Am I Letting My Daughter Down?


My daughter started school in September. She absolutely loves it, bouncing there every single day (I do not exaggerate, she does literally bounce along the pavement in excitement and anticipation). I had expected that she’d enjoy it and take to being a pupil well, though I’ve been surprised at just how much she likes it, her eagerness to do her homework, and by how quickly she learns and absorbs things. But the thing that I hadn’t really expected and considered in amongst her starting school, were the comparisons.

I’m fortunate, or naive, or perhaps just not too bothered, that the school mums I’ve been thrown together with are rather lovely. I’ve not noticed any super-competitiveness yet, and we’ve been to a fair few workshops and the like together, and we’re there gathering at the gates every day, too. No, it’s just my own awareness that has increased, now that my girl is ‘in the system’ seemingly being assessed and measured all of the time, with levels of expectations placed upon her.

school bag and homework

She’s doing well with her reading and writing. I think being surrounded by books from babyhood and seeing me read regularly has made her somewhat eager to master the skill for herself, and she is now a voracious reader. So we read, and we read. She has a fair bit of homework, which she eagerly completes, and then on top of that, we read some more. I’m not pushing her to do so, she is desperate to do so. She wants to read everything that she sees. The other night, as I tucked her into bed, it was the washing instructions on her pillow’s label that caught her attention, and had her determined to read until I turned the light out on her!

With her starting school, I made a deliberate decision not to send her to any out of school activities, too, as school would wear her out, so I was told, but not my girl! So a couple of weeks ago, she started swimming lessons on a Saturday morning, and so far, is really enjoying them. It’s a real pleasure to see. So she goes to school, she completes her homework and she swims. But she has classmates who do far, far more than this. Should she be dancing or going to drama lessons, as she does seem to have a natural talent in these areas? Should she be playing a musical instrument by now, as I’ve no clue whether she’d be good at that? She’s mentioned riding, is that something we should be doing? Or Rainbows one night a week? Honestly, my gut thinks it’s too much. We have our evenings after school filled with playtime and giggles, and then she’s in bed by 7. At the weekend, after swimming now, we have time to have our family adventures, be they scooters in the park, exploring National Trust sites, playgrounds, duck-feeding or just arts and crafts at home. I’m loathe to eat into this time and have her taken away from us any more, but am I doing her a disservice? Is she going to be left behind? She’s a bright, confident child, with a mind like a little sponge, should she be being pushed more? Could she achieve more, and more importantly be very happy doing so? I do not know.

I’ve always been about learning being fun, so as long as she’s enjoying it and developing, that’s enough for me. It still is. I want her to learn in our every day chats, outings and activities, as much as in the classroom. She need not be the best at everything, and anyway, in my eyes, she’s always going to be the best, isn’t she? She’s well-behaved at school, kind to her friends, shares nicely, and has a go at everything that is asked of her. And she is smart, which is a bonus. It’s all I want.

I look at her, my beautiful daughter, and I am so, so proud of her. I do not want to let her down. I didn’t consider that I was, as she’s just a 5 year old, having fun, making friends, enjoying school. I don’t want to be pushy, but what if I’m holding her back?

She doesn’t have these answers, and if she could, she’d want to do every class in the world, as she simply wants to have a go at everything! But it’s up to me to work out what is reasonable, what is the right balance and yes, what can be afforded, both financially and also at the cost of family time together. And at the end of the day, she is just 5. And a happy 5 year old at that. Shouldn’t she be just relaxing and playing when out of school? That’s what my gut tells me, and she seems content, but then the doubt niggles, the comparisons rear their heads, and I start questioning myself all over again…

What do you think?

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68 thoughts on “Am I Letting My Daughter Down?

  • Nikki Thomas

    My daughter started in September too and a lot of what you had written resonates with me. I think you get an instinct with these things and my advice would be not to push too much, positive encouragement is great and support, but they do get tired and if you think she is doing enough, leave things as they are. There is always next year and the year after, My son is very bright and I didn’t push in the first couple of years, if they want to learn and do extra, they will but once they reach a certain age, it all becomes about work and testing, so there is plenty of time.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Thank you. She’s happy spending time playing with her brother and us, and loves school. I think as long as she’s happy and never complaining she’s bored (I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say that!) we’re OK.

