Should I send my child to school or hold them back?

Parenting expert Maggie Dent reveals the signs they’re ready – or not

Content Editor / October 17 2018

Knowing when to send your child to school is a big decision to make, and the regulations around starting school vary from state to state.

In NSW, you can enrol your child in school if they turn five on or before July 31 that year. In Victoria, your child must be five years old by 30 April of the year they start school.

In Queensland they need to be five by June 30 in the year they enrol. In WA, every child must be enrolled in a school for the upcoming year they turn five by June 30, but you can request an extra year with the support of your school principal.

This means while your child can start school at around 4.5 years of age, they will be in a class with children who are as old as six years of age.

The case for waiting another year

Another issue is that the National Curriculum has changed, says parenting expert Maggie Dent, who says she recommends keeping children back for an extra year if possible, and waiting until they are at least five.

“What was being covered in year one is now happening at age five,” she explains. “It’s hard because both parents are often working and childcare is expensive but if you can give your child another year at home try to do that.

“Boys in particular are slower to develop, emotionally and linguistically they are often not as quick and sharp [as girls].”

While as parents we might think that being able to recite the alphabet or count to 100 are signs a child is ready, there are many other considerations, Maggie says.

“Can they put a water bottle and hat into their bag? Can they actually play with other children – do they have good social competence? Are they able to cope if they can’t win all the time or can’t go first? Do they struggle with language?”

Physical needs are another important consideration. “Younger kids or those who were born prematurely may struggle physically, for example if they are not good at getting through the day without a nap.”

Skills your child needs

Other basic skills you child needs to have mastered is being able to hold a pencil, being able to focus, follow simple instructions and complete tasks without too much prompting, handling conflict well and being able to separate from a parent or caregiver without too much distress.

Consider what’s happening in your own home environment too. The transition to school is a big one, so it’s important that your child will be supported adequately through that transition.

“How stable and supportive is the home environment? If one parent is travelling for work a lot or there’s stress at home that can impact your child’s life,” Maggie says.

Choose what's right for your family

Above all, however, she says you should trust your gut feeling. Your child’s early childhood educator will also be able to advise you on whether they think your little one is ready for school or would benefit from waiting another year.

And don’t worry about what others think – do what is best for you and your family.

“There’s a perception that if your child needs another year that you’re something of a failure,” she says. “Like ‘what will people think?’ Don’t think of it as holding your child back, think of it as more time to bloom. Schools have moved away from play-based learning, so if you do want to send your child at a younger age, choose a school with a lot of play-based time.

“Stand in your own truth and know that I have never met a parent who regretted letting their child wait an extra year before going to school.”

Mothering Our Boys by Maggie Dent is on sale now.

Nicola Conville has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years across a wide range of print and online publications. Her areas of expertise are parenting, health and travel. She has two children; Lucy, age eight, and Nathan, age five.