Delaying kindergarten may not be helping your child

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Many parents have made the decision to hold their children back a year before starting kindergarten, especially those children (such as me) whose birthdays fall early in the school calendar. In 2002, 21% of five-year-olds had not yet started kindergarten, compared to less than 10% in 1980.The prevalent thinking is that, by doing so, the child will be more intellectually advanced and able to master schoolwork more easily. New research, however, suggests late entry has as much chance of harming as helping the child.

The study, from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, concluded that older children do better initially in school simply because, being a year older, they know a year's worth more stuff. They begin school with more knowledge, not a greater learning capacity. The advantage they enjoy over their classmates, however, dissipates over the course of their grade school career.

Negative consequences of the decision to hold a child back include later entry into the working world and increased costs to parents of raising a child for an additional year. Although the study doesn't mention this, I believe being a year behind one's peer group could eventually wear on a child's self-esteem.

The study found that mixing older and younger students in the same class also increases the likelihood that the younger children will later be held back, or diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. On the bright side, older students sometimes inspire younger ones to achieve at their level. They may also act as tutors.

From my experience, however, none of these outweigh the conviction that I would have preferred to have been held back a year. As the youngest, I was also the smallest, and I would have given anything to be big enough to knock the snot out of the school bullies.

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