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Many American Kids Start School Too Early, Say Stanford Researchers 

By Robert Stitt

Parents are always concerned about their children falling behind their peers in school. Sadly, many parents do not know what “peers” their children should be associated with to maximize their children’s success. Parents often base their decisions on the friends their kids play with in the neighborhood or on a date handed out by the states’ department of education. Sometimes, they even base their decisions on what they remember from their own childhood. It is the rare parent that takes the time to dig in and base their decisions on research.

Thankfully, Stanford University has made things a little easier by compiling student data from one of the more successful countries in the education world, Denmark. The study showed that Danish children who started kindergarten a year later than normal showed significantly more self-control than those who started “on time”.  Even better, this self-control stayed with them and benefited them for years to come. Thomas Dee, one of the co-authors of the report, noted, “We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73% for an average child .”

Since children who possess the traits of inattention and hyperactivity—the foundational characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)- score lower on achievement tests and assessments, the one-year delay in starting kindergarten had a positive impact on overall educational performance.

Several other European countries like Finland and Germany, who score well on international academic tests, have later kindergarten start dates as well.  

Scientific controls needed to clearly link educational performance to a later start were not in place, so the report could not directly state that later kindergarten start dates led to improved test scores. The report did, however, focus on the improved behavior and attention the children were able to display. These improved traits helped children get more from class, study harder, and spend less time being disciplined which did positively impact test scores.

If you are wondering what “starting later” means, in Denmark Children attend kindergarten during the calendar year they turn six. That is a year to a year and a half later than most students in the United States who typically start Kindergarten if they turn 5 before September or October.

QZ.com did note that there were limitations to the study. The children in Denmark who delayed their kindergarten start did not sit at home and watch television. Denmark has universal access to pre-school. Therefore, the students did not just have an extra year to grow up, but they also had an extra year of structured learning and social skill development.

In the United States, if parents do not have access to at least a reasonably-good developmentally appropriate preschool, then their children may be better off going into kindergarten instead of staying home. It should also be noted that the class labeled “kindergarten” in this study, as is the case in most European countries, is the first year of academic study and in many cases may be more closely related to an American 1st grade.

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