It’s a common quandary for parents – to send your child to school as soon as they can attend, or hold them back till they’re ready? Recent research has found that there is a strong argument for the latter.
Each extra month makes a difference
A survey of 100,000 kids led by researchers at the University of New South Wales compared delayed starting rates across the country with developmental data. The research is the first of its kind conducted in Australia.
According to the study, one-quarter of children are now starting kindergarten later than they are “eligible for”, and these late-starters are performing better than their younger classmates.
When compared with data from the Australian Early Development Census, researchers found that each month a child was held back increased their maturity for school. It also helped them score better against most developmental milestones and increased their likeliness of scoring above the 25th percentile by approximately three percent each month.
Dr Ben Edwards, an associate professor of child and youth development and longitudinal studies at Australian National University, says that these findings raise some interesting questions, particularly around money.
A matter of money
Many parents send their kids to school earlier because they can’t afford expensive daycare payments for yet another year.
Dr Edwards says that families with more money were able to give their children the “gift of time”, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. Lower socio-economic and migrant families are less likely to afford extended time at daycare, as they are reliant on both parents returning to full working hours to keep their household running.
To reinforce this, the study got extremely location-specific, proving that families in affluent areas of NSW were the most likely in Australia to hold their children back.
“It’s real social patterning,” as Dr Edwards puts it. “The parents who are not delaying their kids are Indigenous, kids who haven’t gone to preschool before, whose mothers were born in Asia and the Middle East … It’s really an affluence phenomenon. Advantaged parents, in the more advantaged suburbs of Sydney, are the ones more likely to delay kids’ entrance to school.
“We’ve found that there is that gift of time, that having more time to develop outside of school means that they are more school-ready on lots of different indicators.”
In the end, we do what we can
Ultimately, every parent wants to give their child the best start that they can in life. For many, the need to prioritise returning to work to maintain cash flow will always trump any niggling desire to hold a child back.
The study has prompted conversations about the need for families to have wider access to free, government-funded daycare facilities. But we won’t be holding our breath for this development. A parent can dream – but at the end of the day, we’re realists!