Recent headlines warn that millions of children may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD because they happen to be young relative to their classroom peers.
In a North Carolina State study, researchers found that children born just before the school cutoff date were 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children born right after, while a University of Michigan study of kindergartners found that 60 percent of the younger students in kindergarten were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
So what does a parent do for the "young" kindergartner with the late summer birthday? The practice of kindergarten red shirting doesn't help (for more on red shirting, click here). Some studies even suggest that starting kindergarten late can reduce educational attainment. In an in-depth piece in The New York Times on red shirting, Elizabeth Weil has written:
"Indeed, increasing the average age of the children in a kindergarten class is a cheap and easy way to get a small bump in test scores, because older children perform better, and states' desires for relative advantage is written into their policy briefs. ..."
"That the social skills and exploration of one's immediate world have been squeezed out of kindergarten is less the result of a pedagogical shift than of the accountability movement and the literal-minded reverse-engineering process it has brought to the schools. Curriculum planners no longer ask, What does a 5-year-old need? Instead they ask, If a student is to pass reading and math tests in third grade, what does that student need to be doing in the prior grades?"
Today's kindergarten classes often include children who may differ in age by 18 months or more, making it a challenge for children and for teachers. An alternative may lie in creating kindergarten programs that are more focused on children's developmental stage. Such programs differ from standard kindergartens in that they may make room for a nap, have lower student-teacher ratios, and offer a more play-based curriculum. Instead of children sitting at desks, they may be engaged in small group activities.
A more development approach to education might change the way schools think about kids before they are diagnosed with ADHD.
(Lesley Ellis School's Transitional Kindergarten program is a good example of such a program. We invite you to learn more about it.)