Let me explain what I mean. When our society, in its great wisdom, decided to educate children solely based on their year of birth, they decided that children should be able to read at 6.4, do multiplication at 8.3, and add fractions at 8.5, or roughly thereabouts. But what if your child is 6.4 at a time when other children are often 7.1? Does this matter? It does, especially if your child happens to be a boy.
I have a friend who had the unfortunate luck to give birth at 11:00 p.m. one fateful December 31. She didnít want her little boy to have to start school in the assigned year, so she asked to hold him back. She was told she could not, lest she wanted him labeled learning disabled. So she packed him up at 3 Ĺ, and off he toddled onto that school bus.
A close family friend of theirs has a daughter who is six weeks younger than this little guy. They are reading the same books. When they do math problems, they do them at the same speed. They are completely comparable academically. Yet she is receiving all Aís, and he is receiving Bís and Cís. Why? Because heís in the wrong grade.
Any woman who remembers puberty will have no trouble telling you that girls mature faster than boys. This isnít necessarily a good thing; having hormones run ragged over your emotions at 11 means that things like who sits with whom at lunch get blown way out of proportion, as opposed to worrying about rational things, like where in the world I stashed those leftover Easter bunnies. But girls arenít just more mature; they also have a leg up in language arts, tending to read and write at a younger age than boys do.
So if your poor little guy was born in the fall, and heís thrown in with a bunch of girls who were born in the spring, heís going to look like an idiot, even if he is absolutely, perfectly, fine.
Picture a little 5-year-old boy who is active, social, and loves life. He is excited about starting school. But when he gets there, his teacher tells him he has to sit in a circle and listen to a story about the feelings of turtles or badgers or bears. He has to learn what sounds letters make, but he canít hear any sounds when he looks at the page. Instead, he starts talking to the kids on either side of him. The teacher gets mad. Now the little boy doesnít want to go to school. He starts getting stomach pains. And because he doesnít read in first grade, he falls further and further behind, often acting out in frustration. By the time heís in fourth grade, heís become sullen. He resents the adults in his life, all of whom make him feel stupid. He never caught up, because he wasnít ready to start in the first place.
My husband, a pediatrician, used to see many children in his office for ADD and school problems. Those boys were three times more likely to have been born in October than in February, to choose the highest and the lowest months. If our boys with school problems are congregated among fall babies, then maybe the problem is not with the kids. Maybe itís that the school system just canít cope with kids who donít fit their mold. Not every kid will learn at the schoolís pace. All of us have our own internal clocks. Ultimately itís up to parents to figure our out kidsí timing and work with them so that they do learn. Schools, with so many kids in a classroom, arenít always up to the task.
This article first appeared September 15, 2006
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