  • Catherine

    I think you’re right to go with your gut feeling. Starting school is a big adjustment and very tiring so children need to get used to changes gradually, too many extras on top can overwhelm them. There’s still plenty of time to start new things 🙂

  • International Elf Service

    How fabulous that she’s doing so well! I think it’s possibly a girl thing – our eldest has always been this way – really interested in everything and wanting to go that extra mile when it comes to homework / reading etc. She writes these amazing notebooks for want of a better word – full of pictures, statements, little stories, poems, interesting facts, who her best friends are. Absolutely wonderful keepsakes. Our son on the other hand has an allergy to pens and anything that might have a whiff of ‘work’ about it – he just wants to faff about and just BE. It sounds like your girl has a head full of fun. Good for her! I think in reception the kids did one thing a week after school if they wanted to + a play date and that was enough for them!

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      I suspect my son may be the same, but time will tell! Yes, she has her swimming now, and school put things on for them every so often, too – discos, movie nights etc. that she goes to.

  • Amy

    I’m a Brownie leader, so the Girlguiding section for 7-10year olds. I’d recommend Rainbows, as I really do think it offers a broad programme. Regardless of whether you want her to join now, I’d think about what she may want to so in the future as waiting lists can be really long. I know in my area girls need to be on the Brownie waiting list around 5.5 to ensure they get a place as soon as they turn 7. Any questions about Girlguiding, please let me know, I’m happy to talk about it for ages!

  • Kriss MacDonald

    I find it a major balancing act between extra curricular activities and sports and having time to relax, explore and go for walks. My biggest problem is that, of course, classes for my two kids are not all at the same time so I seem to be taking one of them somewhere all the time. But I think it’s important they have time at home or outside where they simply use their own imagination to have fun or curl up in a chair and read.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Well yes, I do have to think about Little Man, too, that’s true. Like you, I’m a big believer in that time to themselves, too, along with quality family time, which kind of leaves little room for anything else! Thank you.

  • Karen

    She’s 5. She’s started school and she goes swimming. She’s in bed at 7pm. Most of these things don’t start till then. You know your child and you know what your gut is telling you. You’ve answered your own question 🙂

  • Elizabeth - Little White Feathers

    I think you should always trust your instincts. I have had exactly the same worries with both mine. My son is 9 now and didn’t do any after school clubs except football until Year 3 and now he does another football club and drama club. My daughter in Year 1 doesn’t do any and most of her friends do 2 or 3. I feel strongly that kids need ‘down time’ and that to learn to ‘just be’ is really important. Having said that, I’ll also be led a little by my girl who has expressed an interest in dance…but I’m giving it a few more weeks yet to make sure it isn’t a passing fad! You’re not alone. Just don’t make decisions based on comparisons. xxx

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      That’s how I feel, too. And you’re right, and I don’t make decisions like that, I’m just having a moment as I worry I’m slowing her down, but then maybe the family time and down time is contributing to her doing well at school. Thanks for sharing x

  • Cheryl | TimeToCraft

    We’ve all been there. The moment you are standing in the playground and either hear a mother proudly saying her 6 year old is taking her grade 1 piano today or little Fred can swim about a zillion more pool lengths than you know your child can. It does make you think.

    My children (7,10 and 12) have tried quite a few after school activities and gradually they have settled into the ones they like. Some they tried too young. Others they left later and have played a bit of catchup with the children that started at 3, but if they are happy, then I’ll keep taking them.

    Our school doesn’t offer any after school classes to Reception class, nor extra music lessons in school time. It is tough enough without extras. Having spent yesterday afternoon in that class, I can see why.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yes, that’s it exactly! I was happily trundling along thinking all was well and then parents say things like that and I worry I’m holding her back! Like yours, Boo’s school only offers after school classes from year 1, so I think I’ll leave it until September and then let her choose one a week. handy them being at school, too, as they don’t go beyond dinner and bedtime, which is always the other consideration. Thanks for your comment.

