Should children start school early?

by User Not Found | Jul 13, 2016

When is a child ready?

Young boy eating lunch at schoolChildren develop differently and the same applies to when they are ready to start school, says psychologist Anthony Gunn. ”A child who starts school at four and a half years—because they were bored at day care—may thrive at school in the same way that a child who was held back a year because their parents didn’t feel that the child was ready, may also thrive. The decision of when to start your child at school is best made on a case-by-case basis. ”

ASG NEiTA recipient Carolyn Coote from Blackmans Bay Primary School in Tasmania is a grandmother and teacher of 34 years’. She feels that early enrolment of children into school under the age of four and a half is unnecessary. “I really believe that the Launch into Learning program, set up in 2007 in state primary schools for 0-4 year olds and parents, is a much more appropriate, valuable as well as common sense approach to preparing students for their future at primary school.”

Indicators of school readiness

“Surprisingly”, says Anthony Gunn,literacy and numeracy aren’t as important indicators for school readiness as social and emotional maturity.”

“School readiness is definitely not measured by the child's age”, says Elaine Crowle,

Immediate Past President of Parents Victoria. “The decision must be based on the individual child. There are many practical and social skills that ideally a child will have before commencing school.”

For example, can your child:

  • use a school toilet?
  • share?
  • leave their primary care-giver without becoming overly distraught?
  • comfortably mix with other children?
  • understand game rules and how to include others?
  • take turns? 
  • handle change (finishing one activity, then moving on to another)?

What is the difference between school preparation and school readiness?

Anthony Gunn says, “Think of it like an athlete training for an upcoming event—this is school preparation. Once the athlete has trained themselves to a required level then they are ready to compete—this is school readiness. Keep in mind that a child’s readiness to attend school will also be based on their development level, both physically and emotionally. These developmental factors are not always within a parent’s control.”

What is the earliest age my child can start school?

This will vary between states and territories within Australia. For example in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, a child can start school if they turn five by April 30 in that same year, where as in New South Wales the child has to be five before July 31. All children in Australia must be enrolled in school by their sixth birthday.

From Parents Victoria's experience, Elaine Cowle says parents are not pushing to send their children to school earlier but are more likely to consider keeping them home for an extra year. This decision is usually made even before the child commences preschool or three year old kinder as obtaining funding for a second year of preschool can only happen with the recommendation of the preschool teacher.

Will they struggle if they’re not ready?

“Yes, this is a real risk in the first couple of years”, says Anthony. “The other risk is if a child’s behaviour becomes disruptive and anti-social due to them not coping at school. Children may have difficulty being accepted by their peers.”

When asked if there is evidence to support underachievement in later years due to an early start, Anthony again says yes, though he adds that this is a hotly contested area.

Is there any reason to enrol a child early?

There are some instances, for example financial or physical reasons, where a parent feels that their child would be better off at school. Maybe the parent has to work and can’t afford childcare, or is not in a position to be able to adequately care for their child for extended periods of time due to physical and/or mental health limitations. “If this is the case for you”, says Anthony, “then attending school early may be beneficial to your child and family situation.”

You can read this entire article in the second issue of ASG’s Scholastic magazine.

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