“If your daughter is clever enough to get into this school and keep up with the curriculum, then she will be happy.” – this is what the parent of a 4 year old was told at an open day of a particular pre-school. They had 14 subjects on the curriculum for 4 year olds. On seeing the surprise on her face, the mum was reminded by one of the teachers that this was a school and not a nursery.
For those terribly serious about education, it is important to know that the reverse of the above is true. So, if she is happy enough, she will be able to keep up with the curriculum. A relaxed and light environment enhances the quality of learning for all age groups.
In New Zealand, a few key studies compared children who started formal literacy lessons at age 5 with those who started age 7. They showed that early formal learning doesn’t improve reading development, and may even be damaging. By the age of 11, there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. However, those who started aged 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading and showed poorer text comprehension than those who had started later.
Over the past half century, in many developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults. The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people. Play functions as the major means by which children
(1) develop intrinsic interests and competencies
(2) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules
(3) learn to regulate their emotions
(4) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals
(5) experience joy.
Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health.
It is no surprise that in Finland, Denmark and Sweden the age when formal education begins is 7.