A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that starting kindergarten a year later offers children a number of mental health benefits as well as offering them better self-regulation of their attention and hyperactivity levels.
The study, titled “The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health,” found the benefits of delaying the start of kindergarten to continue through age 11.
“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11 and 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 behavioral measure,” said Thomas Dee, co-author of the study and professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Researchers collected data from tens of thousands of students from a mental health screening survey used in Denmark to evaluate children. The data was then compared to Denmark’s census. Those children found to have more self-control over their attention and activity also obtained higher assessment scores, writes Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post.
Children typically enroll in kindergarten in Denmark at age 6, which is similar to the age in which children enroll in the United States, typically somewhere between 5 and 6 years old. According to researchers, “a one-year delay in the start of school dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity at age 7 …. a measure of self regulation with strong negative links to student achievement.” The report went on to say that the benefits were found to continue through age 11 for both boys and girls.
Debate continues throughout the United States concerning the best age to begin formal schooling, as children are continually beginning the process at an earlier age. While some believe schooling should start early on, experts in the field of early childhood education continue to argue that young children should not be forced to sit and perform academic work, but rather that learning happens best at this age through structured play.
A study released earlier this year agrees with that argument, finding that the Common Core requirement that kindergartners read could in fact hinder reading development within some children as it could cause feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion.
“It’s not just a question of when do you start kindergarten, but what do you do in those kindergarten classes? If you make kindergarten the new first grade, then parents may sensibly decide to delay entry. If kindergarten is not the new first grade, then parents may not delay children’s entries as much,” said Dee.