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HomeLearning DifficultiesHealth & Development

How changing grade levels causes academic stress

Starting certain grade levels requires kids to make big jumps in academic performance. Help your child meet the challenges.

GreatSchools Blog

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

Are there certain grades when kids might feel more stress at school? What should parents be prepared for?

What are academic stress points?

Stress points normally occur at certain developmental periods in education. When expectations for academic performance increase, kids feel stress.

All kids have to make adjustments at times of transition. Many kids, not just those with learning difficulites, experience setbacks when they have to perform more independently. The key is to see if your child can adapt to these challenges and learn new strategies within a normal period of time.

When do expectations change in school?

Generally, these are the grade levels when significantly new and different requirements are placed on learning:

Grade level Expectations
Preschool/ Kindergarten learning to learn
Grade 1 learning to read
Grade 4 reading to learn
Middle School learning to organize your learning
High School learning to read, organize, and learn on your own
College doing it on your own

 

What happens to a child with learning difficulties?

If your child is functioning well below her peer group, either developmentally, academically, socially, or emotionally, then most likely she'll experience even greater difficulty at these critical times. Because she didn't master skills at the same rate and time as her peers, she'll need to continue to build skills while learning general education curriculum in a different way. She may need to have accommodations in the classroom and at home.

How are kids with poor reading skills affected?

If your child's reading ability is delayed when she enters fourth grade, then she won't have the skills necessary to gather information independently from books. She needs to continue to build her reading skills through direct instruction. You'll find that you can do things to help her get the same general education curriculum as her classmates. Here's how you can help at home:

  • Read textbooks aloud to her.
  • Use digital books and textbooks.
  • Read books on the same subject matter but written at a lower reading level.
  • Scan books into a computer and use software programs that will read the material aloud as she views the print on the monitor.
  • Watch DVDs or educational TV programs on the subject.
  • Take family outings to museums, libraries, theaters.

How are kids with AD/HD affected?

If your child is diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), then her attention, focus, memory, and self-control may be delayed as much as 30 percent of her actual age. A 12-year-old with AD/HD who is entering middle school may be functioning developmentally more like an 8-year-old. Imagine a third-grader in a middle school, and you can picture the problems your child could have keeping track of different classes, teachers, and assignments while trying to organize her supplies and time. Here are things to help her at home:

  • Anticipate problems and help her make a plan.
  • Use rewards rather than punishment.
  • Provide rewards for effort, as well as accomplishments.
  • Involve her in choosing her rewards.
  • Reduce the amount of talking and reminding that you do.
  • Follow through on consequences.
  • Model the behaviors you expect of your child.

What can parents do?

  • Be prepared for the changing expectations at key grade levels.
  • Prepare your child for new challenges ahead of time.
  • Stay in close communication with teacher(s).
  • Reinforce skills at home through fun activities, such as cooking, playing board games, family outings.
  • Help with accommodations to gain information.
  • Know that she'll learn to handle the new expectations, but it will take much more time than your other kids may have needed.
  • Support your child's efforts and give her positive feedback for trying.
  • Don't give up.

Your school or district can advise you about grievance and due process procedures if you have a disagreement. You can request a copy of the district's Section 504 policy as well.

© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally created by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.

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