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Kindergarten: How Can I Tell If My Child Is Keeping Up?

How will I know if my child is keeping up in kindergarten?

In the months after your child starts kindergarten, you'll probably worry a bit about whether he's comfortable and doing well. But unless you're volunteering in the classroom and can see for yourself, you may find it difficult to tell; after all, 5-year-olds are seldom great communicators. Here are a few ways to nose around:

  • Ask your child at dinnertime. Studies show that kids who eat a sit-down family dinner do better in school, and the reason is simple: The nightly check-in keeps parents in touch with how their children are doing. Stick to questions that he can't answer with just yes or no, such as "What did you talk about during 'sharing' today?"

If your child's teacher sends home newsletters or schedules, use the information to ask specific questions: "Hey, what did you think of that book about frogs?" Keep in mind, though, that children this age have very active imaginations, and not everything you hear will be grounded in fact. If your child describes an adventure with aliens or something equally odd that concerns you, check with his teacher before you go into overdrive.

  • Check with your child's teacher. In the best of all possible worlds, teachers would promptly let parents know when their children began to struggle. But it doesn't always work that way. Don't wait for open house night at the school. If you suspect there's a problem, speak with your child's teacher. Ask to schedule a conference, and bring your written notes and observations, as well as questions about your particular concerns. And don't forget to ask the teacher specifically what you can do to improve the situation.
  • Question fellow parents. While dropping off and picking up their own children or accompanying a field trip, the parents of your child's classmates may have made observations or overheard comments that would shed light on the situation. At birthday parties and other gatherings, bring the conversation around to any concerns you have. You might say, "Freddy says he's tired of art. Have you heard anything about it from Jimmie?" You may be reassured to learn that all the children are having trouble with the latest drawing project.
  • Put it in perspective. Remember that your child can't be at the front of the learning curve on every subject. He might struggle to get his letters to face forward but be a whiz at memorizing poetry. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and learning to adapt to these is part of the educational process.

What should I do if my child is struggling?

Kindergarten is your child's introduction to the world of education -- a place where he's going to spend a lot of time over the next 12 years. If he doesn't enjoy school or begins to feel inadequate, his enthusiasm for learning will dwindle, so it's important that you take steps to make this year a positive experience.

If, after a few months of school, you feel that your child isn't happy, or if the teacher reports that he's having a hard time, there are several things you can do to be informed, get involved, and strengthen your relationship with your child's teacher. Try to find out exactly what the problem areas are. If he has trouble listening to and following instructions, for example, your child's teacher may be able to suggest activities you can do with him at home to foster this skill.

There are also organizations can help you monitor and help with your child's progress. The National Institute for Literacy, for example, provides a checklist of reading skills and handy tips for what you can do to sharpen your child's reading skills.

If he seems to need more individual attention, you and the teacher can discuss ways to resolve this. Perhaps you could volunteer in the classroom, allowing the teacher some extra time with him, or perhaps there's a teacher's aide who could work with him more intensively.

As the year progresses, your child's teacher might conclude that your child's skills are lagging behind those of his peers, and recommend that he repeat kindergarten. When you get this news, try not to panic or make snap decisions, but request a second opinion in the form of an evaluation by the school's educational psychologist (such testing services are available through the public schools to all students, even those who attend private schools).

Preliminary testing can tell you, his teacher, and specialists whether your child's development is within the range of expectations. If there is concern that your child's skills are very far behind the others in his class, he should be referred for a more in depth evaluation to determine whether his specific needs require special education or related services.

The range of what's considered normal in kindergarten is quite wide, and more likely than not your child may simply have some catching up to do. He may surprise you with an intellectual or emotional growth spurt before the next school year starts.

One alternative to having your child repeat a grade at the same school is to enroll him in a specially designed "transitional" class. Seeing a need, some schools (mostly private ones) have created classes to accommodate children who aren't ready to attend kindergarten or first grade. Also called " pre-k" and "pre-first-grade," these transitional classes are designed to have particularly flexible curricula and to provide lots of individual attention, with the overarching goal of boosting the self-esteem of struggling learners.

If, however, you ultimately decide your child would benefit from repeating kindergarten, make a real effort not to see this as a failure on his part. Children develop at different rates, and they often blossom when the pressure is lowered a notch or two. Furthermore, your child's much better off repeating a year in school now rather than when he's in fifth or sixth grade. In a few years, you and your child will barely remember that he gave kindergarten a second go.

Further Resources

National Institute for Literacy
http://www.nifl.gov/

References

National Institute for Literacy. Shining Stars. Kindergartners Learn to Read. April 2007.

Readiness for Kindergarten: Parent and Teacher Beliefs, National Center for Education Statistics, 1995.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Helping Your Child Get Ready for School, June 1993.

Maxwell KL et al. School Readiness Assessment. Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. January 2004.

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