DEAR TEACHER: When my son was in kindergarten, the school recommended that he be held back. He's now in third grade and is still having problems with his schoolwork. We did tutoring for a while but discontinued it due to the cost. Because of our son's academic problems, my husband and I are now considering holding him back. Would this be a good idea? How should we handle this? - Debating
Answer: You are not the first parent to face this problem. Whether your son would have profited from being held back earlier, no one will ever know. Being held back now could be very traumatic for him. Plus, most of the statistics on retention do not show it to be the great problem solver for academic difficulties that many parents and teachers think it is.
Talk with the teacher immediately and find out exactly where your child is having problems with his schoolwork and how serious they are. Ask the teacher specifically how he can be helped. Is summer school the answer? If the school does not have a summer program, investigate the possibilities at local colleges. Does he need a tutor? If so, consider using a high-school student.
In this case, the teacher needs to spell out exactly what your child needs to work on. Find out also how you can help him improve his skills, and if there are Web sites or software that could help him improve his skills. You must have a plan in place to help him now and during the summer.
Of course, there is always the possibility that a learning disability is causing your child to struggle in school. If so, you want to initiate the process now to have him tested, as it can take quite a while to get children tested and a plan in place to help them.
Question: As the principal of an elementary school, teachers often tell me about immature kindergarten children at the beginning of the school year. In the majority of cases, when we waited until March to either recommend promotion or retention in kindergarten, the child's developmental clock had kicked in and the original problems were no longer present. I am suggesting that in some cases, just waiting the child out could be the answer. - Principal
Answer: Immature behavior in kindergarten children often has a lot to do with their previous exposure to classroom experiences and playing and working with other children. And waiting it out is great. At the same time, it is definitely important for teachers to guide children toward more mature behavior.
Some of this problem can be avoided if parents do not enroll very young children in kindergarten when they are only ready for pre-kindergarten. Immaturity alone is rarely sufficient reason to hold children back.
Keep in mind when enrolling a child in kindergarten that every child is unique, and age is only a number. You have to look at the whole child. That includes the child's personality, ability to be away from parents, and his or her interaction with unknown peers.
Question: My daughter's handwriting is poor. She is only in first grade. How should we try to improve it? - Worried
Answer: Before trying to do anything about your child's handwriting, talk to her teacher. The teacher will know if the child's handwriting skills are right on track for her grade level or need to be improved. It is also the teacher who can give you clues about how you can help the child improve her handwriting skills, from holding a pencil correctly or using a pencil grip to doing handwriting practice sheets.
Don't just go out and buy practice handwriting books for her to use, as they could have letters in a different style than your child is learning in school. This could definitely confuse your child and not improve her handwriting.
Discuss with the teacher the possibility that your daughter's fine motor skills may need to be improved in order for the child to improve her handwriting. Does the teacher think your child needs help from an occupational therapist? Just about any activity that can be done at home in which she must use her fingers is a way to improve her fine motor skills, from stringing beads to playing jacks.