There is much debate about what is the best age to start school. All around the country school starting ages vary slightly but in recent years waiting until the oldest age possible to start school has become more popular.
That means that across a cohort some children are only 4 whilst others are almost turning 6. That is quite a gap developmentally!
Age Is Only One Factor To Consider
When making the decision about when to start school I don’t recommend blanket statements regarding age alone as every child is so unique and some children start school at four and thrive, while others struggle. Age is an important factor but it is one factor amongst many other considerations such as social development, language development, independence and confidence.
Rather than looking at age in isolation think about other areas that can impact how happy and successful your child will be at school. For example, oral language skills are a huge indicator for academic success, and social skills are highly important because children with strong friendships are generally more confident and happy at school and this impacts on their learning.
How Independent Are They?
Also consider, independence and confidence, can they attempt new tasks on their own? Or are they able to follow multistep instructions when there is only one teacher to a possible thirty children to assist them? Can they ask for help?
Gender is another consideration
Of course every child is an individual but generally speaking boys often benefit from an extra year at preschool for a number of reasons. But in short, boys’ gross motor skills and physical capabilities tend to develop earlier than girls, however their fine motor skills and language often develop later than girls. They also produce less oxytocin than girls so many boys find it more challenging to sit still and focus so they often benefit from more time to engage in play-based learning.
The Leap To Kindergarten Is HUGE
Remember the leap from preschool to kindergarten is huge. The demands of kindergarten have changed dramatically even in the last five years. If you think kindergarten is all finger painting, singing and naps think again. It is increasingly academic, most children will be required to attempt a piece of writing and be involved in formal reading and mathematics lessons in the first week of school.
Why Starting A Child Too Early Can Be Detrimental
And there is growing evidence that holding off on formal learning until children are developmental ready in all areas is better in the long term, just as pushing children into formal learning before they are ready creates stress and anxiety. It is also detrimental to a child’s self-esteem and can turn them off learning altogether.
We also know that play-based learning which is generally what occurs in preschools is so beneficial for development in so many areas so really what is the rush to school if your child is still developing in certain areas?
Check The Trend
There are also implications for the back end of a child’s schooling to consider, for example a child who is a little more mature and confident may be better able to withstand peer pressure or bullying in high school. The flip side is if your child is the oldest in the grade and much more mature they may find socialising difficult. Ask the principal about the trend for starting age at your child’s future school, in some cases it might be better to go with the majority.
They Need To Be Ready In All Areas
Lastly just because your child is intelligent it doesn’t necessarily make them ready for school, again just like age, intelligence is one factor, take a holistic approach and consider all aspects of your child’s developmental together, if they are not ready in all areas than they are probably not ready.
You can’t rush development or speed up the process, they will be ready when they are ready. If you feel your child needs a little more time to develop in one area, then why not give them the time and space to do so? And remember you are the expert on your child, you know them better than anyone else.
If you feel they are not ready and they will benefit from another year at preschool rather than thinking of it as holding them back, think of it as starting when they are ready to learn!
About The Author
Karen Seinor is the author of Is My Child Ready For School? (New Holland Publishers RRP $19.99), an easy to follow guide for parents on all things school. It also provides tips on selecting a school, how to make a smooth and successful transition to school and, how to support your child in their first year of learning.
Available from all good book retailers or online www.newhollandpublishers.com