To the Editor:
I recently heard of a parent of a 3-year-old child who had just started preschool. The parent was upset because she was told that her son was behind because he didn’t know his ABCs, and that she should consider after-school tutoring to catch him up to the school’s standards.
The parent and the child are already panicked that he—at age 3—is not living up to someone else’s expectations.
I am reminded of an incident that happened to me in one of my first years of teaching. As an elementary school physical education teacher, I loved to reinforce movement skills through relay races. One of the skills was skipping. I noticed that in 1st grade, while all the girls could skip, many boys had trouble switching legs. Their skip was more like a trot.
When I talked to a veteran teacher, I asked her why little boys in 1st grade had so much difficulty with skipping. Her response was both simple and enlightening.
“Because they are not ready,” she said. “Give them time to grow up.”
I watched those boys the next two years and, sure enough, by the time these same boys reached 3rd grade, they could skip with no problem.
When I was told years later that I was to give a grade for skipping skills, I was also told that if the 1st grader could not perform the skill, he should receive an F in that section of the grade report. I refused.
The reason some little boys struggle with skipping in 1st grade is mostly maturity. They are just not “ready” to skip yet. By 3rd grade, boys have no trouble with skipping and don’t remember 1st grade. You give a 1st grader an F for skipping, and he may never try to skip again.
Physical and emotional readiness is a tremendous factor in predicting student success in school. It is a factor that tends to be overlooked in today’s push for higher standards.
The writer taught for 31 years before retiring.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as Schools Cannot Ignore Students’ Physical, Emotional Readiness