Since your December-born child started preschool, his progress with learning has been slower than his older classmates who were born in the beginning of the year.
They always seem more mature than him and are able to grasp new concepts more quickly – older children seem to have an unfair educational advantage.
This effect of age difference when starting education is well documented, with ample research evidence from different countries that older pupils in a class tend to score higher on tests of numeracy and literacy than their younger classmates.
By the end of primary school, this gap in educational attainments can be as much as 12 per cent. Studies have also found that older pupils are more likely to stay on longer at school and are more likely to attend top universities, which indicates the effects can be long-lasting.
Some parents are so concerned by these findings that they delay their kid’s entry into school so that the age difference works in their child’s favour, and some parents even plan conception so that their yet-to-be-born child arrives at the time of year that will ensure he is one of the oldest pupils in his class when he starts his education.
But don’t despair – there’s plenty you can do to help him along:
1. Treat him as an individual
Remember that every child is different, and that these results about the effect of age difference are only general trends that do not inevitably apply to every single child in every single school.
Each preschool, primary school and high school has some younger pupils who
outstrip their older classmates in learning, sport and other school-related activities.
A lot comes down to the child’s unique blend of skills, talents and abilities. So encourage his particular interests and characteristics.
(Also read: 9 ways to praise and encourage your child)
2. The school matters
The quality of the preschool and school makes a significant difference to his progress.
When you visit each potential school – don’t just go for branded ones – look at the teachers’ attitudes (are the staff positive and enthusiastic?), the teaching methods (are pupils challenged by the curriculum?), the facilities (is the building modern, multipurpose and well maintained), and learning support (what help is given for pupils with learning difficulties?).
You need to be satisfied that this school will be the best match to your kid’s abilities, personality and characteristics.
3. Impact of delayed entry
While delaying preschool could, on the surface, resolve the issue of the age gap, it carries risks as well. Your child’s brain grows remarkably during the first five years of life, perhaps more than at any other time in his life.
If you put his education and learning experiences on hold for a year, while you wait for the next class, his brain will continue to develop.
Therefore, delayed entry to school could potentially deprive your child of stimulation that could better promote brain growth at that stage in his life.
(Also read: 10 ways to develop your child’s self-esteem)
4. Provide social stimulation
Older pupils mix with younger pupils who are typically less mature and less socially confident. Therefore their social peer group is often less challenging than might normally be expected.
In contrast, younger pupils have the opportunity to mix with, and learn from, their more mature peers, and this can benefit them socially.
Whatever age your kid is when he starts school, provide opportunities for him to mix with others close to his own age, outside the classroom.
5. Take an interest
The factor that has the most influence over Junior’s progress at preschool and school – that totally outweighs the potential effect of age difference – is the interest and involvement you take in his education and learning.
It is vital you choose a high-quality school, encourage his learning, make sure he completes assignments, help him solve learning challenges when they arise, and arrange additional teaching for him if there are areas of weakness – that’s much more important that his age at starting school.