Starting school at 5
Should intelligent kids be sent to Grade 1 a year early? Yes, and no, says this psychologist.
When a highly intelligent 5-year-old excels in school readiness tests, the obvious choice appears to be to send him or her to school early. Although there are no right or wrong answers, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when making this decision.
  • The effects of starting school too young may not be evident until the child is quite a bit older, sometimes as late as high school.
  • School readiness tests are designed to evaluate your child's physical, intellectual and emotional readiness for school.  The latter, however, is incredibly difficult to measure with a single test and is often misjudged.
  • Each child is a unique individual and, for some, starting school early is a positive choice, for others it is better to hold back another year.  Other aspects you need to consider apart from the normal tests include: your child's personality, home circumstances, position in the family (first born, middle or youngest), and medical history (a history of ear infections for example).
  • A child may be developmentally slow in some areas, but advanced in others.  Some slow down developmentally and then suddenly catch up very quickly. This is why it is impossible to state the "perfect age" to start school. Each child develops in each area at their own pace.  There are many 5-year-olds that are better equipped to deal with Grade 1 than some 7-year-olds. Knowing your child's unique abilities and strengths is the key factor when deciding when to send your child to school. 
Positive effects
  • Highly intelligent children are often bored in class.  Starting early ensures that they remain challenged by the curriculum.
  • Starting school a year early means one less year of pre-school.  For many parents, this huge financial saving makes a difference to their decision.
  • Success breeds success.  Children love being praised and excelling, and being ‘clever enough’ to start school early is often a boost to their self-esteem. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with a lot of early starters being strong academic achievers throughout their school career.
  • Starting school early means they should finish earlier as well.  As an adult, starting a career at a younger age is often an advantage. 
Negative effects
  • Separation from their friends and feeling ‘different’. For example, during sporting events they will be placed in teams of their own age, not their own grade. So while all their friends are playing in one soccer team, they are now placed in another. As teenagers, their friends may be getting their driving licenses while they need to wait another year.  They seem like small incidents, but the effect on your child's self-esteem does need to be considered.
  • Children who start school early are very intelligent and parents tend to place high expectations on them. They often become over-achievers and place a lot of pressure on themselves to perform.
  • In a classroom filled with 6 and 7-year-olds, a 5-year-old has a lot more to deal with than simply getting through their schoolwork.  At this age, how old you are is a really big deal to children. They continually compare themselves to their peers and the youngest in the class are often prime targets for bullies. Name-calling ("big baby" and "midget" are common) and physical shoving (younger children are naturally smaller) can become problems.
  • On a developmental level, a 5-year-old is usually less self-assured and can't cope with as many situations as a 7-year-old can.
  • Younger children often battle to part with their parents.  If you see a Grade 1 child screaming when their mom drops them off at school, it is often one who started school too young.  This inability to separate is often a sign of emotional insecurity that naturally improves as the child gets older.  However, this is also unique to each child and many 5-year-olds are emotionally mature enough to handle the adjustment.
Read more on How do I know my child is ready?

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