When's the Right Time for Children to Start School?


Many parents feel early enrollment in school is a good first step for kids' academic careers. But some experts warn that too much, too soon may not be the way to lay the ground work of a successful academic career. Some believe that waiting until a child is age 6 for formal education provides the best opportunity for learning advantages.

According to a British study published in The Cambridge Primary Review in October 2008, the consensus was that formal schooling should be delayed until children reach 6. The findings offered that trying to teach literacy and math at a young age is counterproductive. If children under 6 are in school programs, they should continue to learn through play-based initiatives.

An early start in school isn't necessarily a good start. Children may show the maturity and the social readiness to attend school, but they may not have the capacity to grasp concepts outside of their play-based way of learning. Forcing information on a child who is not ready could set him or her up for aversion to school.

What's more, there's no evidence that early schooling produces a more educated child in the long run. Many countries in Europe start school later than Britain or the United States. Finland, for example, begins formal training at age 7. When studied, children who started school at the age of 6 or 7 often overtook English pupils in tests of reading before the start of secondary education.

Parents who have little choice but to enroll children in daycare/pre-school programs because they work should look for curriculum that feature the following:

* Emphasis on play-based learning, with more time geared to kids being kids than sitting behind a desk.

* Access to a computer, since so much of students' lives involve computer literacy.

* Opportunities to go outside and play when weather permits.

* Interaction with books so parents can read with their children and spend time together.

* Limited focus on grades and performance. Does a 3-year-old child really need a report card?

* Activities that involve the family so Mom and Dad are participating in their child's education.

* Small class sizes, optimizing the teacher-to-student ratio.

* A relaxed atmosphere with the time and space to explore physical and social environments.

Some children are naturally more advanced than others and may benefit from earlier, more structured schooling. However, the vast majority will do fine during their academic career if they begin formal education at age 6. That doesn't mean that children can't attend school at 5. The programs should just be be less structured and more play-based.


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