  • Amanda

    Do what you feel is right, would be my only advice. My daughter is 5 and is very active, we scoot and walk most places, shes also loving school too. No extra curricular things though. We did try one, and she enjoyed it, but boy was she over tired from doing it, I’m happy to wait now.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Tis great advice, thank you. Yes, my daughter’s always on the go, and I don’t really want to detract in any way from how much she’s getting out of school, and now her swimming which she’s loving. Thank you.

  • Louise @ Birds and Lilies

    I’m clearly not an expert on the subject as my daughter is only three, but I would say you should trust your instincts. She can always do more when she is older or when she really wants to try something in particular. She sounds like a really happy, bright girl 🙂 xx #brillblogposts

  • MissPond

    You are not letting her down! I am so glad my parents didn’t send me off to do too many things, my childhood was still a happy one and I really enjoyed reading with my parents. I feel it has made me a lot closer to my parents than my friends who’ve been pushed from class, to after school club to everything. The only after school activity I did was Girl Guiding, which was amazing and I lead at a Brownie unit now. I do not resent or hate my parents for not pushing me to do more 🙂 Enjoy the time with her whilst she is young x

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Thank you! This is true, as I did very few after school things, yet I had a happy childhood and just got on with the things that I wanted to. It all seems so different these days, though. Thanks, I definitely enjoy my time with her 🙂

  • Emma from LIFE AS IT IS

    Hi Jocelyn,
    Great post. We all feel the pressure don’t we?
    But only some of us see sense and feel able to listen to our guts.
    Where I live, there are families that have little ones in classes nearly everyday. And did so from reception.
    I can’t imagine how Esme would have coped, she began school at just 4 , with a birthday at the very end of Aug.
    And it is only now in Year 2 that she is not so tired.
    When I think back to when she began and had to get into the new routine. To get used to having to conform. Having to sit still for long periods. Having to learn that it is no longer nursery, you don’t just play…
    Now she is 6, she does a class for an hour on Mon after school, and a class for an hour on wed after school – plus gym on a Sat morn.
    I love having the time with her after school. Even if we simply put on the TV and chill together singing the sound of music!!!
    There is time for all of the add ons to the school day. Before long, it becomes compulsory – the addition is lots of homework. Science has shown that this age group do better if they can play quietly at home.
    I am lucky I could be here for her after school, as a writer I’ve been able to work around my children, even if that meant getting up at 5am to meet deadlines on occasion.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      I love having her around and I can’t see that she needs these activities and clubs, but with so many of her peers doing them, I’d hate for her to be left behind. She’s happy, though, and doing well at school, so I think I’ll leave it for a while longer. Thanks for your comment.

  • Laura

    No, I do not think you are letting her down in the least, I think some parents try to cram in too much to be honest. Let kids be kids, let them play the rest will work itself 🙂 it sounds like you have a lovely, well balanced, happy daughter x

  • Hannah

    You are so not letting her down my love! If you are following your instincts spending that quality time with your daughter is such a precious memory for her and you too remember that. As you say, it’s all fun! Don’t feel you have to add the pressure she probably won’t feel it at all I know midge wouldn’t really she’ll either do it or not do it my midge haha but trust me you will!! I also recommend Rainbows but you may want to pop her name down it’s super fun for them and great for confidence building too once a week xxxx

  • Mummy to boyz

    I’m with you my eldest started school in September and he also doesn’t attend any clubs. He bounds to school too and has found a love of drawing which is a real pleasure to see. You know in your gut what is right. We’ve tried various activities with our son before he started school in a bid to increase his flexibility. He loved the first few session but then lost interest. He is far more happier playing with his lego and running along the beach. I want to see his smile and laugh along with him so we are in rush for him to sign up to any clubs.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      You see, my daughter wants to try everything! Fortunately, her school’s good at giving her opportunities to do different things, and then I’ll see what she’d like to try when she’s a bit older. Thank you.

