My Child is Failing Kindergarten: Should I Worry or Not?

child failing kindergarten

Is your child failing kindergarten? If you are searching this query, then something must be happening in your life to cause it. Likely your child is currently in kindergarten and is struggling. Maybe you are meeting the teacher at pick-up time every day with a negative or troubling report. Or perhaps your child isn’t making progress, either academically, or socially.

Before I go on, we have to look at what it is we are talking about. When you say failing kindergarten, what does that mean? Does that mean that your child is failing to learn and acquire skills at the same speed as their peers? Or does that mean that they failed practical tests or exams? Perhaps they are struggling with interpersonal and social interactions? Or have they fail to regulate themselves in class?

Kindergarten is a level in our education system that is multi-faceted. Lots to learn, and many places to go wrong.

Kindergarten Standards and Requirements Have Changed Dramatically Since We Were Children

As you think about what fell means to you and for your child’s situation, you have to remember that kindergarten and other requirements at various grade school levels are no longer the same.

Children, they have not changed appreciably in our lifetimes. But expectations for children and for parents have grown significantly.

The fact that you are searching about a child failing kindergarten is an indicator of how far we’ve really come.

Historically, kindergarten was something that children attended for only a few hours a day. The focus was on play, and learning the social niceties of being in school and away from the home. Kindergarten was a place to play, dance, paint and draw, and sing. Parents wouldn’t be up late at night worrying about their child’s performance and researching books or other infoproducts to buy to help them help their child.

Now, kindergarten is frequently a full day experience similar to first grade and onward. Children are expected to do the kind of work now that previously they were not expected to do until they were in first or second grade or beyond. It has become a very academic place. Children are really focused in kindergarten on learning skills, and to prepare for first grade.

The First Step To Helping Your Struggling Child Is To Take A Step Back

When you talk about your child failing kindergarten, and search for solutions, I would suggest that you instead try and relax. Seek out some perspective. Many times, us parents are driven by our own personal anxieties and fears. Fear of failing as a parent, of failing our children, of failing to keep up with other families. Those worries are normal, but if you let them take the steering wheel, you will struggle to really see your child, and be able to help him. If you jump to conclusions and rush to start “fixing” whatever you think is the problem, you may miss out on getting to the heart of the matter.

And once you are calm, you can also rationally look at what your child is going through, and how the changes we have discussed above are impacting his kindergarten experience. Just because the schools and teachers are pushing for days filled with academics doesn’t necessarily mean that the set up and situation is going to be the right fit for where your child is developmentally. Children get to a place where they can sit and learn at different times, and the one-size-fits-all mentality in today’s school rooms do not leave room for children who don’t fit just yet.

Having some chill and also some perspective are two vital components of being arms and ready to help your failing child.

Step Two: Delve Deeper Into What Your Child Is Struggling With Specifically

Let’s take a look at what your child is failing at, and where that information is coming from. Does your teacher say that he’s behind in reading or writing? Or is the information coming from a standardized test administered to him by a stranger? Is he struggling socially because of his energy or impulse control? Does he hit other kids or refuse to follow the simplest of directions?

Gather information from the teachers, the aides, and anyone else who comes into contact with your child. If you can, take some time to volunteer in his classroom or do a regular observation, so that you can see what the teachers and aides are seeing. Makes notes of what, when, who, and how. With young children who cannot always adequately communicate their experiences, needs, and feelings, it is up to us to gather the necessarily information.

Try to get a wholistic view of what is happening and how it is happening. This will be the foundation of whether you should be worried about how your child is performing in kindergarten.

Step Three: Once You See The Problem, Ask The Questions, Who Is At Fault, and Is The Expectation Reasonable?

While the fear mongerers and everything you read on the internet may tell you any is something to freak out about, or something you should be ashamed of as a parent, not every struggle or trouble at the kinder level means that your child is “failing.”

Kindergarten in the 21st century is not developed with the children in mind. It is more about funding, standards, administration, and seeking accolades for performance. You’d expect to see the education system improving as the years pass, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case.

