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Private schools take pre-kindy at three
Patric and Moira D'Cruze and their daughter Megan, 3. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Many children are experiencing their first day of school as young as three years old as more parents choose school programs instead of child care.

Compulsory schooling for WA students used to start at Year 1 in the year children turned six, but pre-primary became the first stage of schooling last year.

Many private schools are now meeting the demand for pre-kindergarten programs aimed at three-year-olds, on top of the high proportion of children who attend four-year-old kindergarten.

Huge demand from parents prompted Penrhos College to increase the number of pre-kindergarten places it offered last year and to extend the program so children could attend two, three or five days a week.

Principal Meg Melville said the pre-kindergarten class was now full, with 23 students enrolled and six girls on the waiting list.

The school also offers before and after-school care, so parents have the option of dropping their daughters at school at 7am and picking them up at 6pm.

"It is a very long day when you're talking about a three-year-old . . . but nevertheless if we are going to meet the needs of our working parents, that's the range," Mrs Melville said.

Patrick D'Cruze, who said goodbye to daughter Megan, 3, on her first day at Penrhos yesterday, said he believed the quality of care was higher in a school environment and more stimulating than child care. He said it was almost impossible to get into many childcare centres because their waiting lists were so long.

"Given that dedicated child-care facilities aren't really meeting that demand, I think that's why schools are beginning to offer pre-kinder type of programs five days a week and parents are taking them up on that," he said.

Catholic Education executive director Tim McDonald said 65 Catholic schools were offering three-year-old kindergarten programs this year.

An Education Department spokesman said while some public schools offered supported playgroups for three-year-olds, parents were not able to leave children in the charge of a teacher in a formal pre-kindergarten program, except in some designated Aboriginal kindergartens.