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At what age should you send your child to school?


The age at which parents should send their children to school is a very common issue debated on our North Shore Mums Facebook group. So we’d thought we’d compile a whole lot of mums’ opinions on the matter for the NSM website – both for and against sending children to school under age five. This way, parents wondering whether to send their little boy or girl to school next year may be able to make a more informed decision…

Here’s a typical post by mum Samantha on the North Shore Mums Facebook group:

Hi mums, I was wondering how many mums of June Bubs sent their kids to school at 4.5, and how many at 5.5? What have your experiences been? I know it’s a personal decision and should be made on a child-by-child basis, but just curious for some feedback. Thanks!

These mums say ‘send before age five…’

Elizabeth: My oldest is mid-May and started at four – completely the right decision.

Florence: My daughter is a June baby. She started kindy this year – totally the right decision for us, too.

Sally-Anne: My June daughter started this year at 4.5. She was ready and would have been bored in preschool for another year. Yes, most of the kids are a full year older than her, but she holds her own – she has never been a shrinking violet. Totally the right decision for her. Also, I had lots of people saying I should hold her back, but I knew she was ready. You know your own child.

Kim: My daughter is 15 July and she started this year at 4.5. It was highly recommended by her pre-kinder teacher and principal of the school. I had her tested for school readiness before making the decision, and it was highly recommended by the psychologist that she start early as she scored >6.11yrs in all areas. She is very bright and competitive, and she’s thriving there. I think the majority would wait an extra year unless they were sure it would be best to send them younger. There is over a two year difference between the youngest and oldest kids in the class.

Sarah: My girlfriend sent her little girl at 4.5. Best decision for this little girl. She’s in Year 2 now – no issues so far!

Alison: I sent my son (who is a May baby) this year at 4.5 on advice of the preschool. His teacher says in the classroom he’s great – just a bit immature in the playground –but I’m happy we did it.

Amanda: My June baby started at 4.5. She is going really well. She’s now in Year 1.

Sharon: I sent my son at 4.5 years old (his birthday is mid June) with the support of his day care – I myself wasn’t 100 per cent sure. I have to admit I was definitely in the wrong. He is thriving at school, has learned so much and has received a glowing half-year report. It definitely depends on the child, but my son is doing fantastically. If at any time during primary school he is struggling, I will be quite happy to have him repeat a year, if required, but he is enjoying Kindy immensely.

Rachel: My youngest was 4.5 years old when she started (July baby). I had no intention of starting her then, but both the preschool and the principal at the primary school insisted it would be doing her a disservice to not start her. She’s in Year 1 now, and doing well, but is a lot younger than most of the others and, unfortunately, that was used as an excuse when she didn’t grasp a concept straightaway. She knows she’s younger and it worries her sometimes, but she was really beyond preschool by the time she finished up there. It was a tough decision to make and there are pros and cons on both sides. Both my husband and I were younger starters and it never really bothered us at high school (sneaking into pubs and clubs at 17 wasn’t so hard then!). And my son who has a March birthday started at four and had never had a problem (although he’s very quirky). I’m a high school teacher, and although I see some immaturity in some of the younger ones, I also see maturity. Some of the oldest are the least mature! It is really an individual situation and you have to take it case by case.

Celia: I have known two people to regret not sending sooner because the last six months before school was particularly bad for their children, as they were ready. The children ended up starting school already academically advanced compared to other Kindy kids, and the teachers seemed to struggle to accommodate them. The children were having trouble paying attention in class and being disruptive, and did not want to go to school because it was boring with nothing to learn. The parents then asked if the children could skip the second half of Kindy and move to Year 1, but the schools did not allow it. The kids are now older, and one of them skipped a grade by transferring schools. So there are people who do regret holding back. Perhaps not many, but some do. Both were boys, I might add.

Jessica: I sent mine at 4.5 and she has had no problems academically, socially or emotionally. She was so bored at preschool that she was getting uncontrollable! As soon as Kindy started we felt the difference immediately as she was stimulated. In saying that, a prep year would have probably been fine, too.

