May is a key month for parents, administrators, teachers, pediatricians, and therapists to confer about whether Junior should start in PreK, or move on to Kindergarten. Which child should repeat 1st grade? Is the youngster ready for VPK? How about Middle school? What about those children whose birthdays fall between the cracks?

Having watched infants grow up for the past forty years, observing thousands of children who have developmental challenges, and  been part of raising two successful offspring of my own, I have formulated some questions that parents can use to assess school readiness.

As you consider the answers to these questions, you may see a pattern that helps you lean one way or the other to make the most successful choice.

  1. Maturity. I’m not talking about academics or IQ. Does your child play with other children of the same age appropriately? When a stranger enters the room, is the toddler likely to cry or run away? Can you leave the room without a meltdown?
  2. Compliance. Some youngsters at The Child Development Center have an incredible memory, are able to assemble complicated puzzles, and enjoy providing details about dinosaurs, or trains, for example. However, when the adult says, “Everyone in circle time,” they resist. The child who requires multiple prompts will do better with a reduced need for such a requirement; learn in a appropriate classroom setting with younger kids or a smaller teacher/student ratio.
  3. Self-control. As toddlers progress, tantrums should become less frequent, last for shorter periods, not include violence (against self or others), and become less dramatic. Parents often display some denial about this issue. “The teacher made him do this,” or, “Another kid took his favorite toy.” It’s the child response to that behavior that should be considered in order to guide the family to the appropriate setting.
  4. Abilities. I ofter hear the comment, “I know he can do <some given task> if you wants to!” The ability to perform, and the resulting behaviors – even when a task is non-preferred – is paramount. Ask yourself if the gross and fine motor skills that are expected in the next grade are appropriate to your child’s abilities. Then, choose the grade, school, setting, and available resources to get the child up to speed. Their ability to succeed has a great deal to do with future self esteem.
  5. Listen to the professionals who evaluate your child, but be aware of each one’s priorities. Administrators desire a smooth semester, teachers want children who listen, therapists often like to predict level of appropriate function. Parents know their children’s capabilities the best.
  6. Child’s size and sex. The smaller child who has all of the above capabilities will usually find a way to fit in. Indeed, the other students usually include, and even protect. But a child who is too large for a given grade may become a bully, or even be bullied, if they are not able to keep up. Plus, no doubt about it, girls are more advanced than boys.

Conclusion
This advice not only pertains to decisions concerning those who are developmentally delayed and challenged, but neurotypical children, as well. Especially for those whose birthdays put them ‘on the cusp’ between grades, considering such issues and responding appropriately can be even more important than academic concerns.

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