clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Don't delay kindergarten, study says

Parents who are thinking about delaying their children's entry into kindergarten so they can better cope emotionally and academically with school should think again, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Rochester found that some students who are held back a year before starting school show increased behavioral problems later, particularly during adolescence."While the intent is good, to give children time to become more mature, there is a price to pay later on," said Robert Byrd, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and one of the authors of the study.

The number of children whose entrance into kindergarten was delayed began growing in the 1970s. The number grew further in the 1980s, as schools were urged to put an earlier emphasis on academics and parents were advised to have their children wait until they were ready to meet the higher standards.

About a quarter of all schoolchildren are old for their grade, and nearly half of them are old because they delayed attending kindergarten for a year, said the study, which was published Monday in the October issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Although previous research had suggested that any possible advantage late starters enjoyed would disappear by the third grade, there was little, if any, evidence that the delay mattered much one way or the other over the long term.

Byrd and two colleagues, Michael Weitzman, also a professor of pediatrics at Rochester's medical school, and Peggy Auinger, a researcher at Rochester General Hospital, looked at a sample of more than 9,000 children between the ages of 7 and 17 from the National Health Interview Survey.

They used a standard test of behavior to judge whether a student was demonstrating extreme behavior, like cheating, lying, crying, feeling unloved, or losing one's temper.

They found that in the earlier grades, children who had failed a grade showed higher rates of extreme behavior, but that those who had delayed kindergarten behaved in ways that were similar to the ways their other classmates behaved. That changed, however, when they reached adolescence.

"At ages 13 to 17, the children who delay kindergarten a year begin to look more like the kids who have failed a grade in their rates of extreme behavior," Byrd said. "We are artificially prefailing children."

At age 17, for example, only 7 percent of the normal-age students showed patterns of behavior problems. In contrast, 16 percent of those who started school late showed problems at that age, and 31 percent of those who had failed a grade demonstrated such problems.