Starting school young may affect the well-being of some children, especially those with learning difficulties or who were born prematurely, suggests new research. Children who are younger than their peers when they start school are more likely to develop poorer mental health, as rated by parents and teachers, the findings showed. Overall, the effect was small, but the researchers believe the additional stress of keeping up with older peers could prove a “tipping point” for vulnerable children. “We found that children who started younger had slightly worse well-being — however, this effect was very small and unlikely to make a difference for most. The challenge to well-being of being young for your school year might however be one struggle too many for children who face other challenges to their mental health,” said Anna Price of the University of Exeter Medical School in England.
“Our findings can help guide parents and teachers in making decisions that best support the child,” Price said. The findings, published in the journal Child Care, Health and Development, could also influence how teachers interact with younger children, particularly those with additional complex needs in the class, and on assessments and teaching and support structures within classrooms. For the study, the researchers investigated more than 2,000 children across 80 primary schools in Devon, England. “Being relatively younger could be the tipping point for some, but certainly not all, children. For most it would just be something for teachers to be aware of but for children with other needs or who were born prematurely this difference could be significant,” said Professor Tamsin Ford of the University of Exeter who oversaw the research.
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“Awareness of this issue among teachers and educators means measures can be put in place that could help to mitigate this effect and get the best outcome for children,” Ford, who is also a practising child psychiatrist, said.