A new study shows that children who transition earlier to a formal school environment learn to be more focused and less impulsive than their peers at play-based preschools.
As a result, the first year of elementary school markedly boosts a child's attentiveness.
Researchers hypothesized that a controlled educational setting in which young children must learn to sit still, follow directions and avoid distractions would boost certain cognitive skills, such as staying on task.
The experiment, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkely, of the United States and Max Planck Institute for Human Development of Germany, where preschool is referred to as "kindergarten," proved their theory.
Moreover, according to a paper published this week in the online issue of the journal Psychological Science, functional magnetic resonance imaging of their brains during an attention control task showed the schoolgoers to have a more active right parietal cortex, which supports attentiveness, among other cognitive skills.
"These results demonstrate for the first time how environmental context shapes the development of brain mechanisms in 5-year-olds transitioning into school," study co-author Silvia Bunge, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience, was quoted as saying in a news release.
While the findings reveal new information in the ongoing debate over the developmentally appropriate age to start school, the researchers are not necessarily advocating for early school start ages.
"Those results should not be taken to mean that the elementary school setting is necessarily better for young children's development than play-based early schooling," Bunge said, citing research that shows children do well in hands-on, interactive learning environments.