A new study finds that when kindergarten teachers expose young children to advanced content in math and reading, the kids perform better at elementary school later on, regardless of their economic background.

In fact, Amy Claessens, assistant professor of public policy at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies and lead author of the study, says if anything, children tend to stagnate later in elementary school when kindergarten teachers neglect advanced content and only teach basic content.

Plus, she says the kids do not do as well in math compared with peers who were more challenged in kindergarten.

She and her co-authors reported their findings in the American Educational Research Journal.

The researchers defined “basic” content as skills that over 50% of children entering kindergarten have already acquired. “Advanced” content refers to skills that the majority of kids have not yet mastered on entering kindergarten.

Prof. Claessens says there have been many studies looking at the effects of smaller class sizes and longer days on learning attainment in kindergarten, but apart from that, we do not know much about the effect of teaching content during those early years.

For the study, she and her colleagues used data from the nationally representative sample of kindergarten children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that is examining child development, school readiness and early school experiences.

The team focused specifically on reading and math content covered by kindergarten teachers, and how this linked to later academic achievement in school.

They found 4 or more days per month of exposure to advanced content in reading or math was tied to moderately higher test scores in elementary school. They found no such benefit from exposure to basic content.

And they note this was the case for all children exposed to advanced content, regardless of whether they had participated in pre-school programs like Head Start, began kindergarten with more advanced skills, or came from low-income households.

Prof. Claessens says compared with lengthening the school day or reducing class size, challenging kindergarten children with more advanced content is a relatively easy and affordable way to improve their academic achievement both in kindergarten and beyond.

“At a time when education programs are facing budget constraints, this is a more viable option,” she adds, noting that:

Teachers could increase their time on advanced content while reducing time on basic content, without the need to increase overall instructional time, and do so in a developmentally appropriate way for young kids.”

In May 2103, Medical News Today reported a study that found compulsory physical education resulted in fitter students. The researchers compared fitness of fifth graders in public school districts in California that comply with the state’s mandatory physical education requirement and those that do not.