Even kindergarten teachers will admit that the standards and requirements in today’s schools are difficult and sometimes impossible for children to meet. I have talked to many teachers in this grade level that wish we could return to the “old days” where there were fewer screens, fewer tests, and a lot more recess.

It may not seem like it, but a good portion of children at the kindergarten level do not read or write. In fact, studies have shown that a focus on reading or writing at the Pre-K and kindergarten levels can actually hurt a child’s long-term ability to be a good reader. Yet our schools continue to push them in academics.

Many children at the kinder level cannot sit still, cannot stand in line, show no interest in painting/drawing/dancing/singing, and generally struggle with the classroom experience because they are not ready physically, mentally, or emotionally.

A child’s brain develops at its own pace. A child’s brain at the age of 4, 5 and 6 learns by doing things that don’t involve reading. Children at this age actually learn best when they are doing things like playing, riding bikes, jumping in puddles, drawing, and singing.

Yet we demand that he endure a full day’s worth of teaching that won’t actually result in any meaningful learning.

So as the heading to this section states: Who is at fault? Who is the one who is failing? Is the child failing because he can’t do something that is probably impossible? Or is it the system or us as parents who expect the unreasonable?

Look at the data you’ve gathered. Look at what you’ve observed. And look at what the school and the kindergarten class expects of him. In many instances, our children struggle in kindergarten because they aren’t truly ready.

If your child is struggling to sit quietly for learning at circle time, take a look at how old she is. Being able to sit for long periods of time is actually a really difficult task for kindergarten age children, who are wired to move to learn. If your school is requiring that your child sit for learning for long periods of time and is critical of her inability to do so (and this is one reason why you think she is failing), this really is not a signal of a fail. This is a signal of a situation that a child is set up to fail in.

Another thing to consider is the maturity of your child. Children develop at different rates. Not just in size or shape but also in emotional capacity and readiness. A child who is failing kindergarten, in most cases is not a bad student or a bad person. In most cases they are simply a child who is not ready for school.

You might feel embarrassment that your child is not ready for kindergarten at an early age, but this isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses or your kids doing things as well as other kids. This is a situation where the child’s needs should be first and foremost. If a child is truly not ready for kindergarten, and then forcing them into it when they don’t have to be there can actually be harmful.

If we are setting up our kids from an early age to believe that they have failed and are failing at things that are actually unrealistic for them, it will make it hard for them to develop the confidence that they need to be a successful adult.

Another thing to consider: your child might be struggling in kindergarten because he is bored. Gifted children can also cause just as much trouble in kinder and early grades because their needs aren’t being met, and they don’t know how to adequately express themselves just yet. See: Looking Out For a Gifted Child in Kindergarten.

Ask Yourself: Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

I know it is hard to really get on board with this, but in many cases, it is better for parents to wait to enroll their kids in activities, and it is better to wait as long as possible before putting them into really disciplined and structured programs. Some kids are ready. However, too many kids are not but are forced into kindergarten as soon as possible because it alleviates financial burdens on parents to pay for daycare or other child care situations because in most cases kindergarten is free.

If your child is failing kindergarten, one of the things I would suggest is that you consider a different program. Rather than blame the child, perhaps you should consider that your child learns in a different way. Many of the play based kindergartens such as Montessori turn out to be a really good resource to help kids develop those initial skills but without forcing them into situations where they fail and struggle.

Another thing to consider is having your child repeat kindergarten or to hold them back a year to give them more time to grow and mature. I’m no doctor, but even I can see that the rise in diagnoses of ADD/ADHD correspond right along with the changes in the structure of primary education.

Helping Your Child With Trouble Areas

As a parent, we can do a lot to assist our kids in the areas where they struggle. Recent times have really shown us parents how much we expect the teachers and the schools to manage and take charge of the learning process, and how ill-prepared we are as parents to shoulder that burden. As my children have all moved through the kinder year and beyond, I have learned a lot about how I can help support my child and his teachers.

