Is there a right age to start school?

It might seem like a strange time of year to discuss ‘school starting age’ but most schools are currently enrolling for incoming junior infants. Letterkenny Babies Facebook page often gets messages from parents asking what the best age is for a child to start school. First off, I’ll say that every child is unique and parents should trust their own judgement when it comes to their child.

In a broader sense, there is a definite trend in favour of kids starting school at the ‘older’ end of the scale these days. Back in the 80s, I started school at 4. I didn’t turn 5 until the end of January in junior infants. I got on fine – emotionally, socially and academically.

There were plenty in the class who were a few months younger than me. But times have changed and now, 5+ is the clear preference when it comes to starting school. My own child, Conor, is also a late January baby and he’ll be starting at 5 and a half – a full year older than I was when I started myself.


Following a recent query on the page, here are some of the opinions and experiences shared.

“My wee boy was 5 and 9 months starting junior infants. I’m so glad I kept him back. I feel he’s just more ready for the learning and really loves it. I sent my wee girl at 4 and a half and I regret it. She’s one of the youngest in the class; she is capable of the work but emotionally another year would have been better.”

Another member added. “I’m at the other end of this scale now with my oldest girl in 5th year at secondary school. We sent her to school while she was still 4 and it’s the sorriest thing I’ve done. Albeit she doesn’t struggle at all and is well able for it but all her peers are nearly a full year older and she will be only turned 18 when heading off to college. Go with your gut and, going by your message, you’re already doubting it so I’d personally hold your wee child.”

As a secondary school teacher, I must say that I’ve never taught a student that I thought was ‘too old’ to be doing their leaving cert, but I have felt that some could have done with an extra year’s maturity to help them navigate the pressure and decision-making that is required at that stage of their lives… and it all relates back to the age they were when they started school.

I don’t think there’s a primary teacher in the country who would say that holding off for a year to start them at 5+ does any harm – whereas many teachers agree that some kids are sent too young and that they struggle as a result of it.

I asked a primary teacher with over 20 years experience what her thoughts were on the matter and this is what she said. “The vast majority of children start school at 5+ nowadays.

“I feel the two years of ECCE should be availed of to give them the best start in the school setting. If your child is born before Halloween, they could start at 4. They will most likely be among the youngest in the class, but they aren’t far behind the others. Those born between Halloween and Christmas are in a bit of a grey area. Some kids start at 4+ and settle in perfectly well, others wait till 5+ and that really suits them. It would be up to parents and early education providers to determine the best approach for an individual child in this case. As for children born after Christmas, I’d strongly advise that parents hold off and wait until the child is 5+. There are always exceptions, but if in doubt, wait it out!”


Louise Flanagan is an admin of Letterkenny Babies Facebook page and the author of the children’s book series, Dragonterra.


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