Doctors told me that if they did not crawl and go through each of the stages of motor development they would have serious coordination issues later. True, doctors told me this but their advise was FALSE - there were never any issues. One danced her way through college and the other won national fencing (sabre) championships. No motor problems there!
One of my daughters missed the kindergarten cut-off date by four weeks. We were told she would have to wait another year to begin. I told the school that while I recognized and would honor their policies, I wanted them to meet her. IF they still had any reservations that she was not socially, emotionally, or intellectually ready for kindergarten (she was reading already), I would accept their decision. The principal told me "You know, every mother thinks her kid is a genius" I asked them to interview her nevertheless. She passed, went to nursery and at the end of the year, they wanted to put her in second grade. I REFUSED!
True: We as psychologists, educators, medical professionals, and parents follow the course of our kids' (and students') development watching for progress and emerging stages of skill acquisition. This is essential for learning and growth.
But as they say about the code of rules in Pirates of the Carribean: "They're more like guidelines than actual rules." Each child is different. Most will follow the prescribed ways of learning and developing, but some will not. And for those who don't follow the prescribed paths of learning and development, it is important to watch them, help them, direct them, but different paths don't necessarily mean incorrect paths.
The bottom line is that much like the Pirates Rules of Conduct (and I do apologize for the analogy - I do not usually think of pirates when I think of kids), developmental milestones really are meant as guidelines - averages, which help give perspective, but really telling a complete story.
The same can be said of age cut-offs. I recently consulted with parents whose child missed the kindergarten cut-off date by six weeks. While many schools and districts strictly adhere to these guidelines, they are somewhat arbitrary cut-offs (especially for those kids who miss it by days or weeks). So many children who "make" the cut are not necessarily developmentally ready for school, and many who miss it, are. Some school administrators will make exceptions, others won't, but IF you have questions - ask, research, speak to a specialist who knows your child.
Regarding school admission guidelines...Here are some issues to keep in mind when considering 'pushing' a child ahead or 'holding' them back:
- Size is an important factor for 'fitting in' - something very important socially to kids as they approach middle and high school. While it won't make a difference for earlier grades, it will be a factor later. So will physical changes as kids approach adolescence.
- Dexterity - fine and gross motor skills are essential throughout school. The ability to maturely hold a pencil, to cut, to draw, to run and play are all important factors for kids in elementary school. IF your child is a 'borderline' baby you should factor this into your decision.
- Mental, emotional, and cognitive control are essential for school functioning. Kids must be able to control their impulses (be they emotional, attentional, or cognitive). Kids must be able to control their anger and fear when upset, they have to be able to focus on teacher directions, and they have to be able to focus their thinking and ability to evaluate situations. These skills are essential for social and intellectual growth and often an extra year of play and preschool can help children make significant gains.
- Cognitive challenges, are also important. Kids who are ready to read, who exhibit strong language and critical thinking skills must be stimulated and challenged. For some this may mean 'pushing' ahead, for others it may mean finding various enrichment avenues without being placed with 'older' kids.
Regarding developmental milestones... here are some links to sites with developmental milestones. These are guidelines, but they DO help you better understand what is expected of your child at various ages and stages of development. IF you have concerns, it is always wise to speak to a specialist - usually your pediatrician who can refer you further if necessary:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- Your baby's milestones (birth to 3)
- The Mayo Clinic Preschool Milestones
- PBS milestones for developmental milestones for physical, social & emotional, cognitive and communication skills I really like this. It is comprehensive and easy to follow and provide additional resources and website to continue your research