Before I give a rundown of what happens and what age your children can start school in Nova Scotia, I should tell you that the age a child starts school in Canada is not standardized across the whole country. It would certainly be helpful for some kind of unification.

Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 to 16 in every province in Canada, except Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18.

The first years of compulsory schooling in Canada are called an elementary or primary school.

Elementary school is usually mixed and is usually attended until age 11 (grades 1 to 6) when students go on to a junior high school (usually grades 7, 8 and 9 but in our area, it is grade 7 and 8). In some districts, students attend elementary school until age 13 (up to grade 8) before attending a senior high school. And unlike other school districts within Canada, in Nova Scotia, we do not have a separate Catholic School Board.

Going back to the beginning of our journey.

Our son was 6 when we arrived in Nova Scotia and had already completed two and a half years of schooling in Cardiff, having started in the September of the year he turned 4. He was placed in Grade 1 along with children his age, although two weeks into our settlement we were summoned for a meeting with his teacher and principle with a view to placing him in a higher grade, which we decided against.

Our daughter who was 4 had completed nearly 6 months of full-time schooling when we moved here yet, we were unable to register her for school in Nova Scotia and had to send her to preschool for two mornings a week.

Different terminology

What was generally called ‘Playschool’ or ‘Nursery School’ in the UK, is generally called either ‘Preschool’ or ‘Pre-Primary’ here in Canada, depending on the province. In Nova Scotia, preschool is usually the most common terminology.

This ‘Preschool’ year is not part of the curriculum and attendance is voluntary. Unlike the UK, where Nursery School education is provided free of charge in the year before the child is due to start school, here the preschool is usually privately run,  and fees will apply.

The provincial Pre-Primary Program was launched in September 2017. To be eligible, a child must have reached his/her fourth birthday on or before December 31, 2018 and live within the catchment area of the school offering the program. At the present time, not all schools are offering this program. Here’s a list of all the schools currently offering the Pre-Primary program in Halifax

School Bus


Despite the school year starting in September and running until the end of June, registration for pre-school children due to start school in Nova Scotia takes place a good few months earlier, with most school boards opting for Registration during the month of February. You will need to check the actual dates with the school you are intending to send your child to and to register you child, the parent or legal guardian should bring the following items:

  • Your child’s original birth certificate, any applicable immigration documents, and/or proof of Canadian citizenship for both you and your child
  • Your child’s immunization record
  • Proof of your residence address (a document such as your current year property tax receipt, current month rental receipt, or a purchase/rental agreement).

Find more information on registering your child here

When we first came here, a child was eligible to start school in Nova Scotia if he or she turned 5 before the 30 October. A few years ago this changed. The cut-off date for starting school in Nova Scotia is now 31 December.

Province-by-Province analysis

Starting ages:

  • In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI,  your child must be 5 years old by 31 December in the year in which they start school to start elementary school
  • In Nfld, your child must be 5 years old by 31 December to start part time kindergarten and 6 years old by 31 December to start school.
  • In Ontario, children can start school in the year they turn 4. The two-year kindergarten program (Junior and Senior Kindergarten) is optional, so students are not actually required to start school until age 6 (grade 1).
  • In Quebec, Kindergarten (maternelle) is available for children that have turned 5 years of age on September 30th of the school year. Mandatory elementary education (école primaire) starts with grade 1.
  • In Manitoba, your child must be 6 years old by 31 December in the year in which they start school but compulsory education does not start until your child turns 7 years of age by December 31.
  • In  Saskatchewan, children are eligible to start kindergarten if they are 5 years old by January 31
  • In Alberta, children must be four years old on or before March 1 to start kindergarten in September of the same calendar year. However, starting in 2018, children entering kindergarten in the fall must turn five by Dec. 31 of the same year.
  • In B.C. Children can start kindergarten in September of the year they turn five years old.  Parents are required to have their children registered for school or homeschooling by the calendar year in which they turn six.
  • In the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, a child is eligible to start kindergarten if they are 5 years old by December 31 of that school year and to start full-time school in September of the year that they are six years old.

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if the date for starting school was standardized across Canada?

As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Life is good in Nova Scotia,

Have a great week!

Jane and Richard

Moving 2 Nova Scotia