Q.Our son, who was 6 in June, progressed fitfully throughout kindergarten, perhaps because he was one of the youngest kids in his class.
He is also more of a leader than a follower, scientifically inclined and extremely articulate, but he does have trouble with his fine-motor skills and acts like the class clown sometimes. He also leans and lounges and he can't throw a ball very well, but physical therapy has strengthened his upper body a lot.
It was our son's classroom behavior that really bothered his teacher last year. She said he found it hard to concentrate, follow instructions, pay attention and wait his turn, but I think she was complaining about his maleness as much as his inability to do the work.
Although the teacher had problems with our son, a psychiatrist saw nothing wrong and thought that we should have him reevaluated in first grade. He did say, however, that Ritalin could improve his performance, but it would probably improve mine, too.
I think my son had trouble last year because preschool is no longer preschool and first-grade material often is taught in kindergarten. Many parents now have their children start school a year later so they will get better grades, and then these kids need harder work to stay interested in school.
But should children who are substantially younger than their classmates be held to the same high standard? What should parents do when their children are at the right age for kindergarten but their classmates are older and more mature? How can we level the playing field for our son? Public school in our area is a bit like managed care: When your 15 minutes are up, it's "sorry" and on to the next kid.
A.Your child won't be comfortable in school until he is ready to learn what the teacher is trying to teach, and that may not happen until you figure out why he had problems last year and whether they were academic.
First, ask yourself if your son is a year ahead of the place he needs to be. Some children start school before they're ready and he may be one of them.
His cerebellum, which makes new skills automatic, may also be making it hard for your son to pay attention in class because this part of the brain takes longer to mature in some children. When it does, difficult schoolwork may suddenly become much easier.
If you think your son simply needs to catch up with himself, it might be better for him to repeat first grade next year, since phonics, blends and vowel sounds are taught more intensely in this grade than they will ever be taught again and these lessons are too important to skip. Once a child knows how to read well, he usually does much better in school.
Whether your son repeats first grade or not, look hard at his behavior in school.
He may fidget, for instance, because he isn't developmentally ready to sit still for as long as the teacher would like, or he may fidget as a way to organize his thoughts.
Or your son may lean or lounge because some of his muscles aren't developed as well as others or because they tire more easily. Physical therapy will correct these problems, but if he leans against other people, he may not know where his own body ends and the next person's body begins, and that's a sign of sensory integration dysfunction. An occupational therapist in this specialty can test him to see if he needs therapy, and if he does, you shouldn't delay. Your son's self-esteem and his academic achievement will depend on this treatment.
If your son is baffled by stories and conversations when he is in a group but understands them when he is the only listener, he may need to be treated for an auditory processing problem. But if he reverses his letters and numbers, he may -- or may not -- be dyslexic, although you won't know until he is in the middle of second grade. If he is dyslexic, he will need special tutoring; if he's not, you can breathe a big sigh of relief.
For more about sensory integration issues, read "The Out-of-Sync Child" by Carol Stock Kranowitz (Perigee; $14.95), and for the best school guidance a parent can find, you should read -- and treasure -- the best book on the subject: "Teacher Says: 30 Foolproof Ways to Help Kids Thrive in School" by Evelyn Porreca Vuko (Perigee; $15) is fantastic.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.