Our oldest son was born in July making him very much a summer born child. We seriously considered deferring his school entry (and for a long time, wished we had) but were put off doing it because at the time, where we lived, it would have meant he would have had to miss the reception year and we felt that would have been more detrimental. He’s now in year 6 and we’re finally at the point where being the youngest in the year no longer feels like a disadvantage. Based on our experience of reaching this point, I thought I’d share my answer to the question, “How can I help my summer born child?” both when they first start school, and as they move up through the primary school years.
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What Does Summer Born Mean?
Babies who are born in the summer term of the school year, which runs from around April/May to mid July, and babies who are born in summer holidays, from mid July to August, are considered “summer born”. This means they are youngest children in the year and can sometimes be at a disadvantage compared to peers in their class who are almost an entire year older than them.
Do Summer Born babies Struggle at School?
There is some research to suggest that summer born babies do struggle at school. August babies in particular are the very youngest in the year and the most likely to struggle. Recent research by the Department for Education, quoted in the Times Educational Supplement, found that 62% of 5 year olds born between May and August had a “good level of development” compared to 81% of 5 year olds born between September and December. University College London found that summer born children are more likely to be put into lower level ability groups in school, which can then intensify the disadvantages of being younger. On a more positive note, this government report shows that the gap in achievement between summer born children and their peers is much smaller by the time they reach key stage 4 and take their GCSEs.
I would also caution you to bear in mind that statistics are just averages. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you plan to support your child through their school life and many of the children who are represented in these statistics won’t have had that support.
Practical Ways to Help Your Summer Born Child
When your child first starts school you may be most worried about them being able to learn to read but in reception, their are usually more practical considerations first.
Often one of the first ways you’ll notice that your child is different from the children with birthdays earlier in the school year is their self care abilities. Being able to take their coats on and off, doing up and undoing the zip, will make life much easier for them. As it’s unlikely they’ll be wearing a coat during the summer months directly before they start school you may want to start practising this early or make a specific effort to wear clothes with zips to practise with. My son wasn’t able to manage this when he started school and I always remember that the first “Headteacher’s award” he came home with was for learning to do it.
Getting themselves changed for PE is also a really useful thing to be able to do. While teachers and teaching assistants will of course help them if they need it, the more they can do for themselves the better. You can make a game out of it at home, perhaps with some mini PE lessons thrown in too. My son solved the problem of not being able to get himself changed by recruiting some of the girls in the class to help him, he’s nothing if not a problem solver!
If your child is going to have a packed lunch, get them to practice opening packets, this can be done over the summer with lots of picnics at the park. If they are going to have school dinner, then get them practising with a knife and fork. They don’t need to be able to use them elegantly, but they do need to be able to get their lunch eaten.
If your child is still napping when they are about to start school (lucky you, mine was too) then you’ll need to decide if you want to stop it beforehand to help your summer born child to adjust to life without naps. We didn’t and he seemed to cope fine, he actually carried on napping at the weekends for the first term before finally stopping.
The other practical things to be aware of is using the toilet. While the odd accident definitely still happens in reception and teachers understand that, your child should able to go to the toilet, and wipe, alone.
How Can I Help my Summer Born Child With Social Skills?
My son was at preschool a year before starting school and made not a single friend. This wasn’t because no one liked him, it was because he just wasn’t interested in friends yet. Some four year olds are still at the parallel play stage, where they play the same thing next to another child but not really with them. By the time he started school he was ready to make friends and did so quickly. While there were plenty of children in the class who found him immature, there were plenty who were at his level.
I helped him to cement a particular friendship by setting up play dates, this is a great way to help a summer born child develop their social skills in the safety of their own home. If they seem interested in friends when they are in preschool you could start then but for us their was no point until reception when he seemed ready for friendships.
