When should my child start school?
This can be one of the most vexing questions parents can face – is their child ready for school? They’ve probably read debates in the media and heard discussions in the child care carparks, leaving many mums and dads completely confused about when to start their littlie at school.
All the education experts and child psychologists seem to have a view on the topic, and quite a lot of research has been done in the area.
Here are some of the facts, figures and opinions on the values of starting school early or waiting a bit longer. But, beware, it’s an emotional minefield of contradiction and polarised views. In the end, it’s a decision parents, possibly with a preschool teacher or other education professional, need to make.
Boys vs girls
There has been a view among many education experts in the past couple of decades that boys can benefit from a later start at school. Well-known parenting author Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, is a big supporter of boys being held back until at least the age of six years.
He claims that boys on the whole are at least six to 12 months behind girls when it comes to fine motor skills and paying attention.
Holding kids back only good in the short-term
A fairly large 2006 US study found that older kids had a slight academic advantage at the beginning but that this was whittled away over the first few years. The researchers concluded that older kids do better because they learn more before they started kindergarten, but not because they learn more once they get to school.
A 2010 US study found that the age at school entry had no effect on wages, employment, homeownership, household income, or marital status as an adult. In fact younger kids were one per cent more likely to graduate from high school than older kids.
It’s the journey not the destination
Kathy Walker, Melbourne education consultant and early childhood expert at the Early Life Foundations, has spent so much time on this subject, she’s writing a book on it.
She’s a big supporter of a later rather than early start to schooling and cites the successes of European countries like Sweden where children start school at six or seven years old.
Here are some of her words of wisdom: “ Starting school should not be like hopping onto a conveyor belt as soon as you can hop, and getting off as early as you can. Starting school, part of being educated, is a journey that needs special preparation, care, and a wonderful time where one can make the most of the opportunities.”
She believes strongly that if there is a question mark over a child’s readiness for school, that parents are provided with the option of providing their child with another high quality early childhood year before starting school.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Twenty out of 34 European countries have a starting age of six years old, while a further eight wait until seven. In the US and the UK, children start between four and six.
From the mouth of a teacher:
“I’ve not seen any evidence in the classroom that delaying entry is a bad thing,” says kindergarten teacher Renata, who’s been teaching school starters for four years. “Children who are not ready to start school one year do seem to benefit having that extra year in some sort of early childhood program.”
“If they’re not able to open their lunchbox, go to the toilet unaided, follow instructions, for example, it can be hard for parents to expect us to have them reading and writing by the end of they year.”
Join the chat
Find out what other mums have to say about starting school. Is it better to send kids to school early or hold them back a year? Join the chat at Kidspot Social.
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