Should summer-born premature children be allowed to stay back a year?

Leave a comment

premature babyA friend of mine has an August-born daughter who was born two months premature. Her daughter should have been born mid-October but was instead born mid-August. However, her daughter had to start school in the academic year in which she was born despite her corrected age being mid-October. My friend was unhappy about this from the start as she felt her daughter was emotionally unready to start school but the local authority said that there would have to be evidence of developmental delay from the GP, preschool and educational psychologist for there to be delayed entry. Therefore, my friend started her child in reception with reservations. Frustratingly, after the first term at school, my friend was told that her daughter might have to go down to half days as she was not coping very well. My friend fought this as she works so the school did not push it. Now her daughter is in her second year at school and the teacher is saying that her daughter is behind. Understandably, my friend is angry with the situation. She feels her daughter should not have been in that academic year at all and should be in the year below. Her daughter is actually reasonably high ability for a child who should have been born in October. Compared to other October-born children in reception, her daughter has good numeracy and literacy skills. It is important to highlight that my friend’s daughter spent the first couple of months in an incubator that simulated the womb so she was not experiencing the world like a full-term baby born in August.

Summer-born children are already at a disadvantage academically, so premature summer-born children are at even more of a disadvantage.

What seems to surprise many people is that month of birth affects children even when they are doing their A-levels.

Crawford, Deardon and Meghir (2010) examined the differences between the test scores of children at different ages by looking at their performance in national tests such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and university admissions. They found large differences in achievement at age 7 between children born in September and children born in August. This difference was also linear, which means that September born children performed on average better than children born just one month later in October. The difference between the oldest and youngest children in the year did reduce over time but it was still evident at 18-years-old and affected university admissions.

Therefore, imagine the greater problem for premature children like my friend’s child whose corrected age can make them 14 months younger than a full-term September-born child.

In my opinion, parents of premature summer-born children should be given the option of delaying them a year without question by the local authorities.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale on Amazon at £5.99 for the book and £2.49 for Kindle


Teaching children a second language

1 Comment

Research suggests that bilingual children have improved thinking abilities, better attention spans and self-control. It appears that being able to switch from one language to another develops the part of the brain involved in controlling our attention and emotions.

Therefore, if you are a bilingual family, it is a good idea to start teaching your children a second language straight away.
The most common method is one Person, one Language (OPOL). For instance, the dad might speak his native Dutch, while the mum speaks English. However, there are other methods such as only speaking the minority language at home. The important thing is to be consistent.

Judith offers some tips for encouraging bilingualism in children on her blog:

So should we all be teaching our children a second language from a young age?

In my opinion, this is probably very difficult unless we are a bilingual family. There is a myth that younger children are more skilled at learning a second language. A study of 17,000 British children learning French at school, found that children who learnt French from 11-years-old performed better on tests that children who had begun at 8-years-old (Stern, Burstall and Harley, 1975). Another study looked at French immersion programmes in Canada found children who learnt French at 11-years-old performed just as well or better than those who began at 5-years-old (Genesee, 1981, 1987). The immersion programmes involved teaching English-speaking children lessons entirely in French.

This relates to the problem of children coming to England from other countries being immersed in an English education system when they hardly speak any English. Some teachers believe that these children will easily pick up English but as the research shows this is not the case. Children who do not speak English as their first language will need explicit instruction and their first language should be used as a bridge to support learning of English. (Barry McLaughling, 1992).

How can I help my child with phonics?


Letters-and-sounds-fishing-game-with-ping-pong-ballsIn a recent BBC news article, Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said that children who are behind at 7-years-old are unlikely to catch up. He also pointed out that some children start school with the odds stacked against them because they lack the ability to follow instructions and have poor social skills. In my opinion, this is why preschools are so important for children especially, as some parents believe that children should not be taught letter sounds or numbers before they start school at all. Research suggests that children who enter school with a good knowledge of the alphabet and letter sounds become better readers and that it is beneficial to teach pre-schoolers phonics in a fun way (Phillips et al. 2008).

Most preschools teach letter sounds but a parent can help their child become more familiar with them at home. If you are not sure how to say the letter sounds, there are DVDs that go through letter sounds for children in a fun way. CBeebies also has a programme called ‘Alpha blocks’ which teaches letter sounds and how to blend sounds together to make word.

Children who become good readers at school often have good phonological and phonemic awareness. So what is phonological and phonemic awareness?

Children who have phonological awareness can: identify and make up rhymes; they can clap out the number of syllables in a word and they can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother.’

Children with phonemic awareness can recognise individual sounds (phonemes) in words. For example, the word ‘mat’ has three phonemes m/a/t. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.

So how can parents develop their child’s phonological and phonemic awareness? Here are some ideas:

1) Show two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. Ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning.
2) Say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’.
3) Present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.
4) Change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘m’, and ask the child what the word becomes.
5) Get your child to think of as many words as they can that rhyme with ‘fox’.
6) Get your child to clap out the syllables in a word so that they recognise how words are made up of different sounds e.g. you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.
7)Play ‘I spy’ to help your child focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words.

Children often know when they are behind and this affects their self-esteem. So don’t get frustrated with your child if they don’t get how to blend letter sounds together even after a number of attempts. Go away and think of a way to make the learning fun. Remember that children (and adults) have different learning styles. Some children are visual learners and take things in by reading and looking at pictures, some children are auditory learners and learn through listening, and some children are kinaesthetic learners and learn through movement. Kinaesthetic learners may only get phonics, if they learn it in other ways than on paper.

