|Written by The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital|
Q: My son’s teacher recommends that he repeat kindergarten for social as well as academic reasons. His father is balking at the suggestion (and wants to tutor him over the summer). Couldn’t pushing him so early spell disaster down the road?
A. We have mixed feelings about “red shirting” young children. Should five and six year-olds be ready for school? Or should the schools be ready for all five and six year olds? Certainly kindergarten programs should be prepared to meet five year olds at their individual, developmental levels—whatever they may be. A teacher who recommends that a child repeat kindergarten in order to help him or her be best prepared for the demands of first grade is probably making a careful judgment.
Not everyone develops at the same pace, and the school environment is demanding socially as well as cognitively. A child who still has trouble focusing, keeping still or following directions may benefit from another year in kindergarten.
Children cannot be “tutored” to develop faster. Your son will benefit by spending time reading with you and with his father or playing games and doing puzzles that help him practice academic skills. But “pushing” a young child may damage that relationship and set up tension and resistance to future academic activity.
Following a teacher’s recommendation to give your child more time in a nurturing, stimulating environment where she can get the skills she needs to move comfortably into the elementary school environment may be the best thing for him. It may sound at first like “failing” when it is actually a chance to wait for the right start.
Q: My three-year-old daughter is enrolled in a preschool class with seven boys and no other girls. Is this okay at this age, or should I move her to a program with a more even mix of sexes?
A. If you had asked about a younger child I would have told you not to give it a second thought—your toddler certainly wouldn’t. But it is right around three—or just before—when children take notice of gender differences and begin to identify with the same sex parent and their own gender group.
Three year olds are finding their place in groups—family, school, and eventually, gender groups. By three and a half or four, children may even over-identify with their gender group through their play and at home with the same-sex parent.
In her three-year-old class, your daughter may be just beginning to be involved in cooperative play. She may be enjoying her imagination and curiosity, too busy to worry about where all the girls are in her world. If she has play experiences with girls outside of school, it may not bother her at all. But, depending on her individual temperament and developmental pace, she will eventually look for another girl to share experiences with and to confirm her girl-ness.
To make the decision whether to leave her or to find another class, remember that everyone is different. Does it seem like it will bother your daughter to be the only girl? Also, talk to the director to find out how long this situation is likely to last. Many programs reorganize each semester, some have new enrollees all year long, still others keep the same group for a full school year.
Q: My six-month-old son has a nanny a few days a week. Should I join a playgroup for his socialization skills?
A: Your baby’s first year is about forming attachments—getting focused attention from a nurturing caregiver and learning that the world will take care of his basic needs. During this year babies are stimulated by seeing, hearing, and touching all kinds of things, including other babies. But they do not need interaction with other babies to practice socialization…yet.
Playgroups or parent groups are still a great idea. Groups like Snuggles and Struggles at The Parenting Center provide important opportunities for parents to support each other and share information and experiences that give each new ideas and help “normalize” what can be a very trying and stressful stage of parenthood.
By the age of two, social development really kicks in and toddlers begin to get involved in parallel play and more interactive struggles. This is a good time for a well-supervised playgroup!