A group of 130 education experts in the UK recently signed a letter published in the major British publication The Daily Telegraph advocating delaying the start of formal learning from the age of four (where it begins now) to the age of seven.
Vast amounts of data collected from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies have convinced these specialists that seven is a better age to begin formal schooling for a number of reason.
First is the value of play. Neuroscience studies have shown that,
playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions.“
Research in developmental psychology has also shown that playful approaches are much more effective than instructional approaches when it comes to information retention and motivation.
Social play (ie. playing with other children) has also been shown to be critical for the development of intellectual and emotional self-regulation skills in children. Further studies have shown that diminishing play opportunities for young children over the second half of the 20th century has caused an increase in stress and mental health problems for kids over this same time period.
An interesting study in New Zealand compared the literacy of two different groups of children: one started formal reading education at five years old and the other at seven. By age 11 there was virtually no difference in the reading ability of the two groups, but,
the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.”
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