  • Beth Twinderelmo

    Charlie is now in year 1 and has only just started after school clubs which he is ridiculously enthusiastic about – and thid was entirely his own choice. He said he wanted to try and see & that’s what he did. I think you’re doing it perfectly and I’m sure when she expresses an interest you’ll know xxxx

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yes, I like the try and see, so I’m going to let her choose one from Year 1, her school offers plenty so she should find one there x

  • Carol Cameleon

    It IS very difficult to know when not to be pushy and when to push… It sounds like your Boo and Our Little Bear are very similar in that they seem to always want to be on the go, learning, reading, doing sums, absorbing. And then all over again. Reading absolutely everything, from shop signs to my diary!! (Now she would like a filofax too!) Our Little Bear goes to breakfast club and after school club some days and loves them. Hubby and I do see, however, when she starts to flag. And that’s usually close to the end of term or half term! But then in the school hols and weekends, she’s constantly asking to go to her friends’ houses and they to come to us. She’s insatiable! Ultimately, if she’s surrounded by the opportunity to learn (be it reading books, writing notes… whatever – which she obviously is), my gut would say to let her have unstructured time and access to this. There’ll be plenty of time for after school clubs further down the line, I’m sure. 🙂

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yep, that’s how I’m feeling. She’s surrounded my plenty of activities at home, and her and her brother get up to all sorts, too, lovely imaginative play and the like. It’s hard, that push but not be pushy line, isn’t it?! x

  • Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)

    Difficult one lovely and I have zero experience in this. But I think if your gut says its right not to push her then you’re doing the right thing and certainly not failing her. You’re a good mum which is why you question yourself constantly but honestly I think she is only 5 and there is plenty of time to do more activities. Xx

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yes, I didn’t do any at all at this age, but so many of her friends do so much! She’s happy enough, though, and enjoying school and her time at home, so we’ll see how we go as we are. Thank you x

  • Donna

    I never went to after school clubs or any activities as my parents couldn’t afford it. They weren’t pushy, just made sure I did my homework and I did well in my GCSEs. Carry on as you are and she will be fine 🙂 x

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      No, neither did I, but it all seems so different now! She’s happy and learning, so that’s got to be a good thing, right?! Thanks x

  • Zoe

    I feel this pressure even with a two year old of whether she’s doing ‘enough’. But I think time spent at home in these early years with you is valuable and there will be years for her to explore things. I certainly started ballet at 4 and found it exhausting, but started gymnastics years later at about 9/10 and loved it.

  • Jocelyn Reading Post author

    Yes, I think when she goes into year 1, she’ll choose one after school club a week and see how she goes, but for now, she’s got plenty to do at home, and she adores playing with her little brother, too. Thanks for commenting x

  • Louise

    Add a boy that has no interest in writing into the equation and you’ve got me. I often worry I’m holding big man back as I can’t do loads of classes with him as the other two won’t behave and the classes get later as the children get older. It is tricky but if she is happy then you have got something right xx

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yes, the times of the classes are a problem, too, as I want her here for a family dinner time and a decent bedtime, too. And my son won’t want to behave whilst waiting around either! You’re right, I think that’s the thing to really focus on. Thank you x

  • Iona@redpeffer

    This year I decided that my 8 year old would only do one after school activity. She goes to Cubs, which happens to offer many additional activities throughout the year. She is in clubs at school every lunch tine. And we do so much at the weekend and during the holidays, that I think this is plenty. I won’t be signing my son up for anything when he starts Reception in September either. Obviously it’s individual choice but I really believe in allowing our children time to just ‘be’ and time to play and explore independently without the tag of structured activity attached. But that’s just me 🙂 x

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      As do I, Iona, and I think there’s so much to be learned and enjoyed that way. I love our family time together, too, and I think she takes a lot from that, and playing with her little brother. She’s just so full of energy and desire to learn, I hate to think I’m holding her back in some way, but she’s doing well at school and is happy at home, so I guess that’s a good sign. Thanks xx

