Kindergarten is the New First Grade, and This is Not Great for Some Kids

Kindergarten is the New First Grade, and This is Not Great for Some Kids

With the adoption of Common Core standards, we have seen a shift in the structure of education with greater emphasis being placed on the acquisition of academic skills at early ages. The effect of this change has been to raise the academic standards of lower grades, effectively turning Kindergarten into the new 1st grade. Put simply, kids used to be expected to learn how to read in the 1st grade, while now they are expected to read in Kindergarten.

Difference between Standards and Reality

By definition, Common Core is a set of standards, or goals that children should be working toward. These standards are helpful because they help focus parents, teachers and students onto common goals. It is important to remember, however, that Common Core standards are just standards, and they do not accurately reflect when these academic skills actually develop for most kids.

Developmental milestones

Childhood development typically follows a regular timeline during when children develop various skills or abilities, termed “developmental milestones”. For instance, most kids crawl at or around 6 months of age, speak their first words and/or walk at around 12 months or 1 year of age, and begin to speak in sentences at around 24 months or 2 years of age. The same is true with academic skills. Within the general population, most kids develop academic proficiency in reading and math when they are approximately 6 years old, or their 1st grade year. Some develop these skills earlier and some later.

How this affects children

Some children are ready to learn to read in Kindergarten but not all of them. In fact, there are many 5 year old’s (typical Kindergarten age) with high intelligence who have difficulty sitting still or who just not yet ready to read, or who have trouble writing letters and numbers. This can be the beginning of a perpetuating cycle that leads to the student developing significant academic and behavioral problems. These issues can be avoided with proactive parenting.

What to do?

Communicate with school: When you feel that something may be amiss at school, do not hesitate to communicate with the school. Contact your child’s teacher to find out more about what is happening during school and to ask them for suggestions. This will let your child’s teacher know that you are aware of the problem and that you are working with them to solve it. There may even be resources available at your school to get your child extra help, such as Academic Intervention Services (AIS), a first line of defense before and IEP that many parents are unaware of.

Recruit help for homework or skills practice: If you are having difficulty doing homework with your child, don’t be afraid to recruit the assistance of a tutor or a learning specialist. It is not uncommon for children and parents to have difficulty completing homework together, which can be frustrating for parents who just want to help. Sometimes it’s necessary to recruit the assistance of a tutor, learning specialist or even just schedule time for a relative or favorite babysitter to come and read with your child.  

Consult with a Specialist: If your child experiencing continued learning or behavior problems, one powerful way to learn more about your child and to advocate for them at school is to get a Neuropsychological evaluation.


Bassok, D., Latham, S. & Rorem, A. (2016). Is Kindergarten the New First Grade. AERA Open, 1(4), 1-31, DOI: 10.1177/2332858415616358


Parents: Your Attention is a powerful reinforcer, Wield it Wisely

Parents: Your Attention is a Powerful Reinforcer, Wield it Wisely


Parents often overlook the simplest and most effective tool for shaping their children’s behavior: their attention. Children are intrinsically wired to search for the attention of a caregiver, and will take it anyway they can get it. They are often equally motivated to seek both positive attention and negative attention. Positive attention is attention directed toward a behavior you would like to see repeated, while negative attention is attention directed towards a negative behavior, or those annoying and/or disruptive behaviors you would like to never see again. All too often, parents direct too much of their attention toward negative behaviors and forget to acknowledge positive behaviors, which can lead to an increase in the negative behaviors. Learning a few behavioral concepts can help you learn how to focus your attention to positive behavior.

Use Labeled Praise

When learning how to focus attention to positive behavior, one essential skill to master is the art of delivering Labeled Praise. Labeled praise is when you acknowledge a positive behavior using specific language. Say “Nice job sharing” instead of nice job. This lets children know why they are doing a good job and increases the likelihood they will repeat the behavior. Other examples include “Good job paying close attention”, “Nice job using your inside voice”, or “good job listening to what your sister has to say”. Incorporating labeled praise into your daily repertoire is an effective way to focus your attention to positive behavior on a consistent basis.

Frame things positively: Tell children what you want them to do

Children often want to do the right thing, however in a given situation they may not always know what caretakers want them to do. A common response to an annoying, negative behavior is to simply say “Stop!”. It is more effective however, to frame your response positively by telling your child what you want them to do, instead of what not to do.  Say “Walk in the hallway” instead of “no running”, or “Use your inside voice” instead of “quiet down”. Framing things positively greatly improves the chances that others will comply with your requests.

Addressing negative behavior: Selective ignoring, redirection to replacement behavior

Attention to positive behavior is great, but what about negative behaviors? The first line of attack for many negative behaviors should be selective ignoring. Withhold your attention and wait for the behavior to stop, then be sure to redirect them to a replacement behavior. A replacement behavior is an alternative behavior you would like to see in place of the negative behavior. Don’t forget to use labeled praise to acknowledge effective use of replacement behaviors!

Shaping Positive Behavior: the ‘Three-to-One Rule’ for giving negative feedback

When delivering negative feedback, it is common and natural to start an exchange by bringing attention to a negative behavior. This often can lead the child into a negative headspace that makes them significantly less likely to receive the constructive criticism you would like to deliver. Next time, try using labeled praise to acknowledge some positive behaviors before bringing attention to the negative behavior. Sandwich your constructive criticism with compliments, and your message will have a better chance of being received.

Reward systems: Your attention is free, the best rewards should not break the bank

When trying to motivate children to complete homework or adopt new routines, it is natural to think of monetary items as rewards for good behavior. Monetary rewards, however, are ineffective long-term motivators for several reasons. Instead, use your attention as the reward. How? Schedule shared activities as incentives for children to complete homework or other undesired tasks. Family game-time, weekly meals, or even just scheduling time to sit down and take interest in a latest hobby can all be rewarding activities that motivate your children to complete challenging tasks.

Remember: It almost always gets worse before it gets better

It is important to remember that whenever a new behavioral approach or strategy is put into place, the target behavior often gets worse before it improves. It is common for parents or teachers to prematurely abandon a new approach because they think it is making things worse, but really it just needs more time. Consistency, persistence and patience are essential.

Be proactive, recruit professional help if you think you need it

Find a structure or approach that works for you, and recruit a professional for an objective, outside perspective. There are different approaches that work for different children and parenting styles. If you feel you are hitting a wall with the approach you are taking then it is best to seek professional help. Search for a specialist, such as a Neuropsychologist or Child Psychologist who can evaluate your situation and help direct you to a well-equipped local provider for support.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about the principles discussed, they are covered in many places. I was introduced to these concepts while learning about Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), which is a powerful method for approaching disruptive, externalizing behavior. The principles discussed today are important components of the “child-directed interaction” portion of PCIT. More information about PCIT can be found at: