How to know if your child is really ready for school

School readiness: how to know when they're ready.
School readiness: how to know when they're ready. Photo: Getty

Morphing into a school boy has been a big challenge for our Mr Six but he's made it through. In a couple of weeks the first year of school will be over but for another group of kids their challenge is just beginning.

By now your child has probably been to big school for a trial day. Maybe there were tears or tantrums and now you're having second thoughts.

Is four too young to start school? Should you wait another year? How do you decide? What do you do if your child starts and they're not coping?

According to Adjunct Professor Education at RMIT and Deakin University Education Department and Counselling Psychologist Dr. Helen McGrath, kids should start school as soon as they are age eligible.

"School readiness is an interaction of a reasonable amount of biological maturity coupled with a challenge they [the kids] have to meet.

"Kids who are not sent to school despite meeting the cut off points are more likely to experience negative effects. 

"The research evidence in the Commonwealth 'When should your child start school', shows this and supports it categorically.

"There could well be an exception to the rule but on the whole the best age to start your children is when you're allowed according to your State's rules," Dr. McGrath says.

For Lisa Almond she felt that starting four-year-old Cohen at big school was the right decision.


"I always, always knew that Cohen would be ready for school from about the age of three. It was never a question for me whether we were going to hold him back.

"I checked with his preschool to see if he was ready. In conversation they always spoke about 'when he goes to school next year,' it was never if he goes to school," Lisa says.

Jenna Langerak's son Spencer started school at four and turned five a month later after a year at preschool.

"The preschool never commented that he wasn't ready so he started at big school."

Although both Jenna and Lisa felt they'd made the right decision. They still had a few concerns.

For Lisa it was her son's social readiness.

"Cohen is a very reserved kid and not outgoing. I did worry about that social side of things but he was already bored with preschool work and he had preschool friends going to school."

Jenna says although Spencer was age eligible she had a small niggle about him being totally ready.

"I had my inklings that he wasn't quite ready but we sent him because at the time it was the right thing to do."

For Dr. McGrath, the idea of accepting children may not be quite ready for school and starting them anyway, is all part of the game.

"Parents are taking a very low resilience approach to parenting. Instead of saying there are some things that my child is going to have to get used to, some hurdles we're going to have to get over, they hold the child back a year.

"The reality is once you go to school you get far better services and support. So if you repeat preschool, you still get some help but not as much support as when you start school and their services really kick in."

For Jenna and her son, the first year of big school left them with big challenges to face.

"Once we got to the end of the year the teacher recommended Spencer repeat his first year at school to give his maturity and social skills a chance to develop," she says.

For Dr. McGrath her thoughts and the research regarding repeating a child at any level of their schooling are very clear. It's not recommended.

"If you start a child in a year level and then you make them repeat a level, however you do it, you send them so far backwards it's the worst thing you can do to them. That is just categorically disastrous because the kid fails. They think I failed I wasn't as good as everybody else," Dr. McGrath says.

What about taking them out of big school and repeating preschool?

Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) Director Ms Hollonds says it's a case-by-case situation.

"In general, you wouldn't send a child that had gone to big school back to preschool or to repeat any year level.

"It needs to be considered very carefully because of the danger that the child might some how feel they are being punished," she says.

So what do you do?

"Assess the situation and if there are issues, put in place mechanisms to deal with those issues. Family counseling, coaching or other assistance. Get early intervention to prevent those problems getting worse," Ms Hollonds says

Jenna Langerak disagree's with the experts and it wasn't an issue that she and Spencer's Dad took lightly. They considered the problem very carefully.

"It was a big decision for me and his father about whether Spencer repeated. You can't take it back once it's done."

But Jenna says it was the right decision for their son.

"Repeating Spencer has benefited him enormously. His confidence has improved, his school results have improved and any behavioural issues we might have had because he wasn't keeping up are non-existent."

What about our Mr Six? Where is he at now it's the end of his first school year? 

Well his concentration and 'staying on task' are a constant challenge and according to Dr. McGrath they probably always will be.

"Characteristics which parents are concerned about are permanent characteristics in some way."

"The 30 year Australian Temperamental Project shows us that most traits that are there when the kids are tiny will still be there at 30," Dr. McGrath says.

And according AIFS Director Ms Hollonds, emotional and behavioural issues are key areas where we can help Mr Six the most.

"It's about learning to address those traits, working side by side in a progressive way and coaching the child to manage them," Ms Hollonds says.

So as Mr Six travels towards his second year of school, I'm sure there are more challenges ahead. The difference is we're all older and wiser now. We'll be there working side-by-side with him to help him hurdle the problems and be the best school boy he can be.

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