Education Quandary: 'How can we help and support our son who is starting school this autumn aged just four and two months?'

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Hilary's advice

It's not good news that so many children in this country have to start school as they turn four, but since you find yourself in this position, you are wise to think about the issues that could arise.

Firstly, don't assume that because your son is young he will struggle. Much depends on temperament, and he may turn out to be a child who loves school and never looks back.

However, four is very young to cope with a long day of activities, so be aware that he may come out of school worn out. Keep after-school activities to a minimum, and give him lots of time to relax and be himself. If being very grown-up at school means that he wants to regress and be quite babyish when he's at home, don't be surprised or reproving. It's a phase and will pass.

Make sure his teacher is aware of his age – some teachers don't know their new pupils' ages – and tell her about any worries you might have. Make it clear that you want your son to develop at his natural pace, and bear in mind that children with summer birthdays can sometimes get wrongly labelled as having special educational needs just because they are young in their class and lagging behind the older children.

However, don't ever try to force him to read and write before he's ready. Instead, make sure his life is rich with games, songs, rhymes, play, stories – and lots of love.

Readers' advice

Our son was also a summer baby, who when he began school had only recently dropped the afternoon nap. We spoke to the head and agreed that he should do a four-day week, which he kept to throughout his reception year. Five days would have left him hopelessly tired at that age. A whole day off worked better than an afternoon because a day begun at school pace never quite seemed to slow down again.

L Gerlach, Cambridge

From our experience I would say watch out for bullying and step in straightaway if you think it's happening. Our daughter was four and a quarter when she started school, and physically small, and a group of bigger girls started to pick on her in the playground. We didn't say anything, as we thought the teacher would sort it out and it would settle down, but after two weeks our daughter was crying and saying she didn't want to go to school. When we went in about it, the teacher acted immediately and it stopped, but the school knew nothing about it until we pointed it out.

Vicky Anopolis, Berkshire

Even if you are worried about him starting school, tell your son it's going to be great and that he's going to enjoy it. As a reception class teacher, every morning I see anxious parents fussing over children, who are then fussy and anxious in class. I sometimes wonder if parents have any idea how much they shape their children's days, even when they're not there.

Brendan O'Donnell, London, E8

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Is it good that academies are going to be running primary schools? As a primary teacher, I'm puzzled about why the Government thinks a secondary school would know anything about primary education. Or do they just think that the draw of an academy will improve those schools' intakes?

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