In my conversations around education, I often hear “Teachers think X”, or “All parents want us to do X”, or “No student will be happy about X”. I very often follow-up with a question to determine the sample size of this observation. More often than not it is a sample size of one. The individual teacher, parent, student (and other), are extrapolating their own views to be representative of their group and who MUST think like them.
I share this caveat as background, as I fully admit that my observations in this post are based on a sample size of one — me.
I am also asked for parenting advice. I get it. I have a job where we work with young people everyday and I have four kids of my own. So, if I could give parents or potential parents one piece of advice, it would be have your children early in the year, and the closer to January the better.
January birth dates are fresh in mind as two of our four children have just celebrated their January births — our younger son on January 11 and our older daughter on January 1. In particular, I often think of our older daughter and the good fortune of her birth. She was born in the early morning hours of January 1, 2001, following a long labour for my wife that began midday on December 31. I am convinced that had she been born just a few hours earlier, she would not have had quite the same range of opportunities she has and has had.
While we are trying to break it down, the last day of the calendar year is still largely defining in our school system. A few hours difference can mean being a grade apart. We have two children born in January and two children born in June and in July. I think all have had the advantage of being born in the first six-and-one-half months of the year. While I do believe it becomes increasingly less important as they become older, the extra time they have had in the younger grades is definitely an advantage and spurred on by confidence.
Our house is also a big sports home with all of our kids playing multiple sports in all seasons. And, again, in almost every sport January 1 is the date that separates some kids from other kids. I am convinced my January-born children would have had very different sports experiences if they were born in December. While over time it does even out, the advantage of the early birthdate can lead to a child being a little taller, a little more coordinated and mature, and can also lead to extra attention for sports opportunities than for a child born 10 months later.
This thinking around sports is nothing new. It is something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his 2008 book, Outliers — that there is a link in professional sports between those born early in the year and those who made it to the professional level in sports. It should be noted that there has been push back to his argument since its publication.
So, if you are reading this and have a child with a late birthday, what should you do? I know what my parents did for me (a late-October birth). They didn’t tolerate suggestions from early primary teachers that I was “just a bit slow” and by about Grade 5, the birthday effect had all but disappeared. Another piece of advice — as hard as it can be, move away from comparing your child to others because we all develop differently.
More importantly — and I think this is a topic that should be resident in our consciousness — we should actually think less about age be it school, or sports and more about the stages of development and how these can be supported.
As I have shared my “sample size of one” I am curious if others have had similar or contrary experiences?
And one final note – a special thanks to my colleague Deb Podurgiel who has read each of my posts for the last five years before I hit publish in an effort to help save me from myself. She is leaving the school district to new adventures and the chances of me using their when I should use there are about to go up.