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Your child’s teacher has made it plain: she’s not ready to move to first grade next fall and needs another year of kindergarten. What now?

Probably you’ve been expecting this. You might have noticed that your child isn’t doing well and that she’s not performing at the same level as other kids in the class. If you haven’t – if the decision to hold her back a year comes as a surprise – then now is the time to ask some questions, in a nice way:
• What seems to be the problem?
• What did the teacher do this year to help?
• What will be done differently next year to move your child ahead?

It’s important that you remain calm. Getting all worked up doesn’t solve anything. You need more information and to get that, you have to ask questions and then listen – really listen – to the answers.

You need to know if the issue for your child is simply one of maturation, so that another year of the same sort of instruction is all that’s needed. But you also need to know if the issue for your child is something more complicated, so the solution might include more intensive remediation.

The answers you get will show you what you should do next.

If the teacher can tell you what sorts of difficulty your child has had and why, and if she seems to have a clear plan for getting your child on track next year, and if what she says makes sense to you, then probably things are in good hands.

If the teacher seems fuzzy about the disconnect between your child and the expected level of achievement, and can’t really say clearly what the problem might be or why another year in kindergarten might help, or if she blames your child, or you, or the curriculum, or the principal, or the size of her class this year, then it might be time to find another school. What you are looking for is professionalism. Your child’s teacher should be the expert. She should sound like she knows what she’s doing and takes responsibility for children’s success.

The kindergarten year is more important these days than it ever was. A good start in kindergarten reading, math and organizational skills sets the stage for success throughout elementary school and beyond. Kindergarten used to be optional. It no longer is. So if your child struggled in kindergarten this year, then making another try at it next year is probably a good idea, in the same school or a better one.

Being held back a year in kindergarten has fewer negative effects for children’s self-esteem and social skills than does being held back in any other grade. If a repeat will be needed, kindergarten is the time to do it.

Which brings us to the prospect of repeating a year in a higher grade. If you’re being told that your older child needs a repeat, then there is cause for concern. Certainly you want your child to be successful in school. You don’t want him to continue to fail, year after year. But being held back is a blow to just about every kid. The shame and embarrassment some children feel in being retained in grade can poison school for them. Even though they may benefit in theory from another year, in actuality they may never recover from the experience of retention itself.

For an older child, then, the suggestion that your child should repeat a grade should mobilize you to get outside help, in the form of tutoring or other support. Try to arrange with his school to have another evaluation made in the early fall, before a decision for grade placement is made for certain. Then work hard to improve his skills in the meantime.

The possibility of repeating kindergarten – or any other grade – is a reminder to keep on top of children’s progress in school from the very beginning of the year. It’s easier to fix things when a problem is identified early. That’s why your conversation with your child’s kindergarten teacher matters so much.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.