Starting in September, nearly 600 schools, in school districts across Ontario
will offer full-day kindergarten for 4-and 5-year-olds. And in British
Columbia, full-day kindergarten begins for approximately 50 per cent of
When did education become a race? According to world-renowned family
therapist and parenting author Steve Biddulph (www.stevebiddulph.com)
full-day kindergarten for 5-year-olds is too long, and any younger is
a big mistake developmentally. In support of Biddulph's claim, a major
review of British primary schools by Cambridge University included a
report from the National Foundation for Educational Research, which
stated the practice of allowing children to start school at age four
was found to be stressful.
Yet authors Anna Riggall and Caroline Sharp found that in some countries
where students start school up to two years later, many outperform their
English peers. The authors conclude: “While the value of high-quality pre-school education is beyond dispute, the assumption that an early primary school starting age is beneficial for children’s later attainment is not well supported by the research evidence.”
Biddulph says the calendar is a poor guide for when a child should start
school. Decades of research has shown that most boys (and some girls) are
slower to develop fine-motor and language skills. Many of these children
would benefit from an additional year in kindergarten--full-day senior
kindergarten. They could begin Grade 1 at age seven, when their fine-motor
skills are ready for pencil-and-paper work.
In his web article, We Can Do Better By Boys, Biddulph writes: "In English
speaking countries, boys make up more than 80% of all remedial classes. In
Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and many other countries where school
[Grade 1] does not begin until age seven, this gender gap in literacy does
not exist...hence the idea of boys delaying starting school till they are
at least six. It can mean a choice between your son being one of the
youngest in his class, feeling inadequate, being the least able, or being
one of the most co-ordinated and confident by waiting and starting the
following year--and having this remain so all the way through school.
Professor Kathy Sylva at Oxford University recently reported findings that
starting school too soon creates a failure mentality, while
Kindergarten--which used to be a year of play, activity, and social
learning--has succumbed more and more to pressure for skills learning.
This compounds the problem."
Biddulph writes in his best-selling book, Raising Boys: "This (later
start) needn't be done rigidly. It can be based on some simple screening
of fine-motor skills and in consultation with parents and school staff.
Many schools today have to dissuade parents whose attitude to education is
to see it as a race, and wish to enroll children earlier and earlier as if
they can get a head start! Thoughtful parents will understand the benefits
of a delayed start for boys, once these are explained."
Educators in several European countries have promoted this idea for years,
and it has paid off not only in happier children, but also in terms of
academic success and far fewer drop-outs.
Why is Finland's school system the envy of the western world? In the
Aug 23/30 edition of Newsweek, not only was Finland listed as the best
country in the world to live in (out of 100 countries), it also ranked
number 1 in terms of their school system. See: (www.newsweek.com/2010/08/16/secrets-of-the-world-s-best-school-systems.html)
Although all Finnish children have access to free, full-day daycare (up to
age five) and full-day kindergarten (age six), they don't begin primary
school [Grade 1] until age seven. Finland has consistently been among the
highest scorers worldwide in the international assessment for student
performance. The World Economic Forum ranks Finland first in enrolment and
quality, and second in math and science education.
It's easy to understand why many parents like full-day kindergarten, as it
is convenient for those who would otherwise seek out daycare for the other
half of the day. But kindergarten is more rigorous and task-oriented than
daycare, and most 5-year-olds will find full-day kindergarten too
demanding. In kindergarten there is less opportunity for free play, which
is crucial for a child's development.
Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University) comments: "... [Jean]
Piaget once said, 'play is the work of childhood'. Piaget was one of
the greatest living psychologists of our time." (Listen
to the interview at cbc.ca)
What B.C. and Ontario governments should be doing instead is creating
full-day senior kindergarten classes for those 6-year-olds who would
If a Canada-wide survey was done of parents who enrolled their own
children in Grade 1 at age seven--especially parents who are teachers
themselves--I'm certain the vast majority would say it was one of the best
decisions they ever made as parents.
Children need good models and so do governments. Although it may be too
late to put full-day kindergarten on hold for 2010-2011 in B.C. and
Ontario, their governments should investigate the Finland model. Not to do
so is to choose expediancy over reason.
For more information, listen to an interview with Carl Honoré, (www.carlhonore.com)
author of "Under Pressure: Putting the Child Back in Childhood" (www.cbc.ca/wordsatlarge/blog/2008/04/under_pressure_by_carl_honore_1.html)