Should You Hold Your Child Back From Starting School?

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The age of the internet is both a blessing and a curse, we have access to more information than ever before on any topic we like.  One of those topics is parenting.  With the amount of information available comes an increasing amount of paranoia and self doubt about the decisions we are making for our kids.  Schooling and education are high on the list of important parenting topics, and school readiness has become a concern for some parents in recent times.

Some of the concerns are along the line of “Is my child too young?”, “Will they be the youngest in their grade?”, “Will they be the smallest in their class?”, “Will they always be behind if they are younger?”.  These are common questions, and most parents want the best start in life for their kids, especially when it comes to schooling and academic achievement.  These questions seem to be of particular concern to parents of children turning 5 between March 30 and June 30 (June 30 being the general date by which a child must turn 5 in order to start prep in a particular year).

The overall concern though is, “Is my child ready for school, or should I be holding them back an extra year?”  The question, however is whether these concerns are justified or not?  Some parents are starting their children later at school because they think that being older means they will be leaders rather than followers, or that they will be ahead of others academically and be more well adjusted socially.  Some experts however believe that some of the concerns of parents have become “mythical” rather than rational and based on research and evidence.

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Here’s some things to think about

  • According to Professor Helen McGrath, an adjunct professor at Deakin University’s School of Education and a practising psychologist who has worked with the Victorian and federal education departments, there is no best age to for a child to start school, and certainly no sustained advantage in delaying the transition. By grade three testing can’t reveal which child in a class is a year older than another. (reference)
  • Alternatively, some four-year-olds can do well academically in prep because they are trying to catch up to older classmates and get intellectual stimulation that builds important neural networks in their brains. Compare this to some five-year-olds in kindergarten who can become bored and unsettled.
  • “It would be a rare child who would truly benefit from being held back for a year. Yes there are a few studies that show holding back very young children with significant problems may be beneficial however no-one has come up with proof children held back until they are six reap social, emotional or academic returns in the long term”.  (reference)
  • Kathy Walker a Melbourne based educational consultant says that what is most important for children starting school is not their age but their social and emotional readiness. She points to some key indicators but does not want them to be seen as checklist that must be ticked off:
    • Can they make an independent decision and follow through on this?
    • Do they have ideas of their own?
    • Can they follow two or three instructions at the same time?
    • Can they move on to new activities easily?
    • Do they separate well from their carer?
    • Do they show interest in other kids?
    • Do they interact with other children?
    • Can they recognise and express their feelings and needs?
    • Can they concentrate on a task?
    • How do they deal with frustration?
  • The best person to assess your child’s readiness for school is their pre-school or pre-prep teacher, and most schools have a prep interview for you and your child as part of the enrolling process. If there are any major concerns with your child’s development either you should know about them already or your child’s pre-school teacher or school enrolment process will bring them up.

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In an excellent article Professor Helen McGrath and Professor Toni Noble address the most frequently asked questions regarding the issue of school starting age.  This is available in a word document format at  http://www.safeschoolshub.edu.au/docs/default-source/Parents-files/when_should_your_child_start_school.doc

Kathy Walker who is referred to in the above article was asked so many questions about the topic that she decided to write a book.  It’s called “Ready Set Go” and is available at http://earlylife.com.au/shop/ready-set-go

Raising kids and sending them to school will always have it’s challenges, whether it’s academic or with their peers. What we have gleaned from looking into this issue is that any perceived advantage that a child may gain from having delayed entry into school will only last a short period of time after which everything will level out.  The most important thing is to show them how you deal with the challenges that life throws at you and give them skills to deal with the ones they will come across no matter whether they are the oldest or youngest in their class at school.

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