The Short of It
Wondering whether your young child is mentally and physically ready for school? A new study published in the journal National Bureau of Economic Research may give you pause. According to the findings, enrolling children in kindergarten at age 7—instead of the typical 5 or 6—greatly reduces instances of hyperactivity and inattention in both boys and girls. This improved self-control, in turn, can help boost children's assessment scores.
To reach this conclusion, researchers compared data from a standard mental health screening survey given to thousands of children in Denmark and other countries to information from Denmark's census. They discovered that holding kids back an extra year, a practice known as "redshirting," can have long-lasting positive effects in the classroom. That's because children have another year to master self-regulation. And the longer a child can sit still and focus on learning, the better their chances of academic achievement.
"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," Stanford Graduate School of Education and study co-author Thomas Dee said in a press release. "This is some of the most convincing evidence we've seen to support what parents and policymakers have already been doing—choosing to delay kindergarten entry," he added. (Currently, about 20 percent of kids in the U.S. start kindergarten at age 6 instead of 5.)
But Dee and his cohorts point out that their study only looks at the mental health benefits of keeping your kiddo back a year. Access to quality pre-K programs is also a factor. Children in Denmark tend to have excellent programs at their disposal, but that's not always the case stateside. Dee says starting kindergarten earlier may be worth considering if there's no decent pre-K programs in your area.
Add this study to the growing body of research around the best and right conditions for learning. One recent study, for example, found that redshirting can actually cause kids to do worse on tests. But as a mom who's knee-deep in kindergarten applications, I'm intrigued by this study. My son has a March birthday and is typically among the older kids in his class, so we haven't had reason to consider putting off enrollment. That said, if we thought he wasn't mature enough to handle the structure and duration of a typical school day, we wouldn't hesitate for a minute to hold him back a year. And it's comforting to know that there's some research to back us up.