The difference between kindergarten and first grade has more to do with skills than age.

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In your parents' day, kindergarten was a pretty laid-back affair. It was mostly a year for "play-based learning," and the idea of a child being "held back" to repeat the grade might have seemed a little silly.

Not anymore. While lots of schools still have a primarily play-based curriculum and relaxed standards, more and more have implemented a more academic approach to kindergarten, not only to get young children better prepared for first grade, when reading and math really take off, but also in an effort to meet increasingly objective and consequential government standards.

As a result, the repeating-kindergarten phenomenon has become relatively commonplace. An estimated 5 percent of kindergarteners spend a second year in the class [source: Mlyniec]. Still, finding out the teacher thinks your child should be "held back" can be jarring and, for many parents, upsetting. Faced with this revelation, it can seem someone is questioning your child's mental acuity.

This is a misconception, and one that can be detrimental to the decision-making process. The recommendation to repeat the year is not a comment on your child's intelligence; it's a comment on your child's maturity. Because children develop at such different rates and the kindergarten age span can run from 4 to 6, there is a tremendous range in social, physical and cognitive development.

The most productive way to approach the topic, then, is from a neutral place. This is not about how smart your child is. It's about whether he or she is ready to make the jump to first grade.

Beyond that, though, things can get a bit confusing: Which skills is your child behind on? What kind of long-term effects, if any, can result from repeating or not repeating a grade?

When faced with the decision, the first step is to meet with your child's teacher (and principal and school psychologist, if possible) to find out exactly why the experts think another year would be productive.

In this meeting, chances are you'll be hearing a lot about frustration, disinterest and confusion ...