Irish children are starting school much too young according to a new study
Sending your child off to 'big school' is a huge milestone, and it is not uncommon for mums and dads to worry about whether or not out little ones are ready for it when the times rolls around.
In my native Norway, children start school by the calendar year the year they turn six – meaning some will have turned six before school starts in late August, the rest will celebrate their sixth birthdays before the year is out.
However, back when I started primary school in the late 1980s, the age you went to school was seven, and currently, it is actually being debated in Norway whether or not the school-starting age should indeed be brought back up to seven, with many professionals and also parents arguing that six is too young – and that starting school too soon is not only shortening your children's childhood, but also harming their later school career too.
In Finland, which is frequently being praised for having the best school system in the world at the moment, children start school at seven – and have no homework at all in primary school, instead they are being encouraged to play and play outside as much as possible. And yet, studies have shown they often outperform their peers from countries where homework is not only mandatory, but also seen as the best way of getting the work done.
Seven is the magic age
And now it seems yet another study has come out backing this evidence up – that delaying school makes all sorts of sense. According to a a team of researchers in Denmark, it would seem Finland is right – seven is the best age for a child to start school.
In fact, according to these researchers, the delay can benefit their mental development, even reducing levels of inattention and hyperactivity.
In the latest study, investigators Thomas Dee and Hans Henrik Sievertsen used the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) study to collect their data. The DNBC included responses from 54,241 parents on measures of mental health when their kids were 7 years old and 35,902 responses when the kids were 11.
Dee and Sievertsen found kids who started kindergarten a year later than average students had 73% better scores on tests of their hyperactivity and inattention four years later.
Dee explains: “We found that delaying kindergarten reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent, for an average child at age 11. It virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal’, or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioural measure.”
The professor added that this is “some of the most convincing evidence seen to support what parents and policy-makers have already been doing – choosing to delay kindergarten entry”.
Sievertsen agrees, telling Quartz of his study: "We were a bit surprised at how persistent the effect was."