Is my child ready for Kindergarten? late winter through the end of the school year, many parents of kindergarten-eligible children wrestle with the option of keeping them in preschool for one more year.  The child may have a late birthday that would make them among the youngest in their class.  Many parents assume that boys have a particular challenge with maturity that might make them good candidates to sit out a year and continue their social development before going on to the “big school.”  As always, these are very personal decisions that parents have to make based on their knowledge of their child and a host of other factors.

For parents of children who experience disabilities or significant developmental delays, things are a bit more complicated.  Many of these children already receive special education services as preschoolers.  Even if their child is making progress, many parents  think about what is typically expected in a regular kindergarten class these days and they don’t see their child as being able to meet those expectations.  Some children are also small for their age, can’t communicate well, have poor motor skills or are medically fragile.  The parents may conclude that their child is just not “ready” for kindergarten, and therefore should remain in preschool.  This may sound logical, or make sense on a parent gut level, but there is still more to consider.

1)  The child may not continue to receive the special education services that they now get as a preschooler.  The special education funding that comes from the Federal special education law, IDEA, is connected to the different parts of the law.   In general, a school system cannot use preschool money to serve school-aged children, and they will not be able to draw down funds for a school-aged child unless the child is enrolled in school.  That basically leaves no special education funds available to serve a school-aged child who is not enrolled in school, except for in a couple of specific rare circumstances.  Unless  you have another way to obtain the services that your child needs, you may have to weigh the cost of not having services against the benefit of more time.

2)  Are you just delaying the inevitable, or will this extra year be a game-changer?  Some children may be behind in their development due to challenges that have been reduced in terms of impact.  For example, a child may have had a visual,  hearing, or motor problem that has been corrected or compensated for.  Other children may have experienced medical conditions that limited their ability to interact with the world and do the developmental work of childhood.  For these children, having a year to grow and gain skills under much improved circumstances may make a tremendous difference in their overall functioning.  One could still debate whether planning for two years in kindergarten to allow time to catch up, would be just as, or more beneficial than the extra year in preschool.

3)  All children should be expected to make progress in their development if they are provided with stimulation and proper nutrition.  Many children, however, will probably continue to be functioning well below their typical peers, even after an extra year.  A 5-year-old with a chronic condition, who is functioning at the 3 year-old level, will probably still not be ready for kindergarten a year from now.  He’ll just be a year older.

4) Is kindergarten ready for your child?  That’s the real question.  Don’t think of school as a one-size-fits-all situation that your child has to fit into.  As a child with a disability and an individualized education program (IEP), your child is entitled to a free appropriate public education that meets her unique needs.  You and the rest of the IEP team will decide what that should look like for your child.  Your child can get extra support in the regular education setting, in a special education setting, or a combination of the two.  She can spend time with typically-developing children and still get the special education and related services that she needs.  She can have modifications and accommodations that will allow her to access her education and participate in school activities in a way that makes sense for her.  An individual health plan can be developed to address any special health or medical needs.

Instead of trying to keep  your child out of school until you can make a round peg fit into a square hole, you and your child’s IEP team can design a heart-shaped hole that the child you love can fit into with relative ease.  School doesn’t have to be scary.

Posted on April 2, 2013, in Advocacy, Education, Parent Education, Parenting, special education law and rights and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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