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Red flags of a learning issue

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By Carol Lloyd

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?

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 percent learn like that, but the other 20 percent 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 percent 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.

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.

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?

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.

Comments from readers

"How can you get the doctor to listen to you about a concern if they don't want to check the kid for that issue but says everything is ok and normal?"
"I have 2 grandson whom I homeschooled for 3 years, from the 4th-6th & 5th-7th. They were accepted back into Public School into the 7th & 8th grades, but experiencing problems staying focused. The younger often doesn't hand in completed homework or complete all classwork. I believed him to just be lazy and rebellious. Could this really be an LD child? CPS has never tried to really assist amid my often voiced concerns."
"How does a kid get tested if they are in college. How do you find a reliable source for testing?"
"When my now 7th grader started school my husband and I noticed that our son was not as attentive as he should be when being read to or given direct verbal instructions. We went through several testings and found out that he had Auditory Processing Disorder. He is now signed up with the 504 plan and his teachers make accomadations when given verbal inst. such as making sure his chair is in the front of the class and when they talk they turn around as well as give written directions. He also receives extra time on exams. This has helped him tremendously and is now mastering his classes. His self esteem improved and he is in advanced classes. I am glad that we were astutue enough to realize and try to find a solution to help our son. This was a great article. If learning issues are caught earlier a solution or accomdations can be made to better assist our children."