school readiness School readiness can be a really controversial topic these days, especially here in NSW where there is no set age for your child to start school.

I have a fabulous guest post from Neva Poole sharing her thoughts on the topic.  Neva is a fellow Northern Beaches mum of four-year-old Eden and one-year-old Archer.  Alongside being a mum, Neva juggles writing articles and social media content for clients on the Northern Beaches.     school readiness

There’s a trend happening among parents in Sydney.

Parents are deliberately holding back their child from starting ‘big school’ in the hope that they can give their child an academic advantage over their peers once they start school a year later.

I have noticed this while wrestling with the decision of whether to send my daughter to ‘big school’.  Being a March 2010 baby, she sits right on the fence of either being sent to school in 2015 or staying put in preschool for another year.

Most of the other mothers in my Mother’s Group are ‘holding back’ their children from starting big school.  The reasons are varied – they believe their child is not emotionally and socially ready for school; some mothers have been open about wanting to give their child a competitive advantage over other children in their peer group; some mothers wish to ensure that their child will be with other friends that are also being ‘held back’. Finally, some mothers simply want to be able to spend more time with their child before they embark on 13 years of schooling.

I did some research on the issue.

Ian Wallace, a Family Psychologist, wrote: “This has only emerged in Australia in the last few years, it’s a practice that began in New York in the early 2000’s and quickly spread from there….studies have shown that there is no significant academic advantage gained by holding children back when they are reassessed several years into school.”

school readiness
Children role playing at Wannabees Family play town

According to Dr Sandra Heriot and Dr Ivan Beale, Authors of Is Your Child Ready for School?, a child’s readiness for school depends on a whole range of factors including a child’s interpersonal skills, how well the family functions, nutrition and early learning experiences.

So, what to do?

I thought it best to cover all my bases.  I re-enrolled my daughter in her current preschool for 2015 and then for good measure, enrolled her in the next-door primary school and another primary school just out of area.

While attending orientation days at the two local primary schools, emphasis was placed on personal and social skills versus the academic ability of the child, as these skills could be taught.

I wondered – could I encourage my daughter to share, take turns and play co-operatively with others within a couple of months?  Would she listen to the teachers and do as she was told?  I needed to know how to fast-track the personal and social skills in my daughter if she was going to attend school in 2015.

According to the authors of Playing and Learning to Socialise, “children need to learn to learn to wait their turn, share, resolve conflicts, manage anger, stand up for themselves appropriately and be socially confident.  If they do not learn these basic skills in the early years, it can affect their development.”

school readiness
Children role playing at Wannabees Family play town

I arranged play-dates for my daughter and encouraged her to dress up and play.  I took her to innovative play centres, including Wannabees Family Play Town in Frenchs Forest, where the focus is on developing the child’s emotional and social skills through dress ups and role-play.  The centre is set up like a mini-city where children can experience first-hand being a doctor, fire-fighter, hairdresser or even a banker or TV producer. The majority of staff at the Family Play Town are qualified child-carers and educators, and they guide the children through the different attractions as well as let them discover the city for themselves.

It is thought that role-play engages with your child’s emotions, cognition, language and sensory motor skills.  It also helps your child to discover their own leadership skills, acquire language ability, problem solve, develop empathy, explore their imagination and build social skills.

I took heart from Ian Wallace’s remarks: “Parents might well be better reading frequently to their kids, engaging in creative educational games and encouraging broad social interaction, rather than paying an extra year of expensive preschool fees and delaying big school.”

So, what did I decide to do in the end?

The Preschool Director helped me a great deal in making my decision. It was her guidance in a frank discussion that made me see the light.

“Your daughter is ready for school.  She has displayed great resilience and the ability to make friends.  There have been no episodes of crying, separation anxiety, tantrums or meltdowns.  In essence, she’ll be fine at school.”

We have decided that we should take the plunge and send our daughter to ‘big school’ next year.

Now we have the ‘simple’ decision of which school to choose.

Thanks Neva for sharing your research and thoughts with my readers and good luck with your decision.

Do you have a little one ready for school next year?  Will you be sending them?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you do have a school ready child, here on my top 10 tips on making sure they are ready for their first day.

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24 comments on “School Readiness. What is the right age for your child to start school?”

  1. Hello Robyn (and Neva) 🙂
    I found you via the IBOT link up – first visit to your blog and am looking forward to having a click around. I am a reception (prep/kinder) teacher and I completely agree that the preschool director will be your best source of advice as to whether your child is ready for big school. Great point made by Neva that social/emotional readiness skills are very important – and is it true that we will teach your child to academics of reading/writing/numbers. However it is helpful if your child can write their name, know some letters and numbers, shapes, colours etc.
    By the way Robyn, I clicked on your “10 tips to make sure they are ready…” post, and once I arrived there, I kept clicking ‘read more’ but the article didn’t come up! Just thought you’d like to know. Lauren 🙂

    • Hi Lauren, thanks so much for the heads up on the broken link. I have just fixed it now and double checked that it works!!

      Thanks for visiting too. It’s so hard to know what to do with schools, especially when it’s your first child. I’m from the UK and there is no choice there, if you child has turned 4 by a certain date, they go to school and thats that. I do think that’s much easier than leaving parents to make the decision. I sent my little one ‘early’ (she’s an April baby) and she has done fantastically well. I think it all depends on the child really – and your gut feeling as a parent. xx

  2. we are trying to work out if my june boy is ready for school. it’s been an agonising decision. We have a spot at daycare and at a non govt school. At the school we are planning to send him to, we know that he will be the youngest of all the boys. the key question will he be socially ready?