  • Karen

    Me again 🙂 Madam went into Year 3 in September and for the first time in her school life expressed an interest in doing an after school club. Many of them were athletics based, however there was also Gardening Club. She wanted to do that and she enjoyed it so much she wanted to sign up again for this term 😀
    It starts straight after school and finishes at 4.15pm, so it doesn’t interfere with family time 🙂

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Yes, you see that’s perfect, and there are after school clubs when Boo’s a bit older that would be good. As you say, it doesn’t impact so much and she’s still here for dinner and a normal bedtime then. I’m glad your daughter has found something she enjoys so much x

  • Stephs Two Girls

    You are not letting her down. I think we all fall into the trap of worrying about this, and it doesn’t ever really stop. Part and parcel of being a mum (do dads ever worry?!). I’m with you, I think learning should be fun, and I think you should listen to your own child. Every child is different, and shouldn’t be compared to each other. A child born in September may well have lots more energy than one born in June for example, and may cope with every after school class there is. But then again, it could be the other way round and for whatever reason, that September born child doesn’t have the same immune system or whatever, and they may not be ‘raring to go’! You can only do what you think is best. Oh and ignore ‘well-meaning’ comments from the in-laws, such as I’ve had to endure this morning 😉

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Hmm, I do wonder about the dads!! She’s happy enough, so I think I’ll stick with the swimming and then see what she fancies doing from Sep, if anything at all. And sorry to hear you’ve had to suffer ‘well-meaning’ comments, too – just breathe deeply and ignore! x

  • Julie

    Oh bless you, I think almost every parent feels like this. Getting a balance is really hard. You want them to participate but they are so little. I would say just try to to stress too much. School and swimming sounds like enough for now to me. If she asks to try something else then maybe let her give it a try.
    Mine are all big now (15 – 20) but I remember thinking all other kids were doing dozens of out of school activities – turns out not so much! They can all swim – that seems important/lifesaving, they all enjoyed scouts/explorers but tried football, choir, chess and various musical instruments along the way. My youngest does a lot of drama now, just go with the flow, they will find their way. I would say don’t let their schedules get so full that it becomes to much for you though. It’s easy to put your kids first but don’t let it be at the expense of the odd evening when you get to do something nice with your friends!
    Also sometimes, if you are really lucky your teenager will want pizza and dvd night with you – when THAT happens just enjoy it!

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      Oh, that must be lovely, I look forward to those days, though equally don’t want to wish away these early years as they are so precious. I love seeing her having some downtime and playing with her brother, so we’ll leave it with swimming for now, and see how it goes. Thanks for commenting.

  • amanda

    I think as parents we should listen to our gut and go with it the vast majority of the time… it sounds like you already know what is right for you and your daughter *right now* and so just go with that. If things change 6-12 months down the line and you feel it would be appropriate to make changes, then do so. It’s so tough being a parent and making all kinds of decisions, so please don’t be hard on yourself for decisions you make out of love and concern for her best interests!

  • Cardiff Mummy Says

    This is a really interesting post. It’s so tough to know what to do for the best, isn’t it? Like you, my daughter started reception in September and she absolutely loves it and is doing really well. Her reading, especially is incredible.
    I worry she does too many activities though, as she does gymnastics, Rainbows and ballet, so activities for three nights of the week, and swimming at the weekend. All my children have done swimming since they were tiny babies as I think it’s such an important thing for them to do, then gym and ballet she did as pre-school classes and didn’t want to give them up, and when all her friends started Rainbows, she wanted to start too.
    I asked her if it was too much and if she wanted to give any of them up, and she didn’t, so we are sticking with them for the moment. If she changes her mind, then that’s fine by me. I always did lots of activities growing up and I loved it – we came from a poor working class background and I look back and think my parents must have sacrificed an awful lot for me to do that, but it gave me so much in terms if skills, strengths and confidence that enabled me to get to where I am today. But we are all different. My brothers didn’t want to do so many activities as me, and that was fine with my parents too.
    Above all though, you know your daughter best and as others have said, you need to go with your gut instinct. #mbpw

