What’s the point of Grade R?
Do parents have to choose between structure and playtime for 5-year-olds?
My fondest memory of Grade 1 was building a huge clay crocodile. My mother remembers me selling my new pencils for 50c each on the first day. With Rivan turning 5 this year and the soon-to-be compulsory Grade R, I decided to find out what all the hype was about.  I’d heard rumours of how tough Grade 1 is these days, but could it really be that bad?

The Department of Education has postponed the compulsory Grade R implementation with two to three years, now only to be rolled out in 2012 or 2013. Although crèches and pre-primary schools will be allowed to have Grade R classes, they will have to register and follow the departmental curriculum. This will then also allow them to apply for a subsidy from the Department of Education.

I could keep him in crèche for his Grade R year, allowing him one more year to be a little kid whose only job it is to play, or enrol him in the primary school’s Grade R and give him that added benefit of a structured and easier start to Grade 1.

I toddled off to my local primary school and put the Grade R teacher through the wringer.  My first impression of the classroom was: ‘this is what my Grade 1 class felt like’.  With little chairs and tables, pictures on the walls and everything marked with a big name tag. 

The teacher explained that the workload the kids have to deal with in Grade 1 these days is miles away from what we did as kids. Sorry kids, no more playtime with clay.  She showed me some of the Grade 1 school books. The school year only just started and already they are expected to write complete words. And not only the ‘See Spot Run’-type either. By February they start to write sentences. Without the foundation of Grade R, children cannot cope with what is expected of them.

I asked what the difference is between letting your child do Grade R in a crèche or in the primary school.  She replied that it helps if your child becomes familiar with the big school environment. The work is structured and age appropriate, whereas a lot of crèches are just not geared towards providing the necessary foundation work. Some race ahead, placing too much pressure on the children, and others deal with the teaching of the basics incorrectly. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any good pre-primary schools out there.

But for me, I think the structure of the primary school’s set up is the way to go.

Are our children ready for Grade 1 when the time comes?
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