Countless parents whose children started the last school year at the head of the class are now asking themselves a very unexpected question: Are their kids really ready to move up a grade this fall? The sudden shift to remote learning after the nationwide shutdown this spring caused many students to fall so far behind that their parents think they might be better off repeating the year. Still, experts say there are some important things to consider before holding your child back a grade.
"Even children who are gifted or who were on track back in March may now be struggling [because] distance learning is a very different experience," parenting coach Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., author of Why Will No One Play With Me?, tells Romper. If your child's experience with distance learning left you wondering how much knowledge they were actually able to retain, it's understandable for you to be worried about their readiness for the next grade.
That said, the term "falling behind" is has a different meaning in relation to last year, with few students moving forward at the expected rate — and educators understand this is the case. "Many schools are recognizing that there was great variability in students’ experiences last spring due to COVID and are therefore planning to scaffold, or help students gradually and systematically develop skills that were not sufficiently addressed," learning specialist Rebecca Mannis Ph.D. tells Romper in an email.
"The more parents educate themselves, the better they can identify appropriate goals and advocate for their kids in a productive way to achieve them," says Dr. Mannis. Here are a few things to consider before making your decision.
What Does Your Kid's Teacher Think?
"It is critical that the adults work as a team to make decisions that jointly take teachers’ knowledge of ages and stages and also parents’ 'boots on the ground' perceptions into account," says Dr. Mannis. Before making a decision on your child's behalf, talk to their teacher from last year. They may not have had the resources they needed at the end of last year to fully prepare their class for the upcoming year and, if that's the case, holding them back might not be the right decision.
How Does Your Child Feel About It?
"Learning to hear a child’s perspective and communicate with her during this time is also a key element," says Maguire. "Kids are going through so much and by hearing them, reflecting on what they have to say, and having collaborative conversations, it helps create a better parent-child relationship for the long term."
Of course, that doesn't mean they get the final say. "It is very helpful for parents to understand the child’s experience and perceptions, but that is different than having the child be the decision-maker, which is usually developmentally inappropriate," Dr. Mannis explains. So make them aware of the situation, allow them voice their feelings, and incorporate those opinions into your decision-making process.
Does The School Already Have A Plan In Place?
Another question to ask your school, Maguire says, is what plans they have in place for evaluating the knowledge students retained from last year, as well as what social and emotional support will be available. You might find that there are already changes being made to the curriculum to accommodate students, which could mean there isn't a need to repeat the grade.
Will Holding Your Kid Back Benefit Their Social Development?
Beyond academics, consider your child's overall maturity level and how they would affect their ability to get along with kids a grade level behind. "Maturity affects executive function skills, the management system of the brain that controls attention, self regulation, planning, organization, self monitoring, and self awareness, to name a few," says Maguire. "Look at the children in the grade below and ensure the child will have some friends and that this would benefit their overall development."
What Will It Mean For Your Child's Emotional Health?
"After only months of social distancing," some children are already showing effects of loneliness that, under normal circumstances, take years to manifest, says Maguire. If your child is already struggling emotionally, separating them from their classmates and friends could exacerbate it all the more. Before making any decision, check in with a guidance counselor or mental health professional to see if holding them back a grade is in your child's best interest emotionally.
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., CCG, PCC, parenting coach and author of "Why Will No One Play With Me?"
Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D., learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep