Coaching: Parents send children to school before preschool

Really early learning: Angela Galic with Angelina Santoro and her mother, Rosemary.
Really early learning: Angela Galic with Angelina Santoro and her mother, Rosemary. Photo: Janie Barrett

One in five of the English students at tutoring company Kumon are preschoolers, as parents increasingly seek to give their children a head start on their peers when they reach school.

Despite early childhood educators saying most children do not need to attend anything more than a traditional preschool program, early literacy and numeracy classes and school-readiness programs are booming.

Kumon, which has been tutoring Australian children for 30 years, has seen a shift in the past five years towards parents enrolling their children at a younger age.

Ten per cent of its maths students and 21 per cent of its English students are now aged under five. It also offers a pencil skills class to teach preschoolers how to hold and control a pencil.

''We have seen an increase in cases where parents have enrolled their children in Kumon to give them a head start and confidence,'' spokeswoman Jessica Varalla said.

''There has been a particular increase in the number of preschoolers studying English as parents want their children to be able to read before they start school.''

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Sam Page said there was no evidence children needed additional tutoring beyond a good quality preschool.

''The research is unequivocal; a good quality preschool is what benefits children transitioning to school, that's all they need,'' she said.

However, Angela Galic, who opened Keep Learning in Leichhardt last year offering school-readiness and primary-education programs, said many parents wanted their children to be able to read, write and count before they reach school.


''Parents are very anxious these days,'' she said. ''Our classes have proved to be popular. A lot of parents want their kids in the class to give them a head-start.''

The Keep Learning KinderBound class teaches preschoolers basic literacy and numeracy skills, and how to transition between activities as if they were in a school classroom.

''As an experienced teacher, I felt children were coming into kindergarten class not as prepared,'' Ms Galic said, noting the play-based emphasis of preschool education. ''The incidental learning of preschool means children have had no experience of structured learning when they get into a classroom.''

Rosemary Santoro sent her daughter Angelina to KinderBound last year because she was concerned she was not getting enough literacy instruction at her preschool. ''I felt a little bit let down by the learning in preschool,'' Ms Santoro said.

Ms Santoro said Angelina's confidence and reading and writing skills quickly improved attending the class, and she believes it made a difference.

Ciara Smyth, a researcher at UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre, attributes the growth in preschool tutoring to the intensification of parenting and the emphasis on fostering young children's brain development.

''Parents are investing more in fewer children,'' Dr Smyth said. ''There has been a downward shift in the age at which parents are expected to do a range of cognitive activities with their children. Parents are fearful that if they don't invest early, their child is going to be doomed to a lifetime of failure.''

Ms Page said clever entrepreneurs were tapping into this parental anxiety. It costs $120 a month to attend a Kumon class, plus a $70 enrolment fee. School-readiness programs across Sydney generally run for an hour a week at a cost of $35 a session.

Read what parents are saying about preschool tutoring on the Essential Kids forums.