, as per the nomenclature followed in NCR, where I reside and have done my schooling from).

The Concept of a Lost Year

When it comes to finalizing a school for their child, many parents actively look for ways to ensure that their child is youngest not oldest in class. They worry that a year of learning lost will be to the detriment of their child's professional future. Many a times parents may even tweak the system to get their child's admission done if they are missing the age cutoff by a few days.

Some Important Aspects to Consider

A Few Months, or Almost a Quarter of Their Lives?

At the tender age of 3 years, a few months here and there is equivalent to almost a quarter of their lives. In cases where you rush to get your child's admission done at the earliest age, their peers may be up to, and in some cases, even a year older than your little one.

Developmental Differences Matter

When we talk about 6 months or 1 year here and there at this age, there is a huge difference in developmental landmarks. Motor skills and cognitive development are developing fast, and there could potentially be a huge difference in your child vis a vis a child who is 6 months or one year older or younger.

Yet, when they are in the same grade, there is a possibility that they are also in the same class. The younger child may struggle to keep up with some of the learning activities which an older one may breeze through.

Exceptions are always there, we have witnessed many smaller children doing better than older children in certain aspects at our play school in Gurgaon, but by and large, older children are better able to cope with a higher level of activity - whether it is concrete or abstract learning, physical or mentally stimulating activity.

One Year Does NOT Matter in the Long Run

We are moving towards an era where children are better able to explore a multitude of life options, eventually in their careers too. People our generation are switching careers to follow their dreams. Our children should be able to decide on their own what they want with life, at which stage. The fuss over one year lost at an early age should not be a deciding factor. Even authorities like CBSE or ICSE only define a minimum age criteria, not an upper age limit. Granted that the varying age cut-offs set by different schools can be confusing, but why should that be a deciding factor?

These years only come in life once. Instead of pressurizing oneself, and thereby children, into attaining a lot when they are ready, we should be able to enjoy this time of life. By the time children are 7 or 8 years old, these minor differences equalize - you may well take a decision at that stage depending upon where your child is.

In the formative years, being older in class gives the child an edge - make the most of it wherever possible. It is important to maintain a balance between physical and emotional development. So yes, where you feel your child is ready for more, push them beyond their comfort zone. Do it for the right reasons though, not to push your child into the rat race at an age where they do not understand what it means.

 Up Next - Early Years Learning - Concrete vs Abstract


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