Q: Our son is in his second year of preschool. He is smart, attentive, and well behaved, but he does not socialize easily. While he had a very good year last year and loved his teachers, this year he expresses anxiety about going to school. Other parents have told us that these teachers seem cold and that their children are unhappy too. The teachers have recommended that our son not start kindergarten in the fall. I can appreciate their concerns about his social skills, but fear that things will be worse if he is with younger children whose interests are less similar to his. What do you advise?
Q: We have a very bright 4 year old who gets lots of attention at home, but cries at the drop of a hat. She is eligible for kindergarten next year. We know she's ready intellectually, but wonder about her emotional maturity. We hesitate to hold her back, though, since she is already so far ahead of her classmates in school skills.
A: Both of these children belong with their age peers in kindergarten. The question is not whether kindergarten, but which kindergarten would provide the best environment for each of them to grow socially and emotionally as well as intellectually. The parents of the boy have already discovered how important teachers' encouragement — or lack of it — can be. The parents of the girl are seeing the challenge it is to anticipate the needs of a very bright child. Incidentally, I don't know if their daughter truly cries any more frequently than most four year olds, or whether her volatile emotions simply seem inconsistent with her mature cognitive functioning.
Both sets of parents should do everything possible to find a kindergarten program devoted to meeting each individual child's needs, rather than one which expects every child to conform to set standards. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1-800-424-2460) has a number of wonderfully helpful books and pamphlets that can guide parents toward selecting the best possible programs for their children. Pay particular attention to the materials about "developmentally appropriate practice." Parents' question should be, "Is this program ready for my child?" rather than "Is my child ready for kindergarten?" And that applies to all children, not only the gifted or those with special needs.
Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., is a psychologist, consultant, and author of many books, including Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior and Raising Happy and Successful Kids: A Guide for Parents. In addition, she has written and produced award-winning educational videos.