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Delaying School Start for Summer-Born and Premature Children

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Delaying Start of School for Summer-Born or Premature Children Lowers Academic Performance, Says Study; Some Parents Disagree

Children who start school a year later due to summer birthdays or premature births may do worse academically later on, according to a British study published recently in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.

The study found that delaying school entry by a year did not affect teacher ratings of the students’ academic performance in that first year; but it was associated with “poorer performance” in age-standardized tests of reading, writing, math and attention, as the children got older, according to the study’s author, Dieter Wolke, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Warwick in London.

Researchers added that due to the study’s design, they were unable to say that delaying school was the cause of poorer performance later, but that there was a link between the two factors.

The research team studied data on close to 1,000 children from the Bavarian Longitudinal Study in German. Almost 500 of these children had been born prematurely. Researchers noted that Bavarian policy requires all children to be assessed by a pediatrician from their community 3 to 12 months before they are to begin school, to determine whether or not they are ready.

The study compared grades (“ratings”) the children got from their teacher in their first year of school, and the students’ scores on standardized math, reading, writing and attention tests by the time they were 8 years old.

Study co-author Julia Jaekel, a research associate in the Department of Developmental Psychology at Germany’s Ruhr-University Bochum, noted that many parents demand that their pre-term children be held back, especially when they are born in the summer. She further stated that delaying school start by a year is also supported by many charities that help parents of pre-term children.

Start of school is delayed in the hope that the youngsters will have more time to mature, and that they will then do better in school. But the study found that missing a year of school learning was associated with “poorer average performance” in standardized tests at 8 years of age for both premature and full-term, summer-born children.

The researchers called for more studies to be done, to determine the long-term effects of postponing school entry on academic achievement.

But British parents posting comments online expressed concern that they are not being allowed by some county school authorities to delay kindergarten for their summer-born or premature children; if the parents delay school, they are then forced to enroll their children in first grade. Parents shared that they felt these children were at a disadvantage from the get-go, compared to their classmates, who were older, more mature and usually did better in school.

Some moms sharing their stories online spoke of their children having been happy, spirited youngsters before starting first grade (at a younger age than other children), but then becoming anxious and worried after they started school.

Not only do some parents of summer-born and pre-term students say that their children were not emotionally ready to start first grade at a younger age, but also, these youths sometimes don’t do as well academically as their older classmates, which puts the younger children at an academic disadvantage and in a position of having to continually lag behind on various subjects. The parents of these children feel that this ongoing under-performance, as compared to the older peers, may damage the younger children’s self-esteem and rob them of a feeling of accomplishment that they could have had, if they had been allowed to start kindergarten a year later.

Then, there is also the concern that the younger children are smaller physically than their older peers; this can put younger students at a disadvantage in physical education classes, for example. One parent called on all British school authorities to allow parents to decide whether or not their children should start kindergarten at an earlier age or postpone entrance into kindergarten by a year.

One father called an English county’s denial of his request to start his summer-born twins in kindergarten a year later a “lack of common sense.”

Parents posting comments online suggested to the concerned parents that until the rules change, they try enrolling their children in private, more accommodating schools, or that they consider home-schooling.

By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.

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