School Readiness: What is the right age for your child?

In Victoria, kids must turn five before the 30th of April in their first year of school.

But even with these guidelines, many parents still struggle with whether they should hold their child back a year…

Or if they should start early.

In fact, a recent study showed that parents are suffering from excessive stress and anxiety over the decision!

It’s a concerning but not completely surprising finding…

The first year of a child’s schooling can set the path for their educational experience…

For better or worse.

So in this post, we’ll be addressing some of the implications of school starting age…

And how you can help pick the best path for your child.

Why would parents want their kids to start school early?

Many parents see that their children have advanced literacy, numeracy or other cognitive skills for their age.

This may be compared to other kids their age, to how their siblings were at that age, or to what is ‘expected’ of kids starting school.

These parents feel that not only is their child ready for school, but that they will also suffer from being held back.

For many parents, there is also the very real issue of practicality:

Another year out of school can keep parents from returning to work, and incur additional childcare costs.

Why do others want to keep them back?  

Many parents consider the impact of their child’s starting age on later years, says psychologist Dr Amanda Mergler.

By being an older student in teenage years, parents hope their kids will be more mature and able to deal with adolescent challenges…

Like peer pressure, drinking and managing study obligations.

Parents also draw on their own time at school:

‘Parents, who had negative experiences as one of the youngest in their class, or positive experiences being one of the oldest, felt justified in delaying [kindergarten] entry,’ Dr Mergler said.

What are the implications of starting school too early?

The main concern is that, while the child may be intellectually ready for school, they will not be emotionally ready.

Because school isn’t just about learning information…

It’s also about learning how to socialise, to work within an organised structure with others, and to follow instructions.

While a 4-year-old child may be an excellent reader on their own terms…

They may not be able to concentrate when they’re expected to during the school day.

Many very bright young kids can struggle to sit and be quiet for extended periods as they’re expected to at school.

Emotional maturity is incredibly important…

Not just for navigating the social aspects of the classroom, but also for focussing and following directions from their teacher.

‘A bright child’s cognitive abilities may not be reflected in their performance or behaviour at school because they’re not emotionally ready for the environment,’ explains our staff psychologist Dani Kauffman.

‘You can’t thrive in a classroom if you can’t sit down and concentrate and do what the teacher says.’

‘It’s not just about knowing how to read and count… it’s about being able to sit down and focus and concentrate for an extended period of time.’

And socially, if a child isn’t at the same maturity level as their classmates, they may find it difficult to make friends.

This will impact their experience of school: emotionally, developmentally and academically.

And what are the benefits of starting school later? 

‘In general, the consensus is the later the better’, says Dani.

‘If someone is on the border, they’re better off starting later, so they have more time to develop their emotional maturity.’ 

Many psychologists and education experts also advocate the importance of ‘play-based learning’…

The kind of learning that occurs before formal schooling — in preschool, child care and at home.

‘Studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children’, explains Cambridge researcher David Whitebread.

‘Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development.’

Research has also shown a link between play and mental health.  

While play opportunities have significantly decreased for children since the mid 1950s…

Stress and anxiety levels in children have risen.

Finally, starting school later may also offer a direct academic advantage…

A study in New Zealand compared two groups of children:

One group who started formal education at age 5, and the other at age 7.

By age 11, there was no difference in reading levels between the two groups…

However, those kids who started at 5 showed less positive attitudes towards reading, and poorer text comprehension than those kids who started later.

So what’s the answer for kids on the cusp of the cut off?

Or for parents who feel that their younger child IS ready to start school? 

For struggling parents, an impartial assessment can help to ease the decision-making burden.

It can be very hard for parents to view their child’s readiness objectively…

Many of these considerations are subjective, emotional, and very complicated.

(It’s no wonder that Australian parents are agonising over the decision!)

So a school readiness assessment by a trained psychologist can be the best indicator of the right path.

Over four sessions, a school readiness assessment evaluates a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development…

Their play, communication, self-care and language skills…

And their gross and fine motor skills.

By the end of the school readiness assessment, parents can feel secure in their choice for when their child will start school. 

And importantly, they can have the confidence to know that their child will be equipped with the basic skills they need to fulfil their potential.

If you are considering a school readiness assessment

Book a complimentary initial consult with one of our psychologists.

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