No Child Should Start School Feeling Left Behind
by Helaina Bock • February 21, 2019
No child should start school feeling like he’s been left behind. Yet recent legislation seeking to lower the compulsory school attendance age may have this very effect on children who are not yet developmentally ready to start school.
Pennsylvania recently introduced Senate Bill 278, which would require children to begin formal schooling at age 6, instead of the current mandatory age of 8. Maine’s new compulsory attendance bill, Legislative Document 151, would also lower the compulsory age from 7 to 6 years old. With Assembly Bill 4077, legislators in New Jersey intend to lower the compulsory age even further, to 5 years old.
Focus on Freedom
Home School Legal Defense Association firmly believes that, in addition to restricting the ability of parents to direct their children’s education, these inflexible laws simply will not benefit every child. In fact, requiring all students to start school earlier has the potential to harm some children.
A 2018 Harvard study discovered that the youngest students in their class were more likely to be diagnosed and treated for ADHD than their older classmates. This is probably due to the younger children’s age-related inattentive behavior. Similarly, a study conducted by the University of Exeter found that schoolchildren who are younger than their peers are more likely to suffer from mental health problems. Other studies have demonstrated that these younger children have worse long-term educational outcomes.
Patience Pays Off
On the other hand, waiting a year to enroll your child can lead to greater academic success.
A study by Stanford University in 2017 found that when parents sent their children to school a year late, at age 7, the children demonstrated lower hyperactivity, greater ability to focus, and had “dramatically higher levels of self-control than their peers”—skills that are necessary for academic success. Older children have had more time to develop these skills.
Additionally, an older child’s brain has had more time to develop and thus absorb the information that he will learn in school. And often, the best way for very young children to develop the social, emotional, and intellectual readiness for school is through unstructured play and interaction with their parents at home.
Ultimately, the reality of childhood development indicates that there is no universal age at which every young child is mature enough to begin formal schooling. Every child develops differently. Children learn best when they receive an education that is tailored to their specific developmental level.
The American Psychological Association explained that it’s harmful to children, both academically and socially, to receive education either above or below their developmental level.
Parents Know Best
Since it is impossible to determine a child’s school readiness based on age alone, the person who knows the child best must make this decision. Education is very important during a child’s formative years. But for some young children, a traditional classroom is not the optimal setting for this education to take place.
That is why HSLDA has always sought to protect parents’ ability to decide when their child should start school. State policies should be flexible enough to respect this right.