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      I am loving the speed that they pick up reading, it’s quite something, isn’t it? I can see that if she was already doing some of those classes, your daughter would want to stick with them. My daughter’s classes were all things that stopped at school age so we didn’t have this come up. As you say, it’s each to their own, isn’t it? I’ll see how we go for this school year then I think she might try one more thing next year, if something appeals to her. Thanks for sharing your thoughts x

  • Tracey @ mummyshire

    Oh welcome to the complex world of school!
    I think you should always in with your gut feeling and remember that she is still only small, just 5yrs. I think there is a lot to be sale about children enjoying down time and by that I mean unstructured time at home, choosing what they want to do whether it’s painting or playing imagination games. I try and not give mine too much structure in an institutional environment (I use that term loosely!) as I want them to be comfortable and creative in their own skins/mind first. We do lots of play dates post school which are always fun & like you are in bed by 7pm which also limits things but without their sleep the week can feel pretty long!
    Stick to your gut instinct as no-one knows your children better than you xx

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      I’m going with my gut, it’s just hard, isn’t it? As you say, I like to give her this free, unstructured time as I think it’s important. We’ll see how we go! Thanks x

  • HonestMum

    Trust your gut, always I say. They are still so young aren’t they. My just 5 year old started in September and there’s a lot of pressure on them generally isn’t there. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

  • Emma T

    N starts school in September and I’m hoping that he’ll get most of the activities through school/after school clubs – mostly because I work so that’ll be more realistic than trying to take him to other clubs.

    When I was 5 I did ballet, then started brownies at 7, modern dance at 8, musical instruments at 9. I also did sports with school even at primary, and music school on Saturday mornings. It was manic, but I’d chosen to do them all and my mum didn’t work, so could just about ferry me around, and my brother who did a lot of sport in and out of school.

    N does do swimming on a Saturday, but that’s because it’s a safety thing and I want him to learn now, plus we’ve always done it. But I see other 4 year olds in his swim class and they do football on a Saturday morning, then swimming after lunch – I’m astounded they’re not exhausted. Others do ballet and rugby too. N wouldn’t be fussed about this – he’d much rather be on the farm with his dad. But I’m hoping he’ll want to do an instrument in a couple of years and maybe a sport (hopefully he’ll be racquet sport minded like I was) to give him a broad experience and discipline. However, I think you just have to go with what they want to do. They might get their other experiences elsewhere with family or at school.

    • Jocelyn Reading Post author

      That makes sense, and I’m hopeful of similar with Boo, as the timings are better then and it means I’m not carting her little brother everywhere, too, when he might just want to be playing! I think you’re right about the range of experiences and input from elsewhere, too, as I’d guess that varies widely. Thanks for sharing.

  • Louise Houghton

    Jocelyn, knowing how you are with your two I would never say you are letting her down in any way. As I read about the extra curriular comments you made I can understand what you mean. As you know my two both learn an instrument, Harry’s is in school time and Alfie’s is currently on a Sunday evening but this may change in time. They do not do any other activites apart from Alfie’s Stage School sessions which are on a Saturday. We encouraged him to do thisbecause we know he likes singing, dancing and performing but gave him the chance to give it a go and if he decided he didn’t like it that was fine. Harry wants to do a childrens’ life saving sea awareness course thing which he is on the waiting list for hopefully in the Spring. At home we do stuff outside a lot because the garden demands it and they help out as well as chopping logs and bringing in kindling for the fires. They take responsibility, most of the time, for feeding the chickens and putting them away at night time. We are happy for them to learn life skills and you can’t force children to take part in activities they are not interested in. each to their own, so when they show an interest most places let you have a taster give it a go. Right now you seem to be getting the balance right. Hope I haven’t rambled on too long?x

    • Jocelyn Post author

      Ah, no, you never ramble, Louise! Thanks for this. It’s a tricky balance to find, but I’m taking it as a good sign that they are both happy and never complain they’re bored or seem to struggle with anything x