Starting your children in school at a later age leads to better education results and wellbeing, according to an expert in early education.
New Department of Education figures show that the age children start school in Ireland has been steadily increasing for the past 20 years
Legally, children do not have to start school until they are six; however, traditionally children have started at the age of four or five.
In most European countries however, children often don’t start until they’re six or seven.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning Dr Mary O’Kane, Lecturer in Psychology and Early Childhood Education said children in countries like Denmark and Finland have consistently better education results and wellbeing.
“It is not so much the number, it is the fact that they have had longer years of really quality pre-school education,” she said.
“We know that what our children need starting school is they need to be independent, they need to have good social skills, they need to have good language skills, communication and confidence – and pre-school education is where they are going to develop these skills because it is learning through play.
“Sometimes parents say, ah that’s just playing but it is not. In really good-quality pre-school, they have really developmentally-appropriate play; there are opportunities for exploration, creativity, meaning-making and they don’t get those same opportunities in the formal education system.”
She said the changing school-age demographic in Ireland is a good thing for our children.
“The figures are showing that now, children are much more likely to start at five,” she said.
“We are putting that down to what we called the ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) scheme which most people will probably know as the free pre-school year,” she said.
“That was introduced for young children in 2010 and in about 2016, the Government announced children could have two years of free pre-school.
“Now it’s just three hours a day so it is not a huge amount of hours but this is really good news for our children because if they are getting those two years in pre-school education and early years education it is much better in terms of developing their social and emotional skills.”
She admitted that starting your child later means they will eventually also leave later but she insisted that is often not a bad thing as they make decision on their future post-Leaving Cert.
“It has a knock-on effect,” she said. “Even the transition from primary to secondary, they are more mature at that age if they have started that little bit older.
“Honestly, it really is so good for their long-term wellbeing.”
You can listen back here: