New Harvard study shows the danger of early school enrollment – and how it affects your child for life 1 year ago

New Harvard study shows the danger of early school enrollment – and how it affects your child for life

Back when I started school in my native Norway, I was six years old.

As was most of the other children in my class – they had either turned six that spring, or would turn six in the autumn, after the school year had commenced.

There, you start according to the calendar year you are born, meaning some children will have turned six already, the rest will do so before December 31st of the year they start school.

In Sweden and Denmark, it is much the same, and in Finland, widely known for having the best and most child-centric school system in the world, children are seven when they start primary school.

So how does this compare to starting school and four or five? Well, when you take into consideration how much a child can grow, change and mature in just one year, the difference can be quite significant, actually.

Recently, a Harvard study shed some light over what it really means to children's health that they are being sent to school earlier. In just one generation, children are going to school at younger and younger ages, and are spending more time in school than ever before. They are increasingly required to learn academic content at an early age that may be well above their developmental capability.

In 1998, 31 percent of teachers expected children to learn to read in kindergarten. In 2010, 80 percent of teachers expected this. Now, children are expected to read in kindergarten and to become proficient readers soon after, despite research showing that pushing early literacy can do more harm than good.

In their report Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose education professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige and her colleagues warn about the hazards of early reading instruction. They write,


When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion.

Instead of recognizing that schooling often is the problem, we blame the kids, says Carlsson-Paige.

Today, children who are not reading by a contrived endpoint are regularly labelled with a reading delay and prescribed various interventions to help them catch up to the pack. In school, all must be the same. If they are not listening to the teacher, and are spending too much time daydreaming or squirming in their seats, young children often earn an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) label.

It should be no surprise that as we place young children in artificial learning environments, separated from their family for long lengths of time, and expect them to comply with a standardised, test-driven curriculum, it will be too much for many of them.

The new findings by Harvard Medical School researchers confirm that it’s not the children who are failing, it’s the schools we place them in too early. These researchers discovered that children who start school as among the youngest in their grade have a much greater likelihood of getting an ADHD diagnosis than older children in their grade.

In fact, for the U.S. states studied with a September 1st enrollment cut-off date, children born in August were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older peers.

The study’s lead researcher at Harvard, Timothy Layton, concludes: “Our findings suggest the possibility that large numbers of kids are being overdiagnosed and overtreated for ADHD because they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school.”

The thing is – parents don’t really even need Harvard researchers to tell them that a child who just turned five is quite different developmentally from a child who is about to turn six.

Instead, the researchers conclude, parents need to be empowered to challenge government schooling motives and mandates.

"As schooling becomes more rigid and consumes more of childhood, it is causing increasing harm to children. Many of them are unable to meet unrealistic academic and behavioral expectations at such a young age, and they are being labeled with and medicated for delays and disorders that often only exist within a schooled context."