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Written by Karli Steenkamp

There are many scary and difficult parenting moments and decisions that one needs to make. One of these decisions is when it is best for your child to start school. There are many things to take into consideration when you are making this decision. There are positives and negative aspects to delaying your child from starting school. Every state and territory has their own laws about what age a child should be when they start school. Parents do have a choice of keeping their child out of school for another year if they feel their child is not ready. It is a difficult decision because you also don’t want to put limits on your child because of your own fear. It is not a decision that can be made overnight and parents should take into account their child’s character as well as a few other factors.

When should my child start school?

Every state and territory has their own laws.

  • Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia a child should be five by 30 June when they start school.
  • New South Wales a child should be five by 31 July when they start school.
  • Tasmania a child should be five by 1 January when they start school.
  • Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory a child should be five by 30 April when they start school.

In all the states, parents can hold their child back a year.

Positives and negatives of holding your child back

Research is constantly being done on whether it benefits a child to delay starting school or if it actually harms them. The research is quite conflicting because many researchers find that it benefits your child a great deal to start school later and others feel that there is either no impact or it benefits them.

Positives to a delayed start:

  • They are more mature.
  • They are the oldest in the classroom.
  • They perform better academically.
  • They have more confidence.

Negatives to a delayed start:

  • It can be hard if all your child’s friends start school and he or she is left behind.
  • They might get irritated with their younger peers in the class.
  • The advantage the child had at the beginning of their school careers will eventually fade when the other kids start catching up.

It can be overwhelming for parents, however, you know your child best. You know what your child is capable of. You have seen your child at their best and at their worst. It is important to trust yourself and your instinct as a parent.
Dr. Nadia Louw, Educational Psychologist says that when you are in doubt, keep back. She says that as parents you might feel like you are giving your child an academic edge, but it can cause untold damage if they are not ready for formal education. “It is like forcing a little fledgling from the nest before its wings are fully developed. The impact on the child’s academic self-concept and ability to learn can be great. So parents have to think carefully when making this decision.” She also says every child is different and it really depends on them.

How do I know if my child is ready?

When a child starts school, it is important that they have aced certain skills that are important for their own well-being. Dr. Louw identified a few concepts that parents need to know and schools are looking for when children start school:

  • Social maturity – Can they play with their peers and make friends? Can they share and take turns?
  • Communication – Can they communicate their feelings and needs?
  • Emotional maturity – Are they very shy and withdrawn? Or very emotional and sensitive?
  • Self-concept – Will they be able to cope with a formal schooling environment?
  • Adjustments – Can they adjust to a new environment? It is ok to be hesitant, but overly anxious can mean that they are not ready for school.
  • Independence – They should be able to dress themselves and go to the toilet by themselves.
    If you are in doubt on whether your child is ready for school or not, seek expert advice from your child’s pre-school or from an educational psychologist.

What can I do to prepare my child for school?

Parents play an important role in the development of kids. Help them build their confidence, set up a good routine and praise them when they do things independently. Practice with them to look after their belongings.
Dr. Nadia Louw suggests that your child meets their new teacher and see the school before they start so that they are familiar with the surroundings. If they do have separation anxiety, inform the teacher and discuss strategies beforehand. Read books about stories going to the big school. Introduce a countdown calendar a few weeks before. Discuss certain scenarios about things that could happen and think together about ways on how you can react when it happens. Assure them that it is ok to be nervous.

It is necessary to think about all these factors before you make a decision on whether to start school or wait another year. A child can thrive if surrounded by friends and from the support of their parents. Talk to the school about your concerns and make an informed decision, but listen to your gut. Parents know best.

With thanks to Dr. Nadia Louw (D.Ed Psych. of Doctor of Educational Psychology) also referencing Jansen, M. (2018)SCALE Training Manual.

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