On Kindergarten Readiness: A Pediatric Nurse Practitioner's Perspective

by Kimberly Meehan

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I advise all my parents to forget about cut off dates, as those are truly arbitrary. Instead, I ask them to look critically at their child to determine whether now is the time to start or not. Many people feel that delaying the start sends a signal that their child is not intelligent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many aspects to consider when getting ready for K, and the academics are only one subset.

1) Behavior: is your child able to sit, focus, stand in line, etc.? Many kids need to work out their excess energy before being required to sit for school. Nothing is harder for a 5-year-old who would rather climb, swing and run than to sit and listen to do well in school. So if your child really seems to have that energy drive, consider letting them take a year to run it out and mature.

2) Attention: Can your child follow directions, how long does your child stay on task, how interested is your child in completing academics, art projects, etc.? Some 5-year-olds couldn't care less about making a snowman, which doesn't help their fine motor skills develop, and sends a message about sloppy work being okay.

3) Social Skills: Forget academics. Any kid will tell you school is about friends. How does your child do with sharing, making friends, imaginary play, interactive play, how does he/she resolve conflict, how does he/she handle frustration. Even K kids develop a rep — and reputation is really hard to undo once had. So if there is any question in this area, the best preventative step is to wait out a year and let maturity play its part. It may not cure the problem, but it will help.

4) Academic Readiness: How ready is your child to learn letters and numbers? Some K classes are learning to read, tell time, add and subtract! Some kids just couldn't care less about their ABC's at 4 or 5, and there really is no need to push it. Maturity often solves the problem.

5) Adolescence: Silly to think of high school in K, but the reality is that the experience in K and those early years sets the school tone for middle and high school, where of course the social and academic stakes are much higher. If you have to battle your child now to focus on school stuff or deal with a miserable child having trouble making friends, it is unlikely to get easier with the passage of time since the work load becomes greater and harder.

Time is a friend and not the enemy. The notion of kids being the oldest or older than their peers is largely passé. Kids don't care. This is one of those "pick your battle" opportunities. I don't know of a single child who lost by starting K late, but I know many who would have benefitted from that extra time to just be a child. The question is not so much "Is she ready for K?" but "What choice is likely to afford us the greatest opportunity for overall success in school — academic, social, self-esteem, independence, etc.?"

[Kimberly Meehan is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital. This essay originally appeared on PEP-L, an e-mail list for parents of children adopted from Eastern Europe.]

copyright (c) 2003 by Kimberly Meehan 

Kindergarten Readiness: A Teacher's Perspective

by Lori Hays

As a mother of six, and a Kindergarten teacher for 20+ years, I'd like to offer my positive perspective on the redshirting issue. As with any child-rearing issue, this subject is controversial and depends so much on individual children. Each one is unique and different, and what is wonderful for one child may be detrimental for another.

For a long-term example, our oldest son is now 17 and a junior in high school. With a late summer birthday (our district's cutoff is Sept. 1), we held him out of Kindergarten until he was six. It was the best thing we ever did for him, and continues to be to this day. He has done wonderfully in school and fits in well with his peers in every way. He technically should be a senior this year, and he does not seem like a senior at all. We have never regretted our decision, and neither has he.

As a Kindergarten teacher I have seen many, many children who have benefitted from either being held out a year before Kindergarten or repeating Kindergarten. The difficulty with making decisions like this is that 5- and 6-year-olds are still young. Sometimes what appears to be unreadiness for school in a child turns out to be a learning disability. Experience with many children through the years has given myself and other experienced teachers in our district a "feel" for those children who are developmentally not ready, and those who might have other learning issues going on.

Through the years educational theories and curriculums have come and gone, and research can always be found to back up just about any approach or angle. As teachers we, too, have been fed the research that redshirted children have more behavior and learning problems later in life. The question we'll never be able to answer is whether these problems could have been even worse if they hadn't been redshirted. I am only offering my perspective, but my experience has shown the benefits have far outweighed the negatives for many, many children that I have worked with through the years, including my own son.

[This essay originally appeared on PEP-L, an e-mail list for parents of children adopted from Eastern Europe.]

copyright (c) 2003 by Lori Hays

On Homework

by Terri Mauro

Homework can be a trouble spot for any family, but when the student has special needs, it can be a real ordeal. Even when the child is capable of doing the work, problems with fine-motor weakness, visual processing, organizational skills or frustration tolerance can precipitate a meltdown. Work that's done cheerfully one day may cause problems the next if the child's (or, frankly, the parent's) day has used up more than the usual reserve of patience.

All of this makes homework a "whatever works" situation. A deep bag of tricks can help parents pull their reluctant students through their assignments in a way that will ultimately give everyone a feeling of accomplishment. If homework is a constant disruptive influence on family life night after night, it might be worth asking the teacher to reduce or eliminate the workload. But first, give these tricks a try:

Break the work up into smaller pieces — whatever your child can do without a meltdown becomes one unit, even if it's just one math problem or sentence. Give a reward for each unit completed. There have been days when I've pulled my son through a sheet of math problems by giving him a cracker at the end of every line; probably there have been days when I've given him a cracker after every problem. Maybe for your child it's five minutes of work and then five minutes of GameBoy; maybe you put a piece in a puzzle or take a turn at a game or reveal a piece of a picture with every unit completed. The reward doesn't have to be big to be effective.

If a sheet full of work is overwhelming, block out all but one problem or line at a time. You can cut some paper to make a template that reveals just a small part of a worksheet, or use one or two index cards to frame a problem or line. In a pinch, your hands can frame a piece of the paper, or you can fold the bottom of the paper up and unfold as you go along.

For reading assignments, try sitting with your child and reading every other page, or every other paragraph. If your child really balks, try trading off every line — it's silly enough to catch a child's interest, and at some point he or she will accidentally read two lines and then you can switch to paragraphs. Again, it's a matter of breaking up something big and overwhelming into small, less intimidating pieces.

If writing is a problem due to fine-motor weakness, consider asking the teacher if any of the following is acceptable: reducing the number of repetitions required for things like spelling words; substituting flash-card time for written words or math sums; allowing the child to dictate some answers for the parent to write down; xeroxing work sheets to make them bigger or copying the problems onto graph paper to make writing and aligning easier; and/or overlooking sloppy writing on anything that's not penmanship homework.

Have a variety of cool writing utensils available for homework use, and allow the child to switch after every sheet or even every problem. Papers may be a little messier if you use pen (try gel pens in particular), but homework time may be more peaceful.

Try setting a timer for a length of time that is more than reasonable for doing the homework, and telling your child that whatever time is left over after the homework's done can be used for some highly desirable activity not often allowed. My son is perfectly capable of spending 28 minutes screaming and crying and complaining that there's too much work, it's too hard, he's too stupid, and then in two minutes do all the work with skill, accuracy and understanding. We try to give him something better to do with the other 28 minutes.