Dear Carolyn: My son turned 5 right before the school year started. He’s clever and capable, but really struggling to sit still, pay attention, perform on command, etc. We’ve been trying all kinds of things to get him to engage and learn the material, but he just doesn’t stay interested.
He’s fallen so far behind that his teacher thinks he can’t catch up and go on to first grade, and she admits she doesn’t have the time to interact with him the way he needs, but also says she doesn’t think he qualifies for special-ed assistance. (We’re waiting for our appointment for a medical opinion.)
I see improvements, but they’re apparently not enough.
I don’t know what to do. Do we finish up the year, continuing to try to find a way to engage him, or do we just pull him out and let him finish the year back at preschool? If he’s going to have to start over anyway, does it matter?
I’m exhausted from all the work of trying to get him to do his homework and stay interested, and wavering between, “We’ve come this far — it’s stupid to stop now,” and, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?”
You mean, why are you doing this to him.
Your son doesn’t sit still for “the material” because he’s smarter than the adults in his life about what’s interesting to a 5-year-old. He’s supposed to explore and play and jump around, not jump through academic hoops intended for older children.
You have an excuse – this is the first time (right?) you’ve spent real time with kids this age. You’re just doing what you think you’re supposed to and trusting schools to serve their students.
The people running them, on the other hand, are supposed to know better. Most of the educators I’ve run across do know, in fact, that playing is a 5-year-old’s “homework.” I obviously can’t speak for your son’s teacher, but many are handcuffed by external standards, often imposed by non-educators.
Your options are the same regardless: You can keep those medical appointments, with great caution; you want neither to pathologize a typical child nor deny early intervention to one who needs help.
And you can look for a different, traditional school that encourages play and hands-on learning, or a nontraditional one with a record of success with high-energy kids. Assuming it’s not prohibitively expensive.
And yes, you can also put him back in preschool. He’s clearly not getting attention he needs, so any sense of your coming “this far” — or anywhere — is a false one.
If you browse for it, you’ll find ample support for a decision to “redshirt” your son to give him time to mature. It’s common now, especially for boys, especially boys with summer birthdays.
The redshirting trend is both in response to problems, like higher academic expectations of ever-younger kids, and a source of them. These include a widening range of ages and abilities in one classroom, and of affluence, since the cost of preschool vs. “free school” means money often buys the maturity advantage.
A kid who’s unhappy right now, though, makes such debates a luxury you can’t afford.
Pick a replacement school carefully but soon, and let your kid out of that box.
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