Marine dad has questions about kindergarten readiness

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 5, 2013 06:00 AM

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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

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.

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8 comments so far...
  1. It's a big trend in many places to hold boys back...if he is born within the last 3 months before the K cut off, I'd say it's normal and I really wouldn't worry about it. FWIW, we were told when our son was 4 and in preschool that he had a "confidence problem" because he refused to write his name -- he said "I can't". Turns out he didn't want to write it on worksheets but then his K teacher made it fun by asking the kids to sign in on a whiteboard and he did it just fine! I think the biggest readiness skill at this age is being able to focus and follow directions. Our son now 10 still struggles with this compared to his older sister but he always does fine in school especially when he has had teachers that understand and value boys. To really generalize, boys just don't like the "school game" and academic game as much as girls since they are typically result rather than process-oriented. He'll learn to read as soon as he is motivated to do it because he wants to read Captain Underpants or Wimpy Kid but not because he's told he "should", I promise! Also, I wouldn't fault your ex or yourself for not working with him -- you really shouldn't have to with a 4 year old, the most important skills for him are playing, using his hands to discover things, learning to patiently wait his turn etc.

    Posted by momx3 February 5, 13 12:59 PM
  1. I think Barbara's advice to talk more with the schools and teachers involved to get a real sense of what YOUR kid's actual needs are is very solid. I would think that the kindergarten school could help in evaluating readiness.

    As the parent who choose not to hold back my summer birthday boy, redshirting just to give kids some kind of undefined "advantage" is one of my pet peeves. Although the practice is becoming normalized, it creates a situation that's NOT normal -- a whole bunch of kids--mostly boys--who are much older than the rest of the class. Of course, if there's a real & evaluated social or academic reason to hold him back as defined by the school, that's a different story.

    Posted by mj February 5, 13 03:50 PM
  1. Isn't it kind of early to be making a yes/no decision on this? Kindergarten doesn't start for another 7 months! Poor kid could be a totally different child by then! No school system should be making an absolute judgment on this in January. If mom or you could read to him for a 1/2 hour every night in June/July maybe it would help.

    Speaking of Skype - could you Skype with him, just him, during the homework period while Mom is helping daughter (with separate time for the daughter of course) and maybe talk about boy things like Lego and trucks and that kind of thing (not academics. The business of 4 year olds is play) and read to him, etc? Because it sounds as if Mom isn't putting in the time and Mom is very mad at you for being divorced. So maybe if you could 'watch' him electronically sometimes she would calm down.

    Posted by Dixie Lee February 5, 13 04:11 PM
  1. I really really really (get it?) think that your ex is trying to make you feel guilty for reasons that only you know. And I think Barbara's suggestions of using technology that's available is a great way to get yourself involved so that you aren't just at your ex's mercy.

    Posted by been there February 5, 13 04:31 PM
  1. The "boys develop slower" thing is (1) an average and does not automatically apply to every compared boy or girl; (2) exaggerated to the point of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and (3) very convenient for schools that like their football players and basketball players to be eight months older than the average age at the school down the street. The most expensive private school in my town has their K birthday cut-off June 1 so they can stack the deck.

    Posted by di February 5, 13 07:39 PM
  1. As a preschool director and former 1st gr teacher, I could write reams on this issue. In our preschool we never do handwriting sheets or letter practice but rather find all sorts of creative ways to get children writing their names and simple words: daily polls (i.e. Who likes snow? Did you wear sneakers today?) as well as practical reasons (writing their snack choice, signing the attendance chart,updating the leader board, etc). Every year there is at least one parent who wants to know when the actual academics begin! My short explanation is that the goal of preschool, aside from developing the socio-emotional skills required in a classroom setting (and in life), is to help children see the connections between spoken words and print and to give them purposeful reasons to use our alphabetic system.
    To address Dixie Lee: my best guess is that it is time to re-enroll in preschool so decisions have to be made now or the spot will go.
    Lastly long term studies on red shirted children have shown that any academic advantage is erased by 3rd grade. As Barbara wisely states, most differences between children are evened out over time. The keys to school success go way beyond simple academic skills, to encompass a child's attitude about school, organizational skills and ability to cooperate.

    Posted by southshoredirector February 6, 13 07:52 AM
  1. Well southshoredirector, if 'the spot will go' perhaps it is best to let it go and send the kid to kindergarten. Especially if they are paying for pre-school and the school is pressuring them to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. At least if the kids has to do two years of K it should be free.

    Posted by Dixie Lee February 7, 13 08:52 AM
  1. Funny, I was thinking maybe the preschool is expecting an enrollment shortfall next year and that's the motive for the assessment. I can not imagine holding a child back for academic development reasons like this, and I agree 100% with all of Barbara's advice.

