What age to start school?

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Choice: Parents in some states face the agonising choice of whether to start their child's formal education at primary school or if they should let them continue with play-based learning for one more year.

Choice: Parents in some states face the agonising choice of whether to start their child's formal education at primary school or if they should let them continue with play-based learning for one more year.

Some states allow parents a choice regarding which year to start their child’s formal education.

Gradually, increasing numbers of Aussie parents are choosing to start their child at the oldest age that they’re allowed to.

Just to be clear however, delayed starts are still by far the minority of new enrolments for boys and girls.

Some studies suggest delaying is academically beneficial when they look at the performance in late primary years.

Other studies have found there’s no difference by late high school, and others still say that one choice or the other can be detrimental.

One of the reasons for the vastly different results, apart from the later age they were assessed, could lie in the reasons those children were delayed or started early in the first place. In other words, whether the parents made the right decision for that particular child or not.

That then leads us into the difficulty of drawing conclusive results from such studies. An enormous sample size is required to get meaningful results.

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With that in mind, comparing entire countries may seem appropriate, but then the variable becomes the academic system under which they are being taught. The results of those vary greatly even between countries whose students start at the same age (most commonly 5- or 6-years-old).

We could look at the UK, Ireland and parts of Australia, where a noteworthy percentage of students start at the age of 4. Then we could compare them to Finland where they are closer to 7-years-old when their formal learning starts, and observe that Finland outranks all three in maths, reading and science. But then Denmark, one of many countries who starts them the year they turn 6, ranks between Australia and the UK in maths and reading, and a bit below both in science.

Wherever parents have a choice however, it is up to them to determine if their child is ready to graduate from the play-based learning of day-care to the more formal structure of primary school.

What it really boils down to for the individual child is if they’re emotionally ready for the experience of school.

Can they concentrate for 20 minutes at a time?

Can they look after themselves through the day (with regards to dressing, eating and going to the toilet)?

Can they make their needs known to the school staff (preferably at the appropriate times)?

Can they keep track of their possessions such as their hat, jumper, lunch box and pencil case?

Can they co-exist with other students and make friends?

If the answers are yes then they should be ready to start, regardless of their actual age.