Is four too young to start school?
If your child’s birth month would make them one of the youngest in their class, would you wait a year and let them start Prep with greater maturity? Or would your sparky preschooler be bored and unchallenged by another year of Kindergarten?
The Prep year in Queensland schools has been compulsory since 2017. There is one annual intake for Prep at the beginning of each school year (January) and children must be five by 30 June in the year they commence.
But what if they are on the cusp? Or if their birthday lands between February and June? Given the increasing trend in deferring children’s Prep entry for a year, this would make some children 18 months younger than others in their class. In child development terms, this is huge.
A child’s first year of school is crucial to the success of their future academic career. It is not merely about learning to read, write and add up; it’s also about developing independence, problem-solving and social skills. If a child starts school before they are ready, they risk losing confidence, feeling isolated and falling behind.
To put this in context, let’s look at what is required of your child when they start school:
In their Prep year, your child will need to …
- be at school five days a week for six hours a day
- have an interest in learning
- wear shoes and socks all day long
- concentrate for long periods of time
- be obedient, take turns, follow rules and treat others with respect
- go to the toilet on their own
- speak clearly and make themselves understood
- run, skip, climb, throw and catch balls
- use pencils, scissors and a wide range of art materials
- ask if they need something or don’t understand
- change in and out of sports uniform and/or swimming costume
- sit quietly and listen without interrupting
- follow and remember instructions
- focus on a blackboard or electronic whiteboard
- use logic to solve problems
- work independently
- collaborate in small groups
- do regular homework and practice what they have learnt in class
Typically, a Prep class will have one teacher and one teacher’s aide. If there are too many children weeping all day because they miss their mums, wandering off the mat in group time because they’re distracted by the Lego, or feeding the class goldfish the contents of their lunchbox despite being told not to do so under any circumstance, this impacts the whole class and makes for a difficult learning environment.
Skills required for starting school:
- Fine motor
- Gross motor
Child development rates vary widely in the early years. There will still be six-year-olds who struggle with the demands of formal schooling and a few four-year-olds with the maturity to thrive in their Prep year.
There are biological differences too; girls tend to develop language skills earlier than boys. Steve Biddulph, the author of "Raising Boys" claims boys are six to 12 months behind girls when it comes to fine motor skills and paying attention.
But what if my kid is really smart?
Children who are academically advanced may learn to read, write and count to 100 long before they reach school age. Does this mean they’re ready to start school? No more than the child who is physically advanced and can turn backflips at the age of three or the child with superior fine motor skills who can master complex origami.
Of course, the parent of the bright child worries that an extra year in kindy will leave their child bored and unstimulated. They fear that when their child does finally enter Prep, their first year of school will be too easy and they will be held back.
While this is, to some extent, dependent on a parent’s choice of school and preschool, by law all kindergartens must have a qualified primary school teacher on staff; there is no reason why your academic child shouldn’t advance their literacy and numeracy to Prep/Year 1 level during their extra year of kindy.
The difference will be in how those skills are taught: Prep classes are more structured and the whole class follows the same curriculum. Pre Prep classes are more play-based and educators take their cues from a child’s interest, to nurture their skills beyond the kindergarten curriculum. So, if a child shows a particular interest in letters or numbers, the teacher will encourage them to take it further … but will not push it beyond their level of interest and enjoyment.
As for the Prep year, many schools are alert to the academically advanced child and will stimulate them with more challenging work. King’s runs a differentiated program in Prep where children develop their skills at whichever level they are at. Some state schools allow Preppies to enter their Gifted and Talented programs.
Who should I turn to for advice?
You will know your child better than anyone else - their personality, temperament and habits. Many parents have a gut feeling when their children lack the emotional maturity to start school.
The best authority on your child’s readiness for school, however, will be their preschool teachers. These qualified educators will have observed how your child behaves in class, responds to teaching and co-operates with other children. They will also be able to identify any developmental 'red flags', such as problems with speech development or gross motor skills, which may require intervention from a paediatrician or child therapist.
So who has the final say on whether your child is ready for Prep?
All schools have their own enrolment policies. A few are happy to accept your child providing they meet the standard age requirements. Most will interview the child and parents. Some will require your child to undergo a full ‘school readiness assessment’ – a series of exercises and observations, usually carried out away from the parents. These will include activities such as building with blocks, identifying colours, shapes or parts of the body, using a pencil, cutting with scissors and answering some questions about themselves.
Depending on a school's enrolment process, child interviews and assessments may take place nearly a whole year before your child will commence school. It is important to remember that a child will make a lot of progress in a year. If a school is unsure about your child’s maturity or considers them borderline, they might ask you to re-interview in six months’ time, to see how your child is advancing.
Many schools ask parents to provide a transition report from their child’s kindergarten but they are not legally permitted to contact the kindy directly to discuss the child.
But kindergarten is so expensive!
Pre Prep and childcare fees for just a few days a week can prove more expensive than five days a week of Prep in a private school. It is understandable that parents would prefer to avoid the expense of a further year of kindy. Those who are eager to return to work after a period of full-time child rearing may also resent the prospect of putting their career prospects on hold for another year.
However, the Prep year is the foundation for your child's future achievement in school. It is so important to get this right. If your child starts school before they are ready, they may find the Prep year distressing and develop a negative attitude towards learning and education. If they fall behind so much that they need to repeat their Prep year, this can have a detrimental effect on their self-esteem and confidence. Happy children are more receptive to learning than unhappy ones!
30 Skills your child needs before starting Prep
To understand more about the 30 vital skills your child will need to master before starting school, download the booklet below: