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When is your child ready for school?

Updated on January 28, 2016

Making friends, managing your homework and dealing with the freedom to make our own decisions. These are all things we have to do when we start school.

So how do we know when our children are ready for this?

Different countries have different ideas of the "ideal" age for children to commence formal schooling.

But perhaps it is more to do with what is appropriate for each individual child.

This article looks at some of the factors that indicate if your child is ready to start and cope with school.

Consequences of starting school too early

Firstly, lets look at some of the consequences for children of starting school before they are really ready.

Depending on what country they are living in, most children begin schooling between the ages of 5 and 7. They will be in this school system for approximately 12 – 13 years, before considering further education options. That's a long time to be anywhere, let alone if you feel out of your depth.

At the end of their 13 odd years of schooling many children who start school before they are ready will probably obtain academic outcomes within the normal range.

So, what then is the problem?

The problem is that many of the children will find their experience of school to be difficult and unpleasant. Every year they may be slightly behind other children in terms of their coping skills and development.

Look at it this way, if you were not quite ready to start something in the first place, you are arriving at the starting line when others are already half way through the race.

For example, children may become more tired than their peers. Alternatively they may find things more difficult to deal with. Basically, they just learn to cope and survive, rather than to actually enjoy their educational experience.

It is sad to think that children may have to endure rather than enjoy their long years of schooling. It probably also makes for a lot more stress at home if you are worrying about your child's progress all the time.

In contrast, pleasant experiences will enhance a child's learning. If a child is ready to start school then they are obviously better placed to enjoy it.

Having said all this, to many parents it just comes down to what we want for our children. Children have to spend a huge proportion of their young lives at school, so lets make that a nice experience.

These issues can potentially be overcome by delaying school start for an extra year.

Social readiness

So how do you know your child is ready to start school?

You should not just look at academic skills when you ask this question.

Being able to write their own name or count to twenty are useful, but they don't necessarily mean your child is ready for school.

Rather, children will learn these things when they commence school. Afterall, this is what the school system is designed to do: teach our children academic skills. It's what the teachers' jobs are for.

It’s children’s levels of maturity and social competence which will really give them the best start to school life.

Children need to be able to cope with leaving a protective home environment for the big wide world. They need to be relatively independent. Think packing their own school bag, dressing themselves, being responsible for their own belongings and making their own friends and being self-reliant.

It’s these factors which can profoundly influence their school experience. For most children it will also be these things which will be the difference between school being pleasant or unpleasant.

Think about it from this point of view. Look back at your own school experiences and think about the things that upset you. Were they things that you could have dealt with better with a bit more maturity? Things such as making friends and handling bullying can be dealt with more easily when we have a bit more life experience.

So in summary when you look at school readiness it is the emotional and social aspects of maturity that you should consider above academic criteria.

Things to consider

If you are not sure if your child is ready to start school then speak to your child’s kindergarten or preschool (nursery) teacher. They should be able to give you an overview of your child’s behaviour in the classroom and how they are coping. Often it is difficult for parents to have an objective view of their children’s interactions in the kindergarten.

Children can behave differently when their parents are in the same room. Your children’s teachers should be able to tell you how they behave and interact with others when you are not around.

If you think your child may need to repeat a year, get in early and do it in the preschool or kindergarten years. Once children are in the school system repeating a year can place a lot of stress on them. They may feel stigmatised and lonely if they loose friendships as their peers move up a level. The younger children are when they repeat, the less likely it is to affect their confidence.

There can be long-reaching and adverse consequences for pushing children into school too early, while there is probably not much long-term harm done from repeating a year of kindergarten.

After all, once they start school they are expected to grow up so quickly.

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