Olivia: My DD is turning six tomorrow and she’s in Year 1. Her preschool and the principal encouraged me to send her at 4.5 years. There are tests you can get them to do which shows they are ready to go to school. This year they have mentioned a few times that she’s young for the year (she’s the youngest), and it seems like an excuse to me. She’s advanced in other areas, just not the ones judged by the curriculum. She has the opportunity to repeat when she goes to private school for high school, and we will assess that when the time gets closer, but I’m so glad I put her in school early.

Tina: Both my June girls started at 4.5. By the end of Kindy, they were reading and writing the same as all the other kids in their class. They’re in high school now.

Debbie: I sent my June 18th baby to school at 4.5 because, honestly, she was ready. She is the eldest of three and was born mature. She is now in Year 11, has just turned 16 and got her Ls today. I kept in very close contact with the teachers all the way through and helped where needed – she is now in the top five per cent of Year 11 in her school and has just had another congratulatory letter from the principal about her exam results. A few in her year are 18-20 months older and they drink each weekend and don’t care about studying. I have had many talks about finishing school, then having a travel year.
Each to their own – only you know your child – but I’m so glad I followed my heart and sent her when I believed she was ready.

These mums say ‘hold back’

Gabby: My son turned five in June this year and he is going to school next year. Our preference as a second child was for him to start next year and have an opportunity to be the big kid at day care and do their school readiness program.

Sarah: Social and emotional development is more important for school readiness than cognitive development. If your child can read and write their own name that is great, but to start school they should be confident in large groups, able to cope with change and transitions, capable to do most self help tasks independently (toilet, shoes, blowing nose etc). Things that are most valuable in school include keeping personal belongings looked after, communicating effectively (eg: asking questions), asking for help, making friendships, co-operative play etc. Most schools and preschools give parents a good idea if their child is ready … yes, every child is different, but most will prefer to start children at the 5.5 age. My son is a June baby and I waited till he was 5.5 and I’m glad I did. Maturity comes with age and school is a big transition. They can cope better when they are that little bit older. Also, preschool is usually play based and children in that age group learn more through play-based activities.

Anthea: Last three babies are 28 May and 27 July. All sent at 5.5. No regrets whatsoever, especially with my twin boys.

Sarah: My child is 2nd June and she will go next year at 5.5. I think she could have been ready earlier, but having kids a year older than her and the flow on at the end of her schooling persuaded me to hold her back. In our case I thought it was risker to send than to hold back.

Kayte: I sent my Feb child early and six years on, I really regret it.

Tilly: I had the option with my youngest as she’s an early June birthday. Initially, I was leaning towards sending her at 4.5 and even sent her to the first two (of three) orientation sessions that the school ran. After the second I went in and spoke to the head of Kindy as well as the preschool director and made the decision to wait a year. It crippled us financially, but seeing how she has blossomed this year has made it worthwhile.

Chloe: We have a June 25th child and didn’t hesitate to hold back. We had to repeat our March child; June starters at 4.5 are very rare. I was sent at 4.5 as I was ‘ready’. LOVED primary school! Thrived socially and academically. High school was another story. HUGE culture shock at the age of 11 and a late bloomer. Really only picked up the pieces late in Year 11 after a school change. I also hated being the last to get a licence and did half of my first year at uni sneaking into pubs with my friends and PRAYING I wasn’t going to end the night early because I was only 17. My June baby is very confident and easily makes friends, so think she would have been fine for primary school, but high school is a different story! I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say they regret holding back – but plenty say they wish they had.

Charlotte: My eldest is mid-April – we held him back. Very happy with the decision. When you’re making your decision think about the other end of schooling – my DH was a late May birthday and was one of the youngest in his year. He hated always being smallest, last to drive etc, and to mature. I’d rather my kid driving and learning to be responsible than them having to get lifts all the time from kids I don’t know.

Leanne: DS is June 4 and started when he was 5.5. He’s in Year 6 now and we’re very glad we didn’t start him at 4.5. We took the professional opinion of his preschool that he wasn’t ready into consideration when making the decision. I was inclined to start him at 4.5 as I am July 15 and was 4.5 when I started school and was always at or near the top of my classes. It’s definitely a decision that needs to be made on an individual basis. Some will be fine, others will struggle.

Natasha: I sent my eldest son at 5.5 years. He’s now 14 and I have no regrets whatsoever. Giving him that extra time was the best thing.

Kiki: Our son (16 last Sunday) was young for his year during primary. In Year 7 we repeated him (much to his dismay), but it was the right thing for him. In hindsight, it would have been better for him to go later. Hope this helps!

Kaija: My eldest turned five on 1 June. He will start school next year at 5.5 years old. Intellectually, he would have been fine, but he didn’t have the stamina at 4.5 to get through five days of school. He is also very small for his age, so that extra year has given him time to grow some more. The bonus is that I have extra time with him at home. The next six months may be a bit challenging as he is getting excited about school but preschool is keeping him busy and engaged.

Christine: As a teacher I would say hold back for June. I have met many parents who have regrets about sending their child young, but none with regrets about holding them back. You need to think in the long-term as well and how immature they will be in upper high school compared to their peers. I, personally, think the cut off should be end of April and there should be strict rules about that to avoid the massive gaps we are seeing now where I really think some people are keeping back when they shouldn’t.

Sarah: My July 2nd child will go at 5.5. In a lot of European countries children don’t begin formal learning until age seven, and they are said to have the best educational systems in the world. There’s something to be said about letting kids ‘play’ unstructured for as long as possible.

Megan: Talking from experience as a child sent to school at 4.5, I hated it! My birthday is in June and I was 4.5 when I started school. My friends were so much older than me (some nearly six). I cursed my parents my whole school life. When I finished school and everyone was 18 and celebrating, I had to wait another six months to turn 18. My parents realised they’d made a huge mistake. I would never ever do it to my child. To those who say my child is ready – I was ready and coped well academically, but it was the actual age gap that was the problem.

Nia: DS was four on Saturday and he’ll be going at 5.5. Even if the preschool told us he was ready, I’d be reluctant to send him as I think the potential age gap between him and the eldest would be too big.

Olivia: I have an end-of-April baby and it’s the best decision we made to hold her back. Will be doing the same for our youngest – end-of-March birthday. Our view point was driven by age, going to uni and peers later in life, not on the age and stage of how they would start school.

Mandy: I sent my oldest daughter at 4.5 (June baby) she is now 17 and doing her HSC. She managed perfectly. I held back my younger daughter and repeated the other two, and they have definitely benefited being older. If I had my time over I would have held my oldest girl back, even though she is doing really well. Her friends have their Ps, some are drinking and going out to clubs, and she can’t. I notice the difference more now than in kindergarten.

Andrea: DD turned four and we will wait till she is 5.5. I know it’s the right thing (and I teach Kindy!), but I still agonise over this every day. Many of her mother’s group friends and closest friends are going next year, and developmentally she is totally ready (tall, super well-spoken and sociable). It’s the later high school years in which I would worry about her as the youngster.

Emily: I waited till 5.5 for my July child based on recommendations from her preschool (and because her Dad doesn’t want her under-age drinking when in Year 12).

Katie: Me and both my brothers are June babies and we all went at 5.5. I had friends who were a year younger than me, as have both my brothers. Academically, I don’t think it’s any different; socially it’s not awesome when everyone else can drive, drink (not at the same time). And, as a girl when I was 18 dating a 19-year-old, I had one friend who was 17 dating a 19-year-old – not that two years is a big gap, but there was a lot of pressure for her to go to clubs with him and drink with his mates etc. I have a May baby and currently plan to send him at almost 5.5.

Vanessa: My son turned five yesterday and starts school in the new year. He wanted to ‘play’ another year even though all his closest preschool friends went to school this year. He wasn’t phased by having to make new friends, which I’m so proud of, and it’s good practice for school. I had always planned to send him at 5.5 years – I’m just glad that he agreed with me!

Mixed opinions…

Elizabeth: It’s so dependent on the child. My oldest turned five in May in Kindy and is thriving, socially and academically. His teacher said it would have be a disservice to wait another year as he was so obviously ready. My youngest two will start Kindy just after they turn five, but even if I could have sent them at 4.5 I would wait, as even as toddlers I can tell they are different in personalities, temperaments and development to my oldest and so they’ll benefit from waiting a bit longer to start school. You know your child the best and should have a good gut feel by now as to whether they are ready for school next year.

