New Zealand: Starting school at seven can improve children's grasp of reading at the end of primary education, researchers have revealed. An analysis of pupils in New Zealand found that pupils kept out of formal schooling until the age of seven perform just as well as those subjected to normal lessons at five, but in some assessments of reading skills, those with a later start actually overtook their peers by the age of 10.

Academics suggested that infants given more time to naturally develop their language skills in the early years had a better foundation when they started conventional tuition at seven, the Telegraph reported.

The study, published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, found that children who begin decoding words later than their peers can "eventually achieve equally in reading fluency".

"Our findings suggest that success at reading is not assured by an earlier beginning," it said.
For the study, academics from Regensburg University in Germany and Otago University in New Zealand tracked hundreds of children who started formal schooling at different ages.

This includes those who joined conventional New Zealand state schools at five and others from progressive Steiner schools, who are allowed to delay formal tuition until seven.

The second group remained in Steiner nurseries for two more years, where written language is banned to encourage the development of oral communication and children spend time on play-based activities, such as painting, drawing, cooking, singing or oral storytelling, the study said.

Children were given reading tests at different stages during the first six years of their primary education to assess their ability to decode individual words and fluently read a passage of text.

The study, led by Dr Sebastian Suggate, found that those learning to read later had caught up by the age of 10 and actually had "slightly better reading comprehension" before the end of primary education.

"Instead of focusing on developing decoding-related skills between the ages of five and seven, and in the first years of school, it may be that the environments in the Steiner kindergartens favoured language development, which later feeds into reading comprehension," said the research.


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