Hyperactivity reduced if kids start school at age 7, study finds

Prinicpal Mark Potter believes children should start school later, especially boys.
CRAIG SIMCOX/FAIRFAX NZ

Prinicpal Mark Potter believes children should start school later, especially boys.

Starting school at age 5 can be too early and many children are not ready, a Wellington principal says.

That was why Berhampore School blended early childhood practices with the New Zealand curriculum to give 5-year-olds a easier transition to school, delaying formal learning until they were older, said its principal, Mark Potter.

The practice was lent merit by a recent Demark and United States study that found delaying a child's first day of school for a year had mental health benefits, including reducing chances of hyperactivity and inattention, which meant they fared better in school.

The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health co-author Professor Thomas Dee, from Stanford University, said delaying the start of school reduced hyperactivity and inattention in 73 per cent of children.

"It virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at [11] would have an 'abnormal,' or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioral measure," Dee said.

Children in the United States and Demark start school when they are 6, or the year they turn 6, so the year's delay means they wouldn't be at school until 7.

Dee said the study found that parents of about 20 per cent of children in the US had deferred the start of school.

"The study will give comfort to those who have done it," Dee said. "And for those who are making the decision, it'll give them a chance to consider the benefits."

In New Zealand, a child did not legally have to be enrolled at school until 6, but most attended school from 5. 

Berhampore School had mainstream and Montessori classes, where children started at 6, not 5.

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Principal Mark Potter said many of the inattentive or hyperactive behaviours stemmed from anxiety and for some kids, that could stem from starting school too early.

He believed children should start school later, especially boys.

"We've found that 5-year-olds are quite different to 6-year-olds. If we put 5-year-olds into the Montessori environment, they are just lost. They are just not at the same level and really struggle.

"That's why in the traditional school, we have different transition programme for 5-year-olds."

However, it was not a magic recipe as every child was different, so it was also about what age schools started more formal learning.

"We rush our children into reading and writing far too soon. Some children are ready for it, but there are a heck of a lot that aren't," Potter said.

The findings were no surprise to Petone mother Clare Goodman, who pulled her son, now 9, out of a mainstream state school when he was 5 and enrolled him at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School.

Children did not start formal schooling at Rudolf Steiner schools until the year they turned 7, therefore 5 and 6-year-olds remained at kindergarten.

"It just wasn't working for my child. If he had stayed [in mainstream school], I'm sure he would have been labelled ADHD or autistic.

"He's a bit of a dreamer, but they worked with him without labelling him and he's not like that now."

She first noticed something was not right when the daily reading book became a battle and the teacher told Goodman that her son was not concentrating in class. 

"I thought, 'I'm not enjoying my child as much as I want to anymore'. I love reading and I didn't want it to be a chore for him.

"The change was straight away, he was so much happier."

Education Minster Hekia Parata said she could not comment on the study, but that she was happy with a starting age of 5.

"What early childhood teachers and new entrant teachers are saying is that an early, consistent transition to school creates a better platform for learning."

 - Stuff

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