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Slow start to kindergarten — Good Parenting

student daydreamingDear Dr. Debbie,

Our son just started kindergarten. Although he enjoyed his three years of nursery school and impresses most adults as being highly intelligent, we’re getting almost daily reports from his teacher that “work” is not being completed. When I ask him how the day went and what he enjoyed, I don’t get much information. He has commented that there are “lots of kids” in his class yet he only knows a few names. I’m wondering if he’s distracted by so many new children, and if this is just an adjustment he’s going through. I don’t know how the other children’s work habits compare to his, and I’m a little concerned that our child may have attention issues.

Incomplete’s Mom

Don’t miss last week’s column Laughing at a classmate — Good Parenting

Dear Mom,

It very well could be he’s still taking it all in — new teacher, new classroom, new classmates, new routine, new expectations, etc. The teacher, too, is probably still getting to know all her students and may not yet have picked up on your son’s high intelligence. This situation calls for some parent-teacher teamwork to determine the true cause or causes of incomplete work and to implement an appropriate strategy.

Gather More Information

Pose your question to the teacher about general comparisons to get an idea of whether he really stands out as a non-completer. Then track this behavior over the next couple of weeks to see if he fares better as things become more familiar (and/or the teacher modifies her expectations). Does his attention wax and wane over the course of the day, or for certain subjects? He may be tired or suffering low-blood sugar at different times, or he may find a certain subject to be insufferably boring which may call for more challenging work.

Work From Home

If incomplete work comes home (which is sometimes the practice), does he have a problem completing it with your supervision? This will give you some idea of whether the work itself is a problem — too easy or too difficult — or if he just can’t stay focused. Tips to help a child get through work if he truly has Attention Deficit Disorder include taking movement breaks or actually doing it while moving. If his distractibility in the class is not a disturbance to the other children, completing work at home is a simple solution, at least until more is understood about why it’s not getting done at school.

Make a Friend

If your son is very socially oriented, you can speed up his social comfort by setting up play dates with some classmates. Having a buddy or two in his class can keep him from feeling socially overwhelmed and would help him focus more on assignments and less on “lots of kids.” See if the teacher or a room parent can organize a class contact list. Sometimes all it takes is for the teacher to send a note home to all the parents asking who like to be included on such a list. Then ask your son to pick a child to invite over or to meet at a playground. Start with a short visit including the other child’s parent. Among the many benefits of having a friend in class is that lunch and recess are used to share jokes and swap stories and otherwise discharge tensions built up during class.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Perhaps you have some insight into how your son learns best and can suggest to the teacher a variety of ways to both teach and assess him. Rather than expect him to work the same as the other children, suggest some different ways for him to acquire information and skills and to show that he understands the material. If he is not being disruptive, additional or alternative activities might more effectively engage his attention when he would otherwise be staring blankly at a worksheet.


Perhaps he is overthinking the assignments which may be contributing to his inability to complete them. Smart children may go to great lengths to avoid making a mistake or to avoid giving a less than stellar response. Anxiety can lead to not settling for an obvious answer or an easy way to solve a given problem. His thirst for knowledge could be a distraction itself. Thomas Edison badgered his teacher with so many questions she asked his parents to please keep him home!

Bright children can be easily bored and quickly distracted by their own daydreams. If you and your son’s teacher are content that he is acquiring information and mastering skills, a few incomplete assignments in kindergarten should not be cause for alarm.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.

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