    Posted by geocool February 8, 13 09:37 AM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. It's a big trend in many places to hold boys back...if he is born within the last 3 months before the K cut off, I'd say it's normal and I really wouldn't worry about it. FWIW, we were told when our son was 4 and in preschool that he had a "confidence problem" because he refused to write his name -- he said "I can't". Turns out he didn't want to write it on worksheets but then his K teacher made it fun by asking the kids to sign in on a whiteboard and he did it just fine! I think the biggest readiness skill at this age is being able to focus and follow directions. Our son now 10 still struggles with this compared to his older sister but he always does fine in school especially when he has had teachers that understand and value boys. To really generalize, boys just don't like the "school game" and academic game as much as girls since they are typically result rather than process-oriented. He'll learn to read as soon as he is motivated to do it because he wants to read Captain Underpants or Wimpy Kid but not because he's told he "should", I promise! Also, I wouldn't fault your ex or yourself for not working with him -- you really shouldn't have to with a 4 year old, the most important skills for him are playing, using his hands to discover things, learning to patiently wait his turn etc.

    Posted by momx3 February 5, 13 12:59 PM
  1. I think Barbara's advice to talk more with the schools and teachers involved to get a real sense of what YOUR kid's actual needs are is very solid. I would think that the kindergarten school could help in evaluating readiness.

    As the parent who choose not to hold back my summer birthday boy, redshirting just to give kids some kind of undefined "advantage" is one of my pet peeves. Although the practice is becoming normalized, it creates a situation that's NOT normal -- a whole bunch of kids--mostly boys--who are much older than the rest of the class. Of course, if there's a real & evaluated social or academic reason to hold him back as defined by the school, that's a different story.

    Posted by mj February 5, 13 03:50 PM
  1. Isn't it kind of early to be making a yes/no decision on this? Kindergarten doesn't start for another 7 months! Poor kid could be a totally different child by then! No school system should be making an absolute judgment on this in January. If mom or you could read to him for a 1/2 hour every night in June/July maybe it would help.

    Speaking of Skype - could you Skype with him, just him, during the homework period while Mom is helping daughter (with separate time for the daughter of course) and maybe talk about boy things like Lego and trucks and that kind of thing (not academics. The business of 4 year olds is play) and read to him, etc? Because it sounds as if Mom isn't putting in the time and Mom is very mad at you for being divorced. So maybe if you could 'watch' him electronically sometimes she would calm down.

    Posted by Dixie Lee February 5, 13 04:11 PM
  1. I really really really (get it?) think that your ex is trying to make you feel guilty for reasons that only you know. And I think Barbara's suggestions of using technology that's available is a great way to get yourself involved so that you aren't just at your ex's mercy.

    Posted by been there February 5, 13 04:31 PM
  1. The "boys develop slower" thing is (1) an average and does not automatically apply to every compared boy or girl; (2) exaggerated to the point of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and (3) very convenient for schools that like their football players and basketball players to be eight months older than the average age at the school down the street. The most expensive private school in my town has their K birthday cut-off June 1 so they can stack the deck.

    Posted by di February 5, 13 07:39 PM
  1. As a preschool director and former 1st gr teacher, I could write reams on this issue. In our preschool we never do handwriting sheets or letter practice but rather find all sorts of creative ways to get children writing their names and simple words: daily polls (i.e. Who likes snow? Did you wear sneakers today?) as well as practical reasons (writing their snack choice, signing the attendance chart,updating the leader board, etc). Every year there is at least one parent who wants to know when the actual academics begin! My short explanation is that the goal of preschool, aside from developing the socio-emotional skills required in a classroom setting (and in life), is to help children see the connections between spoken words and print and to give them purposeful reasons to use our alphabetic system.
    To address Dixie Lee: my best guess is that it is time to re-enroll in preschool so decisions have to be made now or the spot will go.
    Lastly long term studies on red shirted children have shown that any academic advantage is erased by 3rd grade. As Barbara wisely states, most differences between children are evened out over time. The keys to school success go way beyond simple academic skills, to encompass a child's attitude about school, organizational skills and ability to cooperate.

    Posted by southshoredirector February 6, 13 07:52 AM
  1. Well southshoredirector, if 'the spot will go' perhaps it is best to let it go and send the kid to kindergarten. Especially if they are paying for pre-school and the school is pressuring them to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. At least if the kids has to do two years of K it should be free.

    Posted by Dixie Lee February 7, 13 08:52 AM
  1. Funny, I was thinking maybe the preschool is expecting an enrollment shortfall next year and that's the motive for the assessment. I can not imagine holding a child back for academic development reasons like this, and I agree 100% with all of Barbara's advice.

    Posted by geocool February 8, 13 09:37 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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