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22 Mar, Wednesday
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Montreal Families

Weighing the decision to derogate

When Cheryl Monette’s looked at her then almost 4-year-old daughter Chloe, she saw a bright child who was eager to learn new things. “She was extremely social and very ahead scholastically,” Monette says. Her daughter could articulate and express her needs, stay focused for long periods of time and recognize all the letters of the alphabet. Chloe also talked about being bored in daycare.

However, Chloe was born November 24, well past the cut-off date for kindergarten registration. So that meant Chloe would need to wait another two years before starting “big school.”

Convinced her daughter would be ready for kindergarten within a year; Monette began making plans to obtain a derogation (special permission to have your child attend kindergarten even if they don’t turn 5 until after September 30).

As part of her plan, she enrolled her daughter in a preschool program. At the beginning, everything seemed to go well. Chloe got along with her peers in the class and seemed happy in school. However, Monette visited the school in December and noticed that Chloe’s artwork was not nearly as advanced as the work of others in the class. For example, instead of smooth cutouts of a snowman, her daughter’s work had jagged edges, meaning her fine motor skills were less developed.

The teacher did not seem worried, saying that Chloe would eventually develop those skills. But when Monette talked to her daughter, Chloe complained that her art was not as beautiful as the other students in the classroom. “She just believed that she was not good at art.”

So Monette re-evaluated the kindergarten plans, eventually deciding against derogation. She realized that while Chloe was academically bright, she might not have all the skills needed to really shine in kindergarten if she started early. Eventually Chloe stayed an extra year in preschool and began kindergarten when she was almost 6.

Now, with her daughter in Grade 7, Monette says she is happy with her decision. Having a child derogated means you are making the choice for your child to be one of the oldest in the class or one of the youngest. While parents worry that their child will be bored if they wait until they are almost 6 before starting kindergarten, education experts say this isn’t reason enough to seek derogation.

Tina Lavranos, principal of Gardenview Elementary School in St. Laurent, says she usually receives two or three derogation requests per year. She tells parents to take a broad look at how their child is performing, not just academically but socially and emotionally.

“A child who wants to play a lot or cries is not ready,” Lavranos says. She adds that a child can be academically prepared for kindergarten, but may not have the maturity to sit still in class or concentrate for long periods of time. A child who is derogated should also feel comfortable working with students who will be quite a bit older than they are.

Nina Howe, a psychologist and professor of Early Childhood and Education at Concordia University, says parents need to consider the long-term effects of derogation. She notes that physical and emotional differences between 5- and 6-year-old may not be so great but do become quite noticeable in later years. A derogated child will start high school before he or she is 12 and CEGEP before turning 17.

Howe recommends that parents talk to their child’s daycare teacher and other adults such as a music teacher or coach, to get their impressions on how the child deals with a structured environment and older children. She also suggests visiting schools in the area and talking to them about how they support derogated students. But mostly Howe urges parents to take their time. “It’s a decision parents need to make very carefully.”

Requesting a derogation

A child born after September 30 will normally start kindergarten when he or she is age 5, almost 6. To start a year earlier, parents must have special permission (called a derogation in Quebec) from their school board. The criteria used to evaluate if a child is ready include advanced motor skills and above average intellectual, social and emotional skills. To apply for a derogation, parents must provide their local school board with:

  • A psychological assessment by a member of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec (parents must pay the cost, which can range from $800-$1,000)
  • Long-form birth certificate
  • A letter from the parents requesting permission to start kindergarten earlier
  • A document from the daycare describing the student’s motor, intellectual, emotional and social skills as well as progress in the group

The deadline for submitting the request is usually early April but check with your school board for the exact date.

What parents should do:

  1. Put your child in preschool with older children to see if they can cope with being the youngest.
  2. Do not simply rely on IQ tests, but assess your child’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical levels of development.
  3. Visit a variety of schools and check out the kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms.
  4. Help your child be independent by showing them how to zip up their coats and tie their shoes — resist the temptation to do it for them.
  5. Ask yourself if it will create more stress in your child’s life by being the youngest in the class.
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