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Starting School At An Older Age Might Be Better For Kids, Study Suggests, But The Advantage Is Only For Some

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By the time their children are old enough, many parents are giddy to send finally send their kids to school. The moment marks the beginning of a new stage in a child’s changing life, but it also means mitigating the high cost of childcare that can consume the first few years of parenthood. However, a new study conducted in Australia suggests that sending children to school right away may not be the answer. In fact, the study conducted in New South Wales (NSW) suggests that starting school at an older age might be better for kids.

The study of more than 100,000 children, published this week in academic journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, found that one in four families delay school entry until their child turns 6. The findings also indicate that there is also a strong relationship between age and developmental skills within the first year of schooling for children — those who start school a year later than they are eligible fare better in kindergarten when compared to their younger peers.

Children analyzed in the study scored better on developmental milestones for every month of maturity, researchers found. According to the study, each extra month of age corresponded with an approximate 3 percent increase in probability of scoring higher in the different areas of child development.

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The researchers concluded in the study:

The strong age-development relationship observed in children in their first year of school in our study suggests that each month of maturation counts during this important transition period, as children continue to develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Children who start school in the year they turn six are more likely to have developed the skills and competencies needed to thrive in a formal learning environment, compared with their younger peers who start school in the year they turn five.

The study also points out that it is worth considering whether or not age-related differences in early schooling impacts later educational outcomes. In the United States, according to the study, the incidence of delaying school entry ranges from 2 percent to 8 percent, with percentages even higher in Australia. However, the advantage is only afforded to some.

The study, which examined data from 2009 to 2012, suggests that incidence of delaying school entry is often determined by socioeconomic advantage, raising concerns about equity.

Children who delayed school entry, thereby having a higher chance at better school performance, were more likely to be from a household that was able to afford the cost, either in the form of an extra year of childcare or lost wages. They were also more likely to be male English speakers living in areas where others were also being delayed. The study points out that in the United States, white English-speaking children rather than Black, Asian, Hispanic children are also more likely to delay school entry.

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The researchers found that children likely to delay have the “gift of time” to learn and develop outside of school, meaning they are more “school ready” once they enter the education system.

It's real social patterning,” Ben Edwards, associate professor of child and youth development and longitudinal studies from the study’s partner institution, the Australian National University, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Migrants tend not to delay their kids. Parents with lower levels of education tend to also not be delaying their kids. It's really an affluence phenomenon. Advantaged parents, in the more advantaged suburbs of Sydney, are the ones more likely to delay kids' entrance to school.”

While starting school later may be better for children, it is clear that the ability to do so is an advantage split across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, among other factors. The significant findings in this study pose policy concerns that must be addressed in the United States as well, where white children are more likely than their Black, Asian, and Hispanic peers to delay entering the school system, as The Conversation previously reported.

If starting school at an older age is really be better for kids, it is even more crucial to tackle the barriers limiting populations so that all children can optimize their learning and development regardless of race and background.