What’s the Right Age to Start School? Research Says It Might Be Later

It’s much discussed and much worried about. New research may just help with the answers on when is the right age to start school… 

The age when your child starts school might have a direct link to how well-behaved s/he is. Recent research shows that delaying the start of school for an extra year may have long-lasting effects when it comes to attention and hyperactivity.

Using Danish stats, the study found that kids who started school one year late (Danish children typically start in the calendar year when they turn six) showed less inattention and hyperactivity at age seven. Beyond that, the researchers found that the behavioural effects lasted until at least age 11.

Okay, so does this mean you should keep your child home and wait for him to start school until he’s well on his way to being seven? Maybe not. Here’s things to think about when you apply this data to your own child… 

Yes, this study does indicate older is better. But keep in mind that this is not the only study ever done on the subject, and the actual effects of delaying school starting age haven’t been conclusively proven. So, what should you do?  Yep! It’s completely complicated.

Obviously, an older child has more time to develop the social, emotional and cognitive skills necessary to control himself, focus for a longer time and calm himself down. That’s not saying that one extra year turns a bounce-off-the-walls type of kid into a calm and mellow fellow. But, it could. For some children. Every child is different, and that means the one extra year your friend’s child needed before starting formal schooling may not apply to your child.

Another issue that this line of research brings up is ADHD. This specific study did look at hyperactivity and inattentiveness. But, it didn’t make any claims about diagnosed conditions such as ADHD. A child with an ADHD diagnosis isn’t just “too young” and it’s not something that he’ll “outgrow.” Waiting an extra year may provide kids with this disorder the chance to get 12 months’ worth of extra early intervention, but it won’t change the fact that they have ADHD.

Even though the study showed some promise for children who are generally inattentive or hyperactive (not in a diagnosable way), it isn’t a cure-all for rowdy kids. It also isn’t the magical answer to having a smarter or more scholastically successful child. Sure, plenty of these late starters fair well academically. They may even get better grades or have better test scores than their younger classmates. Then again, that might just be an effect of the child’s natural intelligence.

Yes, knowing what the research says is always helpful. That on it’s own shouldn’t guide your choices when it comes to your child’s schooling. Come on, every mum knows that one 4-year-old who is brighter, better behaved and generally more advanced than most 8-year-olds. Yeah, their mum is on a constant brag trip. But, it happens. If your child is ready to start school when he’s younger, that’s perfectly fine. You know your kid better than some researcher does. Right?

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Erica Loop is a mum, parenting writer and educator with an MS in child development. Along with writing for websites such as PBS Parents,, Scary Mommy,, Modern Mom, and others, she also is the creator of a kids' activities and art blog.

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