As parents, we want the best for our kids and want to make informed choices for them. One of the most hotly discussed topics amongst parents is the right age when a child should start school. For most people in Australia, it means when the child turns 5 years of age. If you are wondering if this is too early you are probably right. In many other developed countries, formal schooling starts at the age of 6 years.
There haven’t been many studies in past that provide evidence of the benefits of delaying starting school. But a recent study conducted by Professor Thomas S. Dee and Hans Henrik Sievertsen (2015) in Denmark found evidence that delaying starting school or holding back reduces inattention or hyperactivity and develops better self-regulation.
About the study
The data for this study came from The Danish National Birth Cohort, which provides detailed measures of children’s mental health at age 7 and 11. It included information about children’s birth year, when they started school, and also the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. The SDQ is a mental-health screening tool designed for children to be used in clinical and research settings.
Should you delay starting school? What are the benefits?
After analyzing the data the researchers found that children who start formal school one year later, that is at 7 years of age, have better mental health particularly improved self-regulation and that this improvement lasts for several years. However, it should be noted that children who belong to affluent socio-economic backgrounds benefit most from delay in starting school. This could be because they are able to afford best quality informal care environments for their children.
What does it mean?
Famous Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that children learn and develop through social interaction. He coined the term “zone of proximal development” to indicate that children are able to learn skills that are beyond their maturation level when they have guidance or reinforcement of a more skilled peer. This type of constructivist learning is the popular choice in most schools in developed countries where children and teachers are considered collaborators as opposed to traditional instructivism methods. According to this theory, learning precedes development.
Such learning is more easily possible for children who start school late because of their increased self-regulation. When a child has better self-regulation it means they are able to control or modify their thoughts and behavior to better suit their goals. They are able to sit still and focus for longer periods of time. Ultimately, self-regulation is linked to academic achievement. One reason why children starting school late have more self-regulation is because of the increased time spent in less formal and more playful environments that aid in development through pretend play and promotes abstract and symbolic reasoning.
How will I know if my child is ready for school?
The best assessor of a child’s readiness for school is, of course, their preschool or daycare teacher. One factor that affects many parents’ decision is affordability. Preschools and daycare centers generally cost more than public schools. If as a parent you feel that your child is not ready for school yet and you can afford it, by all means, hold back. If, however, keeping them in a quality preschool or daycare center is a financial struggle, you might be better off placing them in a good public school.
Individual factors of a child may also come into play. Social interactions are generally better indicators of whether they are ready for school or not than their academic performance. Some of the behaviors that might indicate a child is not ready for school are hitting, spitting, and ignoring an adult’s instructions, withdrawing from social situations, turning away from parents, anxiety, and sadness.