Monday, February 6, 2012

Developmental Milestones ... more like guidelines

 Two of my three kids NEVER crawled!  True.

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.
My advice for parents facing these decisions is to interview at different schools.  Talk to your physician as well as the school's admission personnel, ask them to meet your child. Do this in numerous schools.  Sometimes finding the 'best fit' school will make all the difference.

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:
What have your experiences been like?  Please share your concerns, comments and related information.


  1. Interesting post. I think the problem with any "rules" regarding development is the infants haven't read the books. You are so right about needing to see them as guidelines. Carver, ABC Wednesday Team

  2. My daughter was born in March. If she'd been in school earlier, she might have been OK, but waiting until September made her more of a standout. And she's STILL rather shy in the classroom.

    BTW, when I went to school, 100s of years ago, school started in both September and February. My birthday's in March as well, and I started in February, which was great.

  3. People do need some markers to use but age is only one valid factor and guideline. Although it seems dumb to make it the sole deciding factor of educational capabilities, you have to start somewhere. :)

  4. Bravo(a)! Well said! They are just guidelines. Here in NM, it is state law that the child has to be at 5 years of age to start kindergarten. No if ands or buts. My son was done with pre-school from a developmental standpoint at 5 (he is an Oct. baby and was nearly 6 when he started kindergarten). Hindsight, I wish I had placed him in a non-traditional school like Montessori for that last year instead of keeping him in pre-school. He would have at least been more engaged.

  5. My 8-year-old grandson was born on January 1 and was absolutely ready for kindergarten the September before turning 5. He could print his name, do some sums, and read a bit. He'd attended a special government pre-school (can't remember its name but was something like "Smart Start?) and was absolutely ready! However, they draw the line at Dec. 31 and no matter what my daughter told the principal at the local school, they would not enroll him. Now he's in grade 2 and bored to death! I just hope that as he gets older, the teachers will find enrichment activities for him so he doesn't start getting into trouble (well, he already has!). He needs guidance and direction to appropriate tasks and activities in school as his parents give him that out of school. Now, my granddaughter, who turns 4 at the beginning of March will not be ready - I can already tell - and waiting until she's 5 1/2 will be perfectly appropriate. Great post again and have a delightful week,

    abcw team

  6. We obviously need more 18th Century pirates in charge of education:-) The cut off date for starting school here is August so there can be a nearly a year's difference in a class, there is a campaign to give a choice to which age July/August children start school.

  7. I guess not all doctors are right hehe. this proves that doctors cant' tell what's the kids gonna be in the future.

  8. I know a friend whose daughter missed one week from the cut off so she has to wait for another year. I think it's so unfair for kids who are mentally, socially, and emotionally ready.

  9. Hello, found you on a blog hop
    Love the blog!
    could you follow me back?

  10. "You know, every mother thinks her kid is a genius" - I've never been told that to my face by anyone. But I'm thinking it sounds old already. On the other hand, a mom I know was told exactly that and she vehemently protested. She insists her kid is 'normal' not 'genius.'

  11. A most informative blog, Merle, with all the good evidence for ignoring the "averages" of childhood development and really evaluating the individual child. I so wish the schools could learn this lesson!
    ABC Team

  12. cool! thanks for sharing the links!

  13. "They're more like guidelines..." -- love it! Thanks so much for linking up to Teach Me Tuesday! This is so informative!

  14. Hello

    I found your blog on a blog hop and am now following! Would be great if you could check out my blog and follow me too!


  15. A very informative post - thanks for sharing.