“Repeat kindergarten?” you say to yourself, after meeting with your child’s kindergarten teacher. You feel confused. Was it the finger painting that did her in, or was it story time?
How could a child flunk out of kindergarten?
The real question of course is: should you do it? Should you hold your child back from first grade and let her repeat kindergarten? Will your child benefit from being held back?
Repeating Kindergarten: The Research
You turn to your computer and good old Google, and end up more confused than ever. The reason? There is a vast amount of scientific research showing that children do not benefit by being held back in grade school. But there is very little out there about holding a child back in kindergarten to wait another year before starting first grade. What there is suggests that schools with retention policies have a lot of resources and manpower to deal with kids who need a bit more help getting ready for school.
The data also suggests that in spite of having all these resources and manpower, kids who repeat kindergarten don’t do as well as their first or second grade classmates once they make it into those grades. In one study, researchers associated this poor academic performance with repeating kindergarten. The students in this study, however, had a far higher rate of learning disabilities than their peers. It seems realistic to suggest that repeating kindergarten may not be the reason for their poor school performance. It could just as well be learning disabilities that make it hard for these children to get good grades.
Perhaps students with learning disabilities who repeat kindergarten do better in school than they would have had they not repeated kindergarten. It would be nice to have a study to prove this one way or the other. That said, it’s important to note that learning disabilities may not even be diagnosed until the child goes to grade school. This makes it difficult to get a sample group of very young students with diagnosed learning disabilities we can study.
Learning To Read, Reading To Learn
Educators often say that during the first three years of school, a child is learning to read. After that a child is reading to learn. But the truth is that today children begin learning to read before they enter the first grade. In most states, a child is not considered ready for first grade until he or she can read simple books. It remains true that the process of learning to read should be complete by the end of third grade.
Kindergarten students spend a great deal of time on their pre-reading and reading skills. Entering kindergarten children have already learned to appreciate the feel and look of books, and the sound of language. By the end of the year they know the alphabet and can read and write simple sentences.
What could really be wrong about giving kids another year in kindergarten to let their social emotional skills mature? If your child simply needs more time to mature, why not wait a year? What could be wrong with taking more time to grow up?
And if the issue is counting and numbers, or poor early reading skills, perhaps giving a child more time to learn numbers and letters; to hear stories read; and play with making rhymes, is indicated. First grade is where kids must apply themselves to the act of learning to read and do simple math. What could be bad about spending more time on these skills before going to first grade?
Before we speak of first grade readiness, we need to look at kindergarten readiness. There is a whole checklist of things your child should be able to do before going to kindergarten. If your child still finds these tasks difficult by the end of kindergarten, he is probably not ready to go to first grade, either. Is your child ready for kindergarten? Ask yourself these questions:
- Can he put on his coat by himself?
- Does he need help to use the bathroom?
- Can he say his ABC’s? Count?
- Does he know his colors?
- Is he able to learn rhymes?
- Can he grip a pencil and cut paper with a scissors? Can he paste?
- Can he run and jump, play catch, bounce a ball, dance?
- Does he like to look at books? Does he try to tell the story by looking at the pictures?
- Is your child curious and always wanting to learn new things?
- Is he good at sharing? Does he wait his turn? Does he play well with other children?
- Can he work with others as a group? Does he know how to compromise and adapt? Is he flexible?
- Can he cope with challenges?
- Does he follow directions?
Doubts About Kindergarten Readiness
Let’s imagine that you have a child you weren’t really sure was ready for kindergarten. In most areas, children must turn 5 by September 1st, in order to start kindergarten. Your child only turned 5 in August. He’s great with a scissors, but doesn’t really get along well with other children. He cries often, and doesn’t follow directions very well, but loves to look at picture books and make up funny rhymes.
To sum up, his fine motor skills are good, his pre-reading skills are good, but he may not yet be mature enough for kindergarten.
Not sure what to do, you speak to a few experts, do your research, and decide to chance it and send your child on to kindergarten. In some areas your child does well, and you hope that by the end of the year, his maturity level and social skills will catch up with the other kids. You don’t really have a fallback plan. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll worry about it when the time comes.
This situation is a fairly common scenario. In spite of how often this happens, it can come to a shock when the kindergarten teacher asks to speak with you suggesting your child repeat kindergarten. It can feel like an insult: like your child isn’t smart. Your gut reaction may be to defend your child.
Rather than be upset, it pays to remember that the only thing to think about here is the well-being of your child. The truth is you knew that it might come to this. You knew that your child was close to the cut-off date for kindergarten. He or she probably could have used a bit more time before going to kindergarten, but you took a chance. So now what should you do?
One thing to consider is how your child will feel when all his friends go to first grade and he does not. Is this fact likely to upset him a great deal? Your child may not mind this as much as you think. It could be he will find it comforting and safe to stay with his kindergarten teacher for one more year.
Late Kindergarten Warning Signs
One consideration in having your child repeat kindergarten is social and emotional development. Children who are behind in these areas late into kindergarten may:
- Cry often and/or have tantrums
- Try to get out of going to kindergarten each morning
- Still wet their pants from time to time
- Scribble instead of drawing or writing letters and numbers
- Find it hard to stick with a task or pay attention to what the teacher is saying for five minutes at a time
- Often interrupt
- Act out aggressively toward other students
First Grade Readiness
In deciding whether your child should repeat kindergarten, it is important to consider whether he has all the skills he needs to go on to first grade. Requirements for first grade readiness vary from state to state. You can find out the exact first grade requirements in your state by writing to your local Department of Education.
There are certain basic skills that all children should have going into first grade, no matter where they live. A child who is ready for first grade can:
- Separate from his parent or caregiver without getting too upset
- Notice and respond to other people’s feelings
- Enjoy having stories read to him
- Read and recite the alphabet
- Knows letter sounds
- Reads simple books
- Recognize his own name in print and write it, too
- Draw a picture of an object or to express an idea
- Count to ten
- Count the objects in a group and tell you if one group is larger or smaller than the other
- Understand that addition means putting groups together and that subtraction means taking away from one group
- Add and subtract using numbers 1-10
- Break up objects into groups of different numbers to show how they add up to the same number (example: 6 balls = 2 groups of 3 balls or 6 balls = 2 groups of 1 ball and 5 balls)
- Figure out how to turn a group of 1 to 9 items into 10 (example: a group of 6 items and a group of 4 items =10 items)
- Use items or draw pictures to show and solve simple addition and subtraction word problems
- Recognize and name basic shapes
- Sort items according to size or color, for instance
- Identify basic colors like red, orange, green, blue, black, and white
- Use words to express himself
- Use complete sentences of at least five words
- Speak in a way that adults understand
- Follow directions involving at least two steps
- Tell you his name and age
- Hold a crayon or a pencil between his fingers rather than with a fist
- Hop on one foot
- Use alternate feet to climb stairs
While your child’s teacher may make the suggestion that your child repeat kindergarten, it’s up to you, the parent, to make the final decision. You may want to seek help from the school in having your child assessed for school readiness. But know that teachers don’t make the recommendation to repeat kindergarten without a lot of thought.
If you decide to have your kid repeat kindergarten, be sure to look at this k-8 public charter school option.
Think about it this way: if the teacher was asking out of malice for your child, she certainly wouldn’t want to have him as her student again.
Have you thought about holding your child back from first grade? Has a teacher recommended that your child repeat kindergarten?
Editor’s note: This post was originally published 12/02/2015 and has been completely revised and updated for accuracy and scope.