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Child Caring

Marine dad has questions about kindergarten readiness

My ex wife called me today (29 Jan 2013) about our 4 yr old son. He has been in pre-school for 2 years now. She stated that his teacher is recommending another year in pre-k. She said he refuses to write/participate, puts his pencil down, can't write his name and doesn't associate letter sounds with the actual letter (ie. C - Cat). She said this happens after they come back home from visiting me. I see them every couple of months as I live further from them.

We have 2 children and my ex spends time working with our daughter in the evenings on her homework and said by the time she is done she leaves no time for our son. My daughter is 8, in 2nd grade, reading at a 4th grade level and doing math at a 3rd grade level.

I understand boys develop typically slower but my ex-wife's concern has me a bit concerned myself. I am active duty military and reside 680 miles away from my kids. We have been divorced since 2012 and separated since 2009.

I will not be retiring for a year and she (the ex) is insistent on me getting out asap! I wish I had that luxury. What can I do and should I be very concerned if my son has a 3rd year of pre-school? I understand children struggle too after divorce in their own way. I am desperate for answers and help.

I sincerely appreciate your time and assistance.

Very Respectfully,

From: Chuck USMC, Virginia Beach

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Dear Chuck,

"She said he refuses to write/participate, puts his pencil down, can't write his name and doesn't associate letter sounds with the actual letter (ie. C - Cat)."

It is (sadly) true that skills once expected of kids in first grade are now expected of them in kindergarten.

Why sadly? Because this has more to do with standardized testing (which, in the end, makes the teachers and the schools look good) than with developmental readiness. There are always some kids who enter K able to print their names, and even to "write" with some inventive spelling, and to do some reading. Does that mean a a child who can't is not ready for kindergarten? Absolutely not. In fact, take a survey of kindergarten teachers, as I have done off and on over the years, and what they want in an incoming-kindergartner is someone who:

* Sits during circle time without pestering the child next to him;
* Has an attention span to sit through a story book;
* Follows directions;
* Stands in a line;
* Takes his/her outer clothes on and off;
* Take turns;
* Plays collaboratively.

These are social skills, not academic ones. The reading/writing stuff comes when the child is ready, which will vary child to child but generally evens out at some point. Here's one theory on why your child is allegedly refusing to use a pencil etc: he's not ready. Is this a really pressurized preschool classroom? Put another wayi: Is this academic pressure coming from the teachers, or from mom (who is possibly comparing him to your first-born)? Another theory: Young boys tend to master gross motor skills before small motor skills. Holding a pencil is hard for them -- that's why fat crayons and markers were invented. Maybe that's what he needs practice with, not with actual academics. In fact, pushing academics on a 4-year-old is not the way I would go, other than reading to him at bedtime. Theory #3: his big sister has set the bar high; he's worried he can't meet it. Theory #4: This isn't about your son, it's about an over-whelmed/exhausted mom who needs help, perhaps literally, balancing her responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do, even from a distance:

1. Talk to someone in the school system (principal of the school your child will attend, early childhood coordinator in the superintendent's office, a kindergarten teacher) and find out, exactly, what this system expects for incoming k-students. Be sure and tell your ex you're doing this not because you don't trust/believe her, but as a way to back up her research. (Copy that for #2.)

2. Make an appointment with the preschool teacher for a Skype/facetime or plain old telephone conversation so you can form your own opinion. Is the teacher concerned about learning issues? Developmental delays? Does your child need an evaluation? Or is what she sees simply individual, developmental differences?

3. Is there some way you can be helpful on a daily basis? What about Skype sessions where you read to your son every night?

Also consider that another year of preschool may necessarily be a bad thing. Many parents choose to get a child an extra year of preschool in the hope it will provide an advantage down the road. I don't like to make blanket statements about this; it's a decision that needs to be made on individual merits.

I hope this helps, Chuck, and I thank you for your service.