Our child has a summer birthday, and will be 5 in August. He just made the cutoff this year to get into kindergarten. If I do enroll him, I am worried that with such a late birthday he will struggle to compete with the older children in his class. I don't want to hurt my son's self-esteem, but I have looked at some numbers online, and it seems like more and more children are failing kindergarten. What should I do?
Little Rock, AR
“Let's get to children earlier” sounds great as society mandates ever-increasing curriculum demands, but getting there means nothing if we do not answer the “To do what?" question. Is it to give children a developmentally appropriate education? Or simply to teach them sooner what we learned in the first and second grade?
As curriculum demands have been pushed down to the kindergarten level over the last thirty years - without sufficient developmental appropriateness - we see more children fail what used to be an optional grade.
It can be reasoned that this has led to the new parental movement that has arisen as a reaction to issues of both developmental readiness and the desire to give children every possible advantage: Redshirting-
Redshirting for the sake of redshirting in order to keep up with the Joneses is a mistake. If your child is developmentally ready to enter kindergarten, then it is not necessary. However, only you are in position to make this determination. You, and other parents with “early birthday” children, have several issues to consider, particularly in deciding whether to place that young child in kindergarten:
• Is my child developmentally ready to take on this grade 's curriculum demands? There is no one right answer for every child, family and school situation. Parents must make the decision based on what they know in their hearts their child is ready to do in school when the bell rings. If you are unsure, go online, call the school, or set up a meeting to get a sense of what challenges your child can expect from the curriculum, and consider your options after you make a determination as to whether or not your son is ready. Specifics are in the “What to Do” section below.
If your child is not ready because the work they are asking of these children is not kindergarten level work, looking elsewhere may be a better option.
• Can my child benefit from being retained so that his developmental readiness can catch up with the curriculum? More studies on retention indicate that parents need to make the decision early in the education process. In a study carried out by Wright State University of Dayton, OH, the youngest children made up only 23 percent of the group studied but 75 percent failed one or more years of school.
What To Do
Go to your child's school and gather information that will help you make an informed decision as you attempt to judge whether your child is ready for the academic challenge ahead. Here are a few suggestions:
• Ask to see the first-grade textbooks and talk with the teacher about the types of tasks the students will be expected to do. Will they be expected to read instructions independently, work independently and work with other assignments, such as boardwork, which they will have to time-manage on their own?
• Ask to see typical homework assignments and honestly assess whether you believe your child is ready to do these - or close enough to doing these - on his own.
• Ask about the consequences for children who are still developing but have not yet mastered staying on task. In some cases, students are told to complete a task in the time allotted before they have learned to tell time, much less know what "15 minutes" means.
• Ask how much independent seated work is done each day and how long a child is expected to work continuously. Also ask what other methods of teaching are used beyond dittos, teacher instruction, workbooks and board work.
• Ask what grading systems and behavior management systems are used to assure they give your child the opportunity to learn with the developmental time needed rather than attempt to teach through fear of punishment.
Make your own checklist before you go. Remember that educators have no choice but to base their opinions on past experiences with other children and what the research says about other children. Every parent has the advantage of making decisions on what they know about his or her own child. This advantage must be used to the maximum.
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Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.