Tanya: We moved to Perth just as my son was due to start school. We had decided to hold him back in Sydney as he’s an end-of-May baby. When he started over in Perth they forced him to go into Year 1 where he was the youngest boy in the year (with no formal classroom experience)! This was at the insistence of the school principal. They are very strict with birthday cutoffs in WA. Socially, it destroyed him! The only thing that got him through was the fact he was a smart kid! My daughter is also an end-of-May baby (three years younger) and she also started young. Last year we moved back to Sydney and we decided to make the decision to put my son back into Year 2 for six months. It was the best decision that we have ever made as he is absolutely thriving, both academically and socially. My daughter, on the other hand, continued in Kindy when we came back and so she remains young for the year, but she is also totally thriving. From both sides of the coin it is completely up to the child, and you will know if they are ready. If I had to give any advice it would be that if you have a boy first then it might be better to hold them back. Second children are totally different (especially a girl). I don’t have any regrets for either of the decisions I have made for my kids.

Melissa: My DD has an early July birthday and started at 5.5. Mainly because it was only towards the end of her first year at preschool that she started to make some good friendships, and all her friends were waiting the extra year. And I believed the gossip I heard that said it was unheard of for kids to start at 4.5. Then she arrived at school and was the oldest girl, ha ha! There were three kids in her Kindy class who were a full year younger than her. She has always done well at school, but I have no way of knowing what would have happened if she’d started the year before.

Emily: The feedback to me was that if I sent my July child (an only child) at 4.5 years she would certainly cope academically, concentrate well etc. But her preschool felt that even for those young kids who seem confident, you can’t know how they will feel inside, and that by age 5.5 my daughter would be more able to deal with setbacks, or any social/friendship issues in the playground. The other interesting point was that as the youngest by far among her cohort, they said she would be less likely to experience leadership roles because there would always be other kids more mature than her in the class whom teachers would subconsciously choose to do the special jobs. Her preschool teachers thought this could negatively affect how my daughter felt about herself and her role in life – and not in a good way. Not that everyone HAS to be a leader, just that NOT being the youngest gives them more opportunity to try on the role of leader, or perhaps find more aspects of school life easy, which builds confidence. I don’t know. I don’t believe things should be made easy for kids all the time, just that you don’t want school to feel like a constant struggle for your child. My nephew (also a July birthday) started at age 4.5 and has coasted through school so far, academically, socially and in sport. He is super popular, confident etc. Then again he has big brothers so he went through the ‘school of hard knocks’ for years before actual school, being teased by his siblings etc. Maybe position in family is an important consideration in all of this because another nephew (June b’day) was sent at age 4.5 and his mum has been regretting it for years. He is clearly less mature than his peers and, while he’s bright, his academic confidence is low because he ended up in a class of super duper bright kids and found that hard to deal with. Parents assume they can just make their child repeat if it becomes an issue, but it is actually the school’s decision, not the parents’, even if you change schools and stay in NSW. I know parents who have pleaded for their kid to repeat a year, but teachers didn’t agree and felt the shame of being held back would be even more detrimental to the child. Then they shopped around at other schools but to no avail. Repeating is not an easy option. I just thought I would share some stories to show that, for some kids, starting school very young can work out badly. I also have several good female friends with June/July birthdays who were sent to school at age 4.5. In making my decision for my daughter I asked them about their experiences as a younger child at school (and these are all very high academic achievers) and I was shocked that they ALL said they believed an extra year at home or preschool would have helped them. They ALL said they felt socially under-confident/ill at ease in their teenage years at school. (Who doesn’t?). They all felt left behind when their peers suddenly starting being interested in the opposite sex and they weren’t interested yet. And they all said they especially hated being among the small group of teens at Schoolies Week who couldn’t drink with their friends at the pub. One even said that, in hindsight, she wasn’t mature enough to handle uni life, with all the freedom and self-management it required. Food for thought. That is all.

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