Holding Back an Early Reader
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
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
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
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.