    • It’s so tough isn’t it Stephanie. My youngest is the 29th May so in two years time I will be in the same predicament as you. Good luck xx

  3. My oldest two girls both went to school earlier than others, and now that we have moved interstate they are even younger. They are both doing fine.
    I like what was said about encouraging the interpersonal skills as opposed to stressing about the academics. In my experience, that makes sense. They learn what they need to learn about reading and writing. The other stuff, they definitely need first.

    • I totally agree Jess. My middle daughter was the youngest in her class too and she has handled it perfectly. I really do think it depends on the child though xx

  4. With the wisdom of hindsight, I really wish we’d held back our daughter. She was a November baby and always the youngest in her class: here in Qld that means she graduated the week she turned 17. I think when the age really matters is in high school – trust me, you don’t want your child in a group with others a year or more older.

    • This is a really good point Janet and one that crosses my mind often with my Miss H. My littlest won’t start school for another few years yet, but with a May birthday I will seriously consider holding her back for this reason. Being a third child I’m pretty sure she’ll be ready early though. xx

    • Glad you enjoyed it Karin. I think when the time comes you should just go with your gut feel. It’s not long before I will have the high school search on my radar – eeeeek!!!

  5. I think it should be left up to parents to make the final call. I know in Qld kids now start later. I was very young (just turned 5) when I started school as my birthday is at the end of the year (late December). But I’d been through kindy with the same group of kids who were all starting school so I’m sure it made sense for me to as well.

    • I’m not sure whether leaving up to parents is ideal. I really struggled with my girl – being a late April baby. I wish the was a rule that children had to born within a 12 month period, therefore limiting the age gap between classmates to 12 months at the max.

  6. It’s such a tough decision, we sent Chiara at 4.5 (she’s a July baby) as socially we felt like she was ready. With three big sisters already at school, we figured she’d be fine. In fact, it was a disaster and it took her til half way thru year one to really ‘get’ school. Maya, on the other hand, is a Feb baby and started on her birthday as that’s how they do it in NZ, and it meant that when we moved to Australia, she’s on the younger side for her class. She’ll start Year 7 in January and turn 12 in Feb while some of her friends will be turning 13 in March/April. For her it hasn’t been a problem and she’s always been in the top 2% for NAPLAN despite being one of the youngest.

    • It’s amazing how each child is so different ins’t it Emma. I’v always just assumed that Lexi will go early (she’s May) as being a third child she’ll be ready. However, I think I might just reserve my judgement a little until the time comes. xx

  7. As a teacher I am slightly concerned that parents would be holding children back to give them an academic advantage…. I had not heard of that until now.
    We do have a recommended starting age for Prep here in QLD and stick pretty closely to that, there is no early entry but delayed starts can happen. I think that Neva did the absolute right thing in exploring all the options and engaging her child in different activities to determine the best possible placement for her child. That would be my advice, you know your child the best and if they are ready or not but also trust judgement of the professionals and the system..

    • I have to agree with you Zita. My daughter is on the younger side and she is in a year with a lot of ‘held back’ children. This leaves age gaps of nearly 18 months between children in the same class, which I think is crazy!

  8. Raffles is March baby and we didn’t hold him back because he was so ready. He’s one of the youngest in his grade (and it’s a big grade), he’s also doing extremely well academically, is popular and one of the most confident kids in the grade. I don’t regret it a bit. Sugarpuff is also a late Feb baby and we will make the call with her when we need to. If she is ready. x

    • I totally agree that it’s up to the individual child, although I do wish there was a more clear cut system in place as some parents aren’t always able to make the right decisions.

  9. Hi Robyn,

    Thanks for the opportunity to write a guest post for your web site.

    I have just read your top tips for making sure that your child is ready for school. It’s great for me, as I often don’t realise just how much I help my daughter, especially with getting dresses and opening up snacks in her lunch box.


  10. My middle child goes to school next year. Being a June baby with our school’s cut-off being the end of May, we had no choice and had to hold her back, so she will be one of the older children in her year, but by no means the oldest. Hubby and I were both young starters, so this was new for us and in some ways, it seems a little strange that she is already 5 and a half and not yet at school. I think a year ago, she may have managed academically, but she would have struggled socially. She is small in stature and quite shy, but this past year at pre-school has seen her grow amazingly in confidence and she is now more than ready for school.

    I think that, where there is a choice, it’s incredibly important to look at the child as an individual. I have friends who have really struggled with the decision in some circumstances. Thankfully, there’s no choice with any of our three because of when their birthdays are!

    • I much prefer the ‘no-choice’ situation, I must admit. My daughter is late April and we sent her with what is considered early. At the time I thought she was ready but I have now come to regret that decision and she will be repeating Year 1 next year. xx

  11. The other day I was scrolling through FB and saw a question asked by a reader of a parenting page. She was asking how hard it was to get a kid in to school early, before they were meant to start. Her reason? Because he was tall. WTF?!?!?! The kid doesn’t turn 4 until August and she wants to send him next year because he is already as big as kids starting school this year. Some people seriously make me worry!

    • Yeah ,that is a pretty ludicrous reason. Exactly why I don’t think it should be up to the parents to decide!!

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