Young for His Grade

When something wasn’t clicking for a child in my first grade classroom, one of the first resources I would consult was the birthday list. How old a student is relative to his peers can make a surprisingly big difference in school.

Think of how much an elementary-school-aged child can change in just six months. He might grow taller, get more adult teeth, develop better fine motor coordination, learn new vocabulary, regulate his emotions better, and become more empathetic, among many other developmental milestones. After reflecting on all of the changes a child can go through in just half a year, it is easy to imagine the range of abilities and behaviors that exist in a typical classroom where children can be a year apart in age. Different parts of children's development can progress at different rates too; just as you see the yet-to-hit-his-growth-spurt teen with large feet, there are children whose academic or social-emotional development does not change at the same rate as their physical development.

Developmental differences can create some challenges for the young-for-his grade child. Sometimes classroom routines, like sitting still for a certain duration, are just outside of a child’s current capability. There can be social difficulties too between children who have differing abilities in relating to each other and resolving conflict. In some cases academic expectations might not fit perfectly for younger children in a classroom. Therefore, if your child is struggling at school, it is worth investigating whether he is young compared to other students in his grade. Rather than question if he is behind relative to those in his class, ask whether he is behind for a child who is x years and y months old. If his academic achievement and behavior are typical for his age, then there is less reason to worry. A wait-and-see approach may be all that is needed.

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