What Age Should Kids Be Starting School?

  • Parents Only

By: Phoebe Ackland, ellaslist

Sending your little ones to kindergarten or holding them back at home or at preschool for another year can be one of the most difficult decisions parents make on their children's behalves in those early years. 

The rule (in NSW) is that children can enter kindy if they turn 5 by July 31 of the year they enter, and all kids must be in school by the time they're six. This leaves up to a potential 18-month age gap between children in the same grade. So what are NSW mums and dads opting for? According to news.com.au, in 2016, 1391 children entered school aged 4, 53,000 entered as five-year-olds and 15,816 were aged six or over. 

Holding Them Back

This seems to be the general consensus amongst parents these days- another year of play surely couldn't harm any child! The research tends to lean towards holding them back greatly benefitting the child, whilst sending them as soon as they are eligible tends to have little to no academic benefit in both the short and long term. 

A New Zealand study showed that children's exposure to literacy early did not improve their academic ability, and in fact, may even be damaging in the long run. Children aged 11 years old showed no difference in reading abilities regardless of whether they started literacy at aged 5 or 7, however, those who started at age 5 had less positive attitudes towards reading than those who were held back. 

Holding them back could also help children on the sporting field, as well as in the classroom. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers explored famous hockey stars, their birthdays and the ages at which they started playing. It showed a correlation between those who had started hockey as 'older' amongst their peers, gaining obvious advantages in terms of strength and physical ability, which in turn lead to a higher percentage of these children going on to be professional stars. 

It All Might Depend On Your Child

As well as intelligence and general ability such as counting and writing their name, there are other factors contributing to whether or not your child is ready for kindergarten including maturity and emotional readiness. 

Teacher Elizabeth Vincent told news.com.au: “It’s always difficult when you’ve got a child who’s got an April, May or June birthday because they’re quite young to start and parents wonder whether to keep them at preschool for another year or keep them at home for another year. Sometimes girls are ready a bit earlier than boys, but I’ve found that if they are a little bit unsettled at preschool sometimes when they start a routine at school, they actually work very well because there’s a set routine.” Vincent says that if you are still on the fence, take your child to orientation day and see how it goes. 

Teacher Debra van Aanholt told news that the debate really comes down, in her experience, to 3 things: age, social skills, and how well they cope with change. In addition to this, school really shouldn't be started unless they can take themselves off to the bathroom and back, dress themselves, and pack their bag themselves. 

“Because all children are different, they didn’t all crawl at the same age, they didn’t all walk at the same age, they didn’t all speak at the same age — and the same thing happens with children at school. You need your children to be able to hold a pencil, to get them to use not just pencils but crayons and paints and clay and playdough and all those things that will help them write well when they do come to school.”

School Readiness Programs

Many parents have been looking to school readiness programs to both assess whether their child has the vital readiness skills necessary for starting Kindy, or to equip them with the skills needed if they are indeed going to enter. School readiness programs typically teach children social skills such as turn-taking, correct pencil grip, pre-literacy and numeracy skills, how to listen and follow instructions, and many more. These can be a great idea if you're just not sure whether to send them or hold them back- read more about school readiness programs here. 

For more on the great kindy debate, read this.