Encouraging Early Reading/Language Proficiency

As we know, much of the academics in the first year of school are focused on early reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Many of us parents devote significant time to reading to our children, but do little to help build other proficiency needed to become competent readers. We can go beyond reading and:

  • Practice identifying upper case letters in the alphabet
  • Practice identifying lower case letters in the alphabet
  • Practice writing both upper and lower case letters
  • Practice the phonetic sound of each letter
  • Practice putting the letters together in short words (CVC words/consonant-vowel-consonant words) such as cat, mop, dog, etc, and saying each sound for each letter

  • Practice speaking words with emphasis on the syllable sounds and asking the child to count the syllables
  • Practice speaking words and then thinking of other words that rhyme
  • Practice speaking a letter sound and asking the child to think of other words that start with or contain the same syllable
  • Practice speaking a word and asking the child to identify the sounds they hear
  • Introduce the idea of “sight words”–words that don’t follow the normal phonetic rules. Talk to them about having to memorize these words and now being able to sound them out. If your child is interested, start showing her the words in books or even with flashcards to help relieve some of the kindergarten year burden.

As always, children at the kinder or pre-kinder level should be moving their bodies as much as possible. It is not recommended that you spend hours a day working on reading proficiency at this age. But, if you can find a way to work any of the pre-reading type exercises into the normal day, in a way that isn’t negative and that doesn’t involve long periods of seated time, you’ll do a lot to help your child succeed.

Encouraging Early Writing Proficiency

Many children hate the learning to write process. Meltdowns are very common in kids who are just learning to write. If your child struggles with writing, or flat out refuses to do it, it could be that your child has not yet developed enough hand-eye coordination to actually hold a writing utensil and use it. I actually found this to be true with my two boys, while my girl didn’t seem to be bothered at all.

It turned out that my sons would never have been able to pick up a pencil and write if they had not first spend months developing better hand to eye coordination. With the guidance of my boys’ teachers, both boys embarked on a pretty intensive routine of playing with toys, materials, and equipment that was pretty small (but interesting).

For example, the teachers gave the boys a small hand coffee grinder, with just 4-5 beans, a tiny spoon, and a miniscule brush. The boys happily spent long periods of time intensely focused on trying to grind those beans and then guide the grounds into a small bottle. Other days, the kids used a child safe chopper to make small pieces of celery and carrot for the class rabbit. They also organized bight (but tiny) fake jewels, pretty rocks, beads, shells, and metals using tweezers or other small utensils.

At first, they did not perform the tasks well, but they were less frustrated and much more motivated to do the work that if I had just put a pencil in their hands and demanded that they try and write the letter “A” over and over again. Given my lack of knowledge in the beginning, I suspect that just forcing the kids to do workbook writing sheets is what we see as the solution, but is generally less effective than focusing on the problem area–which in the case of young children, is a weak connection between the fingers and the brain.

You can work on writing skills without necessarily forcing the kids to sit in front of worksheets by:

  • Having the kids trace the shape of the letters with their fingers on the page
  • Drawing letters large and small while doing other cool stuff (such as while painting or while walking a sandy beach)
  • Using surprising mediums for writing, such as shaving cream
  • Practicing writing on unexpected canvases, such as on windows or the shower walls

The more you can make writing fun, the better. Children associate writing with torture in kindergarten and first grade, so if they are excited to do it (with shaving cream on the window) then you are winning the day.

Encouraging Early Math Proficiency

Kindergarten is all about learning the numbers, the order they go in, and the basics of how to use them. Help your child by:

  • Practicing identifying numbers 1-20
  • Counting the numbers in order, forward and backwards
  • Starting to count somewhere in the middle, like with 7 and then up
  • Adding and subtracting numbers less than 10

You can do this with worksheets, or you can:

  • Count everything you see, everywhere (the store, in the car, out in the yard)
  • Make up math problems on the fly
  • Play simple card games and board games where numbers are used (I like Uno for this at the pre-kinder age)

Like writing, all of your time spent on doing “math” exercises should be positive and creative, if you can make it so. Children quickly connect up math with negative feelings of frustration. Math is hard! And kids don’t like being bad at stuff, because it doesn’t feel as good to be bad at stuff as it feels to be good at stuff.

