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Parent Teacher Conference Time

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I can always tell when it is school conference time as my voice mails, emails and messages increase and the messages all begin with, “we just came out of Susie’s school conference and need to talk to you”.

Now that school has been in session anywhere from 6-8 weeks, report cards are going home and teachers are having school conferences with parents to discuss their child’s progress. This is really an important time of year to start assessing a child’s progress in school, and to encourage a child to attain their maximum potential with the help of a teacher’s guidance.

For younger children who are just starting school, it is important to discuss how a child is learning. Young children may show wide variations in learning, in other words you may see some 4 year olds who are already reading while others are not interested at all and only want to be on the playground.

Although some schools “want” their pre-kindergarteners to be reading, not every child’s brain is  “ready to read” at the age of 4-5.  Many of my recent phone calls were from concerned parents who felt as if their child was “already behind”.

It is hard to not “worry’ when you have been told by a teacher that your child is not yet reading and “everyone else is”, but many studies continue to show that not all children will be ready to read in pre-K or kindergarten.

I think that the most important milestone for a child of this age is that they are being read to every evening and are getting an opportunity to “tell their own stories” even if they are not interested in trying to sound out words. It is really too young to begin testing a child for reading difficulties, as their brain may just not be ready to decode words.  They just need a little more time to see how they progress.

The same thing is true developmentally for focus and activity. A preschool child and new kindergartner still want to spend a great deal of their day “playing”. It is very hard to decide what is “hyperactive” in a 4-5 year old who may not be quite ready to sit in a chair and work on pre-reading worksheets, but long to be outside swinging and climbing.

A child of this age may not be “ready” to follow 3 different instructions by a teacher who wants them to “put up their backpack, get out their book for reading, and then color the worksheet”.  They may on the other hand be capable of following instructions to “put up their backpack, feed the fish and then go outside to play.”

The difference in following instructions may not be due to an auditory processing disorder but rather a child’s different interests at this age.

As a child gets older and approaches the 5 -6 year old age many of them will developmentally begin to sound out words or to follow more complex directions or to “sit still “ a little longer. We just need to give some of these pre-schoolers and new kindergartners a chance and watch and wait as they mature.

Some may indeed have issues with attention or reading problems or auditory processing problems but the important message is that it is just too soon to “label” them or to test them for learning disabilities. I would also discourage “labeling a child” who has not even started  elementary school.

So, when you talk to your teaches this Fall, listen and discuss any concerns your teacher may have,  but don’t be too quick to label  your 4-6 year old  They are still changing and growing  as are their young brains. We seem to be trying to get this age to “conform” and some may just need a little more time.  Have your teacher give you ideas of ways to work with your child at home. Be patient and consistent and let’s see what the next 4-5 months brings when it will be time for another conference.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your comment or question to Dr. Sue!

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