In many countries, children as young as four are taught to read and write. However, some don’t begin until seven. What is the secret to long-term success?

Since early exposure to language is seen as essential for a child’s future success, it is becoming more typical for preschools to start teaching kids the basics of literacy even before they start formal education. Not everyone enjoys leaving early. Around the age of six, formal education can begin in many countries. Finland, which is renowned for having the best-structured educational system in the world, starts school at age seven. Despite this apparent gap, Finnish students outperform their US and UK peers in reading comprehension at the age of 15. The kindergarten years in Finland are less academically focused and more play-oriented.

A 2002 study indicated that too much formal learning may have prevented growth and that more dynamic, child-initiated early learning experiences appear to have benefited children’s eventual academic success. Pushing kids too early can backfire as they enter the later primary school years, the study’s findings show.