Early Social Skills

So much of how a child does in kindergarten has to do with the age, gender, and experience. While you can’t control the age of your child or gender, you can help him with his life experiences.

For example, a child who has never been away from a parent for an hour or an afternoon or a full day is going to struggle in the transition to kindergarten. It will be trauamatic. Seriously. Why not help your child by making arrangements for him to spend increasingly longer breaks from you with a trusted family member or friend, so that the idea of being away from you for a school days doesn’t feel like the end of the world.

Help your child get used to the idea that other adults (other than a parent) will be running the show and that he’ll have to follow their directions. It might not seem like a big deal to have someone new (and a stranger to boot) be the one to be in charge. But it is, and you can help him by putting him in situations where he has to respect another adult as much as he would his mom or dad.

Forming relationships with classmates comes natural to some, but not to others. If your child is one that doesn’t naturally gravitate to other kids on the playground or in other play situations, you’ll have to give him more opportunities to engage with other kids. That being said, social awkwardness or struggles may not be solvable. But a child who is used to being around other kids, lining up, waiting his turn or taking turns, asking questions, sitting while eating, playing games, etc, will have an easier time in kindergarten than a child who is not used to it. You can do pre-school or pre-K type activities, dancing or martial arts, regular playdates at home or at local play spots, or even other lessons where other kids attend.

Kindergarten is where children are often first required to exercise impulse control and discipline. They might be asked to wait their turn for the first time, or experience the emotions of not being the best at something. The more you can help your child work through discomfort, the better.

Hygiene and Body Independence

In kindergarten, children are expected to manage their own backpacks and book bags, lunches, clothing, and materials. They go to the bathroom without an adult, and without supervision. They are responsible for washing their own hands, and cleaning their own rear ends.

Help your child feel comfortable in kindergarten by dressing him in clothes and shoes that he can take care of himself (like velcro shoes if he can’t tie a shoelace) and a coat with a zipper that he can zip without the assistance of an adult.

Give him the opportunity in advance of school to carry his own food from place to place. Yes, there will be spills, but better off at home than in front of 100 other 5-year olds.

Teach him to adequately wipe and clean himself, because no one is going to be doing that for him once he gets to school. And teach him that clothes stay on in the bathroom.

And finally, teach him to do as much as he can himself. Without asking for help. Even if he means encouraging him to do the task himself even when he asks you to help him.

Other Recommendations for Kindergarten or Pre-K Children

While it might not feel like you are helping your child get ready for success in kindergarten, here’s what we recommend that you do for children this age:

  • Get your kids active. If you believe that current statistics, our children are barely moving in any given day, even at the kindergarten age. Children need to move for their brains to grow. And they aren’t moving nearly enough.
  • Get your kids outside. Our children need the varied and ever changing outside world to develop their vision, hearing, smell, perception, all of the THINGS. Yet in some places in the world, a child might spend no time in any given day outside, not even to go between one place to another.
  • Get your kids around other kids, in any shape or form of any kind, so long as it is safe and appropriate.
  • Make space for free play time. Yes, that means play time where adults aren’t in control of the play. This doesn’t mean that adults don’t monitor the play for safety and appropriateness. But it does mean that parents need to step out and away to allow the child a chance to use her brain and be in charge.
  • Get them off screens as much as you can. Seriously.

Finally…

If you are freaking out about your child “failing” kindergarten, I would just take a step back. Is your child healthy? Does he learn, even at his own pace? Is he curious, active, and talkative? If the answers to all these questions are yes (and your pediatrician doesn’t have any other flags to wave), then I would just chill out about it.

Yes, you can work with your child to get caught up in the trouble areas. But if you make kindergarten failure the center of his life, I think you are going to make it harder for him to succeed going forward.

And when all else fails, feel free to reach out to your pediatrician or an experienced psychologist to have your child evaluated if things don’t seem to be improving in any way. Children ages 5 and 6 are still very young, and often early intervention can have a profound and helpful impact.

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