In certain countries, children as young as four are taught to read and write. In some, they do not begin until seven. What is the secret to long-term success?

Since a child’s early exposure to language is seen as being so important to their success later in life, it is becoming more and more usual for preschools to start teaching kids basic literacy skills even before they start formal education. Not everyone prefers to get going early. Formal education begins around age six in numerous nations, including Germany, Iran, and Japan. In Finland, which is renowned for having the greatest institutionalized education system in the world, children start school when they are seven years old. Despite this apparent gap, by age 15, Finnish students outperform their US and UK counterparts in reading comprehension. The Finnish kindergarten years are filled with more play and no formal academic education, in keeping with that child-centered philosophy. Following this model, a 2009 University of Cambridge review recommended that the formal school age be raised to six in order to give kids in the UK more time to start learning the language and study skills necessary for their future success. The review stated that starting school too early could dent five-year-olds’ confidence and cause long-term damage to their learning.

A 2002 study indicated that excessively formalized learning may have impeded progress and that more dynamic, child-initiated early learning experiences appear to have improved children’s eventual academic success. According to the study’s findings, pushing kids too early can actually backfire when they move into the later primary school grades.