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Forever too young;Friday's child;Parting Shots

Reva Klein on the problems of starting school at four

Josh will be five in July. He's a big boy at home. He has a baby brother and helps his mum and dad around the house, rides his bike and is beginning to crack the mysteries of reading. But at school some of his classmates in reception call him a baby.

At playgroup, age wasn't an issue. Everybody acted like babies then. And they had their mums there to act as buffer zones between them and the outside world. But now, it's different. His still podgy cheeks and the "r"s that sound more like "w"s, his slowness in responding to jokes, his shyness in the playground, all conspire to brand him immature.

Josh just had one term in a mornings-only nursery due to a shortage of places. His mum tried to compensate by taking him to playgroup and by doing activities with him at home. But her pregnancy and then newborn meant that Josh had to amuse himself on his own more than before. By the time he started nursery, he was academically ready but socially a bit awkward.

Big school, though, came as a shock. Being there all day with children who seem to know each other and understand what school's all about more than he does is scary. And so is having to do what the teacher says when she says it. He's not used to the regimentation of a structured reception class.

But it's the social whirlwind of playtime that really makes him feel out of sorts. He may be action man at home, playing football round the garden and helping his mum paint the front gate, but in the playground he burrows deep into himself, willing himself invisible, so that nobody takes the mickey out of him.

Sometimes, it's the well-meaning ones who are the worst. Because he's short, a couple of girls have got him to play mummies and babies with him. After one turn around the playground in a toy pushchair, he realised this wasn't for him. He found their patronising way of talking to him cringe-making.

No, what he really would like to be doing is kicking a football around with the bigger boys, the boys who seem to know each other so well and look so confident. But a couple of them are the ones who have called him baby. He just can't risk it. So he's decided to wait until someone invites him to join in.

Josh knows what he wants to be - because he's that person at home - and knows that thepersona he's assumed at school isn't it. He's not fearful, just cautious. And willing to wait till the right person comes along to be friends with, so that he can emerge from his cocoon. He won't be rushed, either.

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