As he got older, he had more friendship issues. His lack of maturity sometimes made him annoying to others and it’s something we approached (as I often do) with books. We read “Tobin Makes Friends*” and “How to be a friend*” together and this helped him understand the ways his behaviour effected other people. I would suggest you proactively help your summer born child by reading these or similar books around the age of five.
The difference in his maturity level and that of the majority of his classed peaked around years 2 and 3 and has since then settled down and is no longer noticeable by year 6.
How to Help Your Summer Born Child with Reading
While learning to read doesn’t start until age 6 in some countries, if you have a summer born child in the UK their reading journey will start not long after they turn 4. The first thing to do is accept that they may not be ready, and that is ok. There is a good chance they might end up behind, maybe for a few years, but they will catch up. The important thing at this stage is to not put them off reading and books for life.
The most important advice I can give you is to keep reading to them. My kids are 8 and 10 and I still read to them every night. The focus should be on them enjoying stories. If reading time just becomes about them sounding out words in a reading book with a storyline as dull as dishwater, they will lose all interest in books and have no motivation to learn to read.
Once you get to the point when the teacher asks you to read with your child every day, don’t think you have to make them read a lot. Be led by them. A couple of pages, a page, even a word done with a positive attitude is better than any amount they are forced to do. Start small, keep it a positive experience and you’ll be able to gradually increase it. You can find lots more tips in my post on reluctant readers.
Writing for Summer Born Children
Writing is a tricky physical skill that many 4 year olds just aren’t ready for yet. If you want to help your summer born child before they start school, instead of getting them to write letters, focus on strengthening their hands and improving their fine motor skills.
Play dough is an excellent way to strengthen children’s hands and you can extend that to slime, kinetic sand, cookie dough and digging in the sand at the beach. You can improve fine motor skills with threading activities. For example, get them to thread pipe cleaners through the holes in colanders or stick spaghetti stands in some play dough and thread cheerios onto them.
The other thing you can do to help is mark making. This isn’t about writing, just about making marks on a surface using any medium you choose so examples could be chalk on a chalkboard, finger painting, using a wet paintbrush on a dry fence or just colouring with crayons.
How Can I Help My Summer Born Child With Numbers?
Number work usually starts in reception too and some summer born children will struggle with it. If you want to help your summer born child with numbers before they start school you can focus on number recognition for the numbers 1 to 10. You can make it a game by having a number hunt and try to spot numbers while you’re out and about.
You can also teach children to count to ten. We also taught ours to count down from ten when counting down with the microwave.
When doing number homework with your summer born child you can help them by using apparatus. At school they will have things like Numicon* to help them work it sums out. You can buy your own or just use something else. We always just grab some pasta and use it like counters.
When they reach years 2, 3 and 4 they will start to learn their times tables. We found our summer born child needed a lot of repetition to get them to stick but he also found them very boring. I’d suggest trying a variety of different methods with your child to see what works for them, have a look at these 50 different ways to help your child learn their times tables.
The Most Important Thing About Helping Summer Born Children
The best way you can help your summer born child is to try not to put them under too much pressure. It can be really hard if you can see they are behind but pushing them when they just aren’t ready to learn really won’t help. The important thing is not to make school and learning a negative experience for them. Once our son was ready to learn we asked him if he would like to have a tutor and he agreed. We did it for a while and it contributed to him catching up but if we had done it before he was ready it would have been a waste of money.
Can I Defer My Summer Born Child?
Deferring a summer born Child is definitely an option. At the time we were considering it, in the area we live in, it would have meant missing the reception year but that is less common now. The Summer Born Campaign offer support to parents who want to defer their summer born child’s entry to school.
I know that at some points we felt like there was no way our son was ever going to catch up, but he really has and I believe our low pressure approach contributed to that. If his Key Stage 2 SATs hadn’t been cancelled due to all of the homeschooling in Lockdown, it’s likely he would have passed them, something we couldn’t even have imagined in year 3. If you’d like to hear about other parent’s experiences of their summer born children at school you can read about them here.
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