But despite the proven positive effects only 73 per cent of five year olds are enrolled in preschool or kindergarten.
In the largest study of its kind, research revealed attendance levels have remained relatively dormant since 2008 with disadvantaged and indigenous communities and children from non-English speaking backgrounds having the poorest attendance records.
The study presented in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly found that programs such as preschool and kindergarten can promote children’s healthy development and protect against learning vulnerabilities.
The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) surveyed 97.5 per cent of the five-year-old cohort in their first year of school and found that children who completed a preschool program in the year before were less likely to be in the ‘vulnerable range’ or bottom 10th percentile of development.
In Australia more than 20 per cent of school entrants are considered vulnerable in one or more of the AEDC domains which include physical and health wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge.
Professor Sharon Goldfeld from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and co-author of the study said the results suggest a positive association between preschool and these skill areas.
“The big finding from this study is preschool is good for everybody, whether you’re high income or low income,” Prof Goldfeld said.
“What makes this research a bit more unique is that for the first time it includes all children starting school so we have the opportunity to catch a whole population,” she said.
While national attendance levels have remained stable, individual state records have fluctuated considerably.
Victoria ranked third best in country, up almost three per cent from 2008 to 88 per cent in 2011, while Queensland dropped nearly eight per cent to just over 49 per cent of kids attending some form of preschool.
Researchers also found that more parents are opting for dedicated preschool settings over day care with a preschool program.
Madeleine Hall-Haydon said preschool had prepared Olive for starting prep next year. Picture: David Caird
Mother of one Madeleine Hall-Haydon said she chose to enrol her daughter Olive in four year old kindergarten after she was left bored and unstimulated at day care.
“Day care just felt like she was being babysat,” the 27 year old from Glen Iris said.
“She’s learnt so much since being in kindergarten, she’s absolutely thrived. She’s confident and independent and has made so many friends,” she said.
Ms Hall-Haydon said preschool had prepared Olive for starting prep next year with the five year old wearing her uniform for almost a month in anticipation.
“I might not be ready, but she is,” she said.
“She just wants to learn and every child deserves to have the opportunity to have some type of education. It’s a real shame that some kids aren’t exposed.”
CEO of Early Childhood Management Service, Bernie Nott said the evidence on the benefits of preschool was ‘irrefutable’.
“It’s time to get on with realising the potential of young Australian children with a sustainable early learning system that provides at least two guaranteed years of early education for every child and family,” Mr Nott said.
“The longer we wait, the more children miss out,” he said.
As orginally published in the Herald Sun 19th November, 2016