Should my pre-schooler start school or wait?

By Psychologist Madeline Sibbing

Jump on any Facebook parenting forum, type in the key words “prep” or “what age to start school” and no doubt you will be inundated with pages and pages of posts, conversations and opinions on this very topic. When faced with so much information, it can feel quite overwhelming and sometimes complicate your decision-making process even more than before!

So with that in mind, here are some of our top tips to help you formulate your decision. This advice is based on our experience as paediatric psychologists and decades of collective experience working with young children. 

Listen to your kindergarten teachers

It is around this time of year that parent-teacher interviews are held, with the specific aim of identifying whether your child appears ready to start school next year. You know your child best of course, but kindergarten teachers also have a great grasp of the range of typical development, and the particular skills required for school readiness. So use their expertise and bounce your thoughts and ideas off them! 

Try and ignore sweeping generalisations

These might be “boys are less mature so should always wait an extra year” or “shy girls won’t cope in the school environment”. Hearing these types of comments can make us question our gut instincts, but are rarely helpful. Your child is unique and stereotypes like that should not apply! 

Speaking of ‘gut instincts’…..

……this is the time to trust them. As a parent of two children, both of whom have birthdays after January, I was faced with this tough decision twice. And I chose to send one child at 4 years and keep the other one back until they were 5. Why? Because my partner and I just felt, in our gut, that one of them needed that extra year and one just didn’t. Both kids have absolutely thrived in their own way. 

Think about the end-game.

The decision you make now will also impact your child when they start secondary school in Year 7, as well as when they come to completing Year 12.  Keep in mind the impact of your decision at those key developmental milestones as well as just entry into primary school. 

Be specific about the skills you want them to have before starting school.

Think carefully about WHY you are leaning towards your decision. Is it that you feel your bright child is very bored and acting up, so would benefit from the stimulation of the primary school environment? Or is your bright child still struggling to develop their emotional regulation and social skills and would benefit from another year in pre-school to do this?  Again, this is where kinder teachers can be super helpful.  Speak to them about what you observe at home and what they see at kinder – and, if needed, seek their advice on strategies you can use to help your child develop the required skills. 

My final piece of advice is simply this: no decision is written in stone. Yes of course we want to get it right the first time, but if things don’t go to plan, there are a multitude of school staff, pre-school teachers, psychologists and other therapists who can help you forge a different pathway.

Madeline Sibbing is a Principal Psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. Madeline holds a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her sixteen years of professional experience has been attained within government and independent schools in assessment, therapeutic interventions and consultation with children, adolescents, parents and teachers. She also developed primary prevention programs, mental health awareness activities and teacher training in a secondary college. Madeline spent several years working as an Educational Psychologist in London, UK, as a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society. She is a registered supervisor with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, supervising Masters of Psychology candidates and newly-registered Psychologists.
Consistently described as an engaging, down-to-earth and knowledgeable therapist, Madeline obtains enormous joy from working with children and young people… as often evidenced by the sounds of laughter and silliness emanating from her therapy room.

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