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Kids Who Start School Later May Perform Worse Academically Long Term

The Short of It

While common wisdom suggests that holding kids back from starting school because of a summer birthday or because they were born prematurely is perfectly okay, a new study says delaying a child's academic career may hurt him in the long run.

The Lowdown

Many parents agonize over whether to enroll their children in kindergarten when they have a late summer birthday, in which case they'd be the younger students in the class. Parents of children who were born prematurely also tend to worry about starting kindergarten on schedule.

It's common for academic professionals to counsel parents that it's no big deal to delay the start of school. But a new German study says it does matter.

The study, published in the "Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology," found that kids who are held back a year are at a higher risk of performing poorly in school years down the road. That's right; the students may do fine initially, but eventually, they risk falling behind.

Researchers looked at nearly 1,000 kids in Bavaria; nearly half were born prematurely.

"We found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardised tests at 8 years of age for both pre-term and full-term children. Future research is needed to determine the long-term effect of delayed school entry on academic achievement, but our results certainly give parents and educational providers food for thought," says co-author Julia Jaekel, of the Department of Developmental Psychology at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.

The Upshot

If you're questioning whether your child is ready to start kindergarten in the fall, either because of his birthday or maturity level, the best thing to do is to talk to head administrators at the school. This study alone should not inform your decision.

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