Is Your Child Ready For School?

When to start your child in school is a major decision for parents, particularly for those with a child whose birthday is amidst the grey area of cut-off dates. Do you send at 4½ or wait until almost 6 years old?

School readiness is not about being able to count or know the alphabet – these are skills that are taught once they begin formal education. Being ready for school is more about maturity and having the social skills to cope with the school day. Even though a child may be officially old enough to start school, are they are emotionally ready to begin 13 years of education and thrive at school?

Here are a number of questions to ask that can help answer that big question:

  • Do they have problems separating from their carer?
  • Do they interact well with other children?
  • Do they their own ideas?
  • Can they make independent decisions and follow through with the choice?
  • Can they concentrate on a task?
  • Can they recognise their feelings?
  • Can they follow instructions?
  • Can they look after themselves – open their own lunchbox, go to the toilet without help?


What is the right decision?

In recent years, there has been a rising trend towards holding those borderline children back; the benefit of an extra year in an early learning programme, as opposed to coping at school, seems to sway many parents into not rushing into formal schooling.

This trend is resulting in more six year olds in the Prep/Kindergarten classrooms, and this age gap is further swaying more parents to hold back, as they don’t want their four-year old to feel overwhelmed by a classroom made up predominantly of six-year olds. Parents also, more than ever, want their child to shine and believe that extra 12 months gives them an advantage.

There is also the popular view that suggests boys should be held back more so than girls. Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, claims that boys are six to 12 months behind girls around the age of five, in regards to paying attention and fine motor skills. Which is leading to more boys having a delayed start in education.

However, a 2006 US study showed that any academic advantage older kids had was lost over the first few years. Any children showing higher achievement was because they had learnt more before they started school, not because they learned more once they started school. And holding back a four-year-old child who is ready for school, simple because everyone else is, isn’t an appropriate outcome for the child.


Ask for help

Parents can’t be expected to make this decision alone, so the input of the preschool or daycare teacher is an integral part on the decision-making process. Ask your early childhood teacher, and also ask the school you will be joining, to be fully aware what is expected of your child day-to-day. Visit the school and the orientation days before you decide. There are also plenty of resources online to help you: the state-specific Department of Education websites* have some great tips and activities to prepare children for starting school, which can also help indicate to parents whether a child is ready to embark on formal education.


Current cut-off dates

Each state has a slightly different starting date:
NSW – 31 July. Children begin compulsory Kindergarten at the beginning of the school year, if they turn five before 31 July that year. Children must be enrolled in school by the time they turn six.
ACT – 30 April. Children must be five by 30 April to begin the school year.
VIC – 30 April. Children must be five by 30 April to begin the school year.
WA – 30 June. Children can start Kindergarten the year they turn four years old, if their birthday is before 30 June. Otherwise they start the following year.
TAS – 1 January. Children must be five by 1 January to be enrolled in Prep – the first year of school.
SA – 1 May. Those turning five before 1 May go to school that year. Those turning five after 1 May go to school the following year. Children must be in school by six years old.
QLD – 30 June. Children turning five before 30 June go to Prep that year. Those turning five after 30 June go to school the following year.
NT – 30 June. Children must turn six before 30 June to enter Year 1. School is compulsory from age six. Non-compulsory Transition is available for those turning five by 30 June that year.

NSW Department of Education

VIC Government education website

WA Department of Education website

NT Department of Education website

ACT Department of Education website

TAS Department of Education website

QLD Dept of Education website

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