Age of School Admission in Korea

“Strawberry” Kindergarden

My son is a December-born child. In the US he was attending his last year at a daycare center. He could not go to pre-K because in September he was still 3 years old. I was happy about my son staying in a daycare environment with naps, story time and daily playground runs. Like many moms of December-born kids, I felt he was just not ready mentally to go to pre-K with a backpack. Besides, we lived in a school district where the resources of public schools were severely cut by a new state legislature, which resulted in large teacher-student ratios and stiff competition for open spots in “good,” “safe” schools. Three months ago, when we came to Korea and began looking for daycare arrangements for my son, it turned out that in Korea he is 6 years old, and he should be in Kindergarten with kids who have already completed their first year of kindergarten. Kindergarten kids take yellow buses to school at 8:30am (a homeroom teacher is present on the bus collecting and bringing kids back). Students have 2-3 classes per day plus many daily activities such as crafts, story time, field trips, walks, birthday celebrations, 3 meals, etc. There is an option of keeping a child at school till 3:00 or till 6:00 pm for working parents.

Overnight (quite literally), my son grew 2 years older. We quickly had to get used to the idea of sending him off on a yellow bus with a backpack. Now he has to work on projects with the kids who have been using crayons and scissors at school for the past two years. Add to that the fact that kids learn how to use chopsticks and you will have almost perfected fine-motor skills and the kids here are basically ready to write at the age of 4. I will be the first to admit the sad truth that, having come from a different environment, at this point my son’s skills of holding a pencil or working with small objects are lagging behind.

My Korean friend tried to cheer me up after I shared that my son is not good at coloring. Hoping this will make me feel better, she said, “This means nothing that he does not draw well, because in Korea parents usually know what the upcoming curriculum for the next year will be like, and they hire tutors to learn it in advance, a year ahead.”

Kindergarden entrance

Perhaps it means nothing on some level, or maybe it does. I noticed my son gets unusually frustrated when he colors in the presence of children. In fact, he refuses to try when other children are around him. However, when we practice at home alone, he is more tolerant of this activity. Go figure, what means what and at what age it becomes important.

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