Here are some ideas to make phonics learning creative and fun:

1) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Get a children’s golf club and ball. Your child then has to hit the ball onto a letter, say the letter sound and think of a word beginning with it to score.

2) Chalk out words on your garden patio. When you say a word, your child has to kick a football onto the word/hop to it/throw a disc onto it/hit a tennis ball onto it/skip to it etc.

3) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Show your child pictures of certain words, your child then has to think of the letter sound the word begins with and spray out the letter with a water gun.

4) Put lots of foam letter sounds or words in the bath and get your child to find them as you say them.

5) Put white stickers on Duplo with different letters on and put the Duplo together to make different words.

6) Make letters and words out of play dough.

7) Make biscuits in the shape of letters and form words with them.

8) Write letters on ping-pong balls and place them in a water play basin. Get your child to bat certain letters across the water or pick them up with a water jug.

Some of these ideas come from a blog ‘Train up a child’, which I really recommend.

So should parents be pushing their child to read as early as possible?

Research suggests that children who are taught to read early do not have an advantage (Sharp, 2002). Children in some countries do not start formal learning until 7-years-old but it does not seem to be a disadvantage. However, these children have been taught reading skills such as a good understanding of letter sounds and rhymes at kindergarten so they are ready to read when they start school. This research suggests that there is no need to push a child to read early. On the other hand, if your child is interested in letters and blending them together then don’t hold them back. Every child is different. All parents need to remember, is to keep learning fun. So don’t push your child to do anything they don’t want to do and make sure your child is in the right mood.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.


Should drugs be the first line of treatment for ADHD?


English: A child not paying attention in class.

English: A child not paying attention in class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a mother was questioning whether drugs should be the first line of treatment for her daughter who had been diagnosed as having severe ADHD. The mother was reluctant to give her daughter drugs and was also surprised by the ‘severe’ diagnosis.
Many doctors can be too quick to give out drugs for disorders despite their side effects and it is important for parents to discuss alternative treatments.
Drugs can reduce the symptoms of ADHD such as impulsiveness and distractibility but they can’t cure it. Side effects include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and stomach upsets and not much is known about the long-term impact of the drugs on the developing brain. ADHD drugs can also make children listless and withdrawn.
Parents can ask their doctor whether it is possible for their child to have cognitive behavioural therapy instead. This works by getting the child to understanding how their thoughts and feelings are linked to their behaviour. They are also taught how to change their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
It can be difficult to manage the behaviour of a child with ADHD so parents often benefit from attending a course that teaches discipline techniques. Some parents may feel reluctant to attend a parenting course but it is worth trying first before giving a child drugs. Such courses can really improve communication and relationships within the family.
Other treatments for ADHD include social skills training and family therapy. Social skills training works by teaching children appropriate responses to different social situations. They are also taught how to deal with their thoughts and emotions so that they can modify their responses to other people. Family therapy involves looking at whether communication patterns and relationships within the family are contributing to a child’s ADHD symptoms. Parents have to be willing to accept that their behaviour might be affecting their child’s behaviour for the therapy to work.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.


Is ADHD really on the rise?

Identifying dyslexia in children and getting help



Visual-dyslexia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies suggest that identifying dyslexia early and getting help is important as 95% of children can benefit from intervention programmes. The British Dyslexia Association ( recommends that if you think your child had dyslexia then it is better to get them assessed as soon as possible by an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Dyslexia Teacher qualified to carry out the assessments. Some schools may be resistant to getting a diagnosis as it costs money. However, as a diagnosis will allow your child to get the support needed, it is probably best to go ahead with the assessments. Allowing the problem to continue may harm your child’s self-esteem as they continue having problems with reading and writing. Also research suggests that children who are poor readers at 6 years old find it difficult to catch up with other children (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). So what are the signs of dyslexia and what can a parent do?

If there is a history of dyslexia in your family then there is an increased risk that your child will develop it. Early signs of dyslexia are: problems speaking clearly, no interest in letters or words, difficulty with motor tasks such as getting dressed, catching a ball or fastening buttons and confusing directional words such as left/right and up/down.

The most effective intervention programmes in schools seems to focus on phonological awareness. Children with poor phonological awareness may not understand that if you change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘h’, the word would become ‘hat’.

Parents can teach letter sounds at home. For example, they can teach that the letter ‘c’ is pronounced as it sounds at the beginning of the word ‘cat’ rather than ‘see’ and that ‘k’ and ‘ck’ have the same sound. There is an excellent DVD made by the BBC, where all the different synthetic phonics sounds are presented. I bought the DVD on Amazon very cheaply for my son and it came with a workbook and poster of the different sounds.

You can also practice phoneme deletion with your children using word and picture cards. For example, you might have two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. You could then ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning. Another technique is phoneme identification. You might say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’. Phoneme discrimination helps your child to really listen to speech sounds. This is where you present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.

Parents can also play word games such as ‘I spy’ to focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words or rhyming games such as how many words rhyme with ‘fox’. Getting children to clap out the syllables in a word also helps children to recognise how words are made up of different sounds so for example you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.

One study used a 14 week home- and computer-based training in phonemic awareness and letter-sound relationships with children who were genetically at risk of dyslexia.  Initially, the trained at-risk children kept up with untrained not-at-risk controls in reading ability. However, once the children started school, the trained at-risk children had delayed reading relative to the not-at-risk control children. This study shows the importance of support at school as well as at home and how the advantages of early intervention can be undone unless on-going help is provided. Therefore, it is important that parents push for support at school whilst continuing their efforts at home.

The good news is that schools are becoming more aware about how to support children with dyslexia and so if your child is identified as having dyslexia, they should get the help necessary.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.