What Age Do Kids Start School? The Youngest + Oldest Starting Ages in the World

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Updated | 4 min read

If you’re an elementary school teacher, you’re probably used to 4 or 5 years olds wandering into your building on the first day of school. After all, most American students start pre-K somewhere around age 4 and kindergarten somewhere around age 5.

But how does this compare to the age kids start school around the world? And what do the laws here in the United States say from state to state about what age kids start school?

What Age Do Kids Start School?

When exactly kids will start school can vary based on a variety of factors — from parental feelings to when a birthdate falls in the year — but here are some of the most common ages of children starting school here in the US and around the world.

  • United States: Students in the state of Washington can start kindergarten if they’re 5 years old before August 31, but they don’t have to — parents have until age 8 to start their kids off in public school! Meanwhile, Hawaiian children are required to enter kindergarten if they turn 5 by July 31. Check out the age kids start school in your state.
  • France: Schooling is compulsory for French kids starting at age 3 (yes, 3!), although students start off in a pre-primary education setting at that age, moving to primary school around age 6. Parents can sometimes even have their 2-year-olds accepted to these schools, which are free for French citizens.
  • Sweden: Kids in this Scandinavian country are required to spend at least 10 years in school, starting at age 6 when they enter lågstadiet (elementary school).
  • Finland: Well known for its education system, Finland doesn’t require students to start primary school until age 7, although preschool in the country is universal, open to all families, regardless of income.
  • South Africa: School is compulsory in South Africa beginning at age 7 when kids start what they call grade 1. There’s a grade 0 for younger students — called reception — but it’s not required. Students must attend until at least grade 9 (15 years old).
  • China: Chinese children typically begin primary school at age 6  — provided they’re 6 by August 31 — although enrollment cut-offs are up to local municipalities rather than the Chinese government. By law, Chinese students must attend school for at least nine years.
  • Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland has one of the lowest compulsory school starting ages in the world — kids are required to be in primary school by the time they’re 4 years and 2 months.
  • Russia: Kids in Russia start primary school at the age of 6 or 7 and are required by law to stick with this compulsory education for four years before moving on to the Russian version of secondary schooling.
  • Australia: Although students can begin primary school earlier, it’s required by law that all Australian students be enrolled in primary school by their 6th birthday.
  • Egypt: Egyptian children are required to start school by age 6 and attend through age 15.

See our favorite classroom-ready resources to help your kindergartners fit right in!

What Is the Best Age for Kids to Start School?

Is there a best age to start school? If we ask any teacher of younger students, we know they’re bound to have pretty strong opinions on this — including the members of our teacher team!

Kindergarten readiness varies greatly between students of the same age, and we know one 4-year-old may have wildly different motor skills and social skills from another born on the same day. Social factors, cultural factors, health, and more all come into play, along with a child’s age.

Instead of a number on a birth certificate being the ultimate decider, we look for students to have a baseline of skills to determine readiness — including the ability to separate emotionally from caregivers and use the bathroom alone — and what one 5-year-old may have down pat may be a struggle for another. Likewise, there are plenty of accommodations that can be made for kids who may not be as “ready” as their peers, simple things that can help students make that jump to attending school — from wearing slip-on shoes if they don’t have the dexterity yet to tie them to extra intervention services.

But what do the scientists think about the age when kids school start school? It seems somewhere around age 6 is the sweet spot, with Stanford researchers revealing in 2017 that their studies of students have shown that the kids whose parents waited until age 6 to enroll them in kindergarten had better measures of self-control when measured at ages 7 and 11 than their peers who entered school at age 6.

What’s more, starting too early has been found to have a detrimental effect on kids and their mental health. In a study published in the journal Child Care, Health and Development back in 2017, British researchers from the University of Exeter looked at more than 2,000 children ages 5 to 9 scattered around different schools in Devon, England, and determined that the younger a child was in comparison to their peers, the more likely they’d have poorer mental health. They determined the younger kids were experiencing stress as they tried to keep up with older peers.

Do you have students starting school? Start them off with some icebreakers to get acquainted with their classmates!


Banner image via shutterstock/Halfpoint


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