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Holding Back an Early Reader

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son is 5 and he has been reading since he was three (mostly by sight words and context) and is now a proficient reader (He can sound out most any word and, at times, infer meaning from the context). He enjoys reading the Magic Treehouse books, and started on Harry Potter, but was daunted by the size. He can add subtract, and do simple multiplication. The Montessori school he is in will not move him into 1st grade because they believe that he needs "the gift of time". The implication is that he is emotionally unready, as evidenced by his choice of "life skills" activities over academic "works" (The boy likes to wash dishes and make snack).

The policy of holding children back (especially boys) is endemic in Texas (the public school cut off is an unyielding Sept 1st), and we have been made to feel as though we are "pushing" our child too hard. We view it as giving him the opportunity to grow. My question is: Will it hurt him to keep him back one year? What can we do to maintain his academic growth, while not overdoing it?

A: This is quite a hard decision to make and it really depends on your son's school readiness and you would know best if your child is ready or not. What you need to do is to schedule a meeting with his teachers. Find out the skills that are required to be mastered in first grade and see if he is ready. What are your options here? How much would the “gift of time” make a difference? Are there teachers with special skills to manage an early reader?

First grade is indeed a big learning leap for kindergartners and sometimes, gifted children and early readers may feel overwhelmed – but so will a lot of other children. Find out other options if he stays on. What would the school do to enrich his experience? Explain your concerns about him being emotionally unready and how best to tackle this. Would it be possible to allow him to join the first grade class for reading?

The policy of holding back children is probably because the kindergarten curriculum today has become much more academic compared to sometime back. Kindergartens today act as a "mini" first grade and therefore, there is more stress on academics. In addition, a number of considerations have to be taken into account before allowing admission into first grade (e.g., preschool teacher recommendations, a child's level of maturity, whether the child's peers would be in preschool next year or moving on to kindergarten, etc.). This is all perhaps the reason why they may be holding back your son.

At home, you can provide him with a stimulating environment especially for reading (but do not neglect writing as well). After speaking with his teachers and looking at all the options he has, you would be in a better position to decide what is best for him. Best wishes.


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