Red flags of a learning issue
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By Carol Lloyd
GreatSchools: What are the primary warning signs for children in kindergarten? Is it fair to judge them on their academics since some kids develop more slowly?
Curtis: Kindergarten is a time to start getting to the basics, so though they may all not be reading, there are certain benchmarks to keep in mind. They should be learning the alphabet as well as the sounds of the letters. They should be learning to count. They should also be developing their fine motor skills: learning to copy words, cut paper into shapes. Most kindergartners begin to read simple words too. Finally, parents should continue to look at their children’s ability to understand stories.
Those are the main indicators: Do they have their sounds, numbers, and letters?
Of course, you might not hear much from your teacher if your child isn’t reaching these benchmarks. I used to teach general education teachers. The philosophy they’d been taught is “wait and see,” but the research suggests that if you catch this stuff early, you get better results. With language, you’ve got to hit it early — or kids get left in the dust. For instance, a preschooler and a kindergartner will learn phonemes better than a first and second grader]. Once you hit first and second grade, you start going into content reading, and so kids who are still struggling with learning to read have a harder time.
There’s an idea in general education that learning to read is like osmosis — and it’s true! Most kids learn to read and write with very little instruction. About 80% learn like that, but the other 20% don’t learn that way. They need it broken down and need it to be taught.
It’s clear that we can impact this 20% with early intervention. With intensive instruction, they can get on track early before their self-esteem takes a hit.
Kindergarten is also the age when some kids are having trouble reading because they are having trouble seeing accurately. Sometimes their eyes aren’t tracking or they are not focusing on the page. If your child is having trouble with early reading, it’s worth having their eyes checked too.
GreatSchools: Parents of first- and second-graders are typically watching their kids deal with more homework and lots of new academic demands. Suddenly you can find you’ve got a kid who loves reading and hates math or loves complicated science ideas but can’t seem to write a three-word sentence.
Curtis: First-grade standards vary widely by district, but at this age kids should be reading words and simple sentences. At this point, they need to learn their phonics —the ability to sound out words. And they should have a good number of sight words — say 100 — by the end of first grade.
In the first few months of first grade, not all kids have this, but by January or February if they are not reading, you start getting really worried.
You also want them to have fine motor control — they should be able to copy words, write their name, do simple drawings, and hold their pencils. If they have trouble picking up a pencil and writing anything down, that’s a red flag.
Another warning sign is kids who are frustrated and angry and inattentive. It may not be “acting out” but a behavioral reaction to what they are being asked to do.
At this point, kids should be able to listen to teachers and follow multi-step directions. It’s also the age when they are beginning to organize themselves. (Though a lot of boys don’t organize themselves at a young age.). Being able to sit still in circle time is another benchmark.
In second grade, kids are expected to write longer sentences as well as short paragraphs. It’s also important that they develop verbal expression. They should be able to talk about themselves and what they are learning.
Can you trust your school to assess your child?