Early on, Sonali Pandit, director of Kumon Math and Reading Center in Bear, DE, recognized that her youngest daughter was gifted. When the preschooler started doing Kindergarten and first-grade work, Pandit met with her daughter’s current and prospective teachers.
Like many other parents of gifted children, Pandit intervened when she felt that her child was not being challenged enough. Navigating issues of grade skipping and other forms of acceleration doesn’t have to be overwhelming if parents know what questions to ask.
Types of academic acceleration fall into three main categories:
- Grade-based: shortens the number of years between K and 12
- Subject-based: allows students to advance in skills and content
- Enrichment in and outside of school
Marjorie DeBello, former superintendent of Great Valley School District in Malvern, PA, advises a team approach to determine if students should enter kindergarten or first grade early. Ideally the team would include parents, the classroom teacher, the guidance counselor and an administrator to look at the whole child, not just academic performance.
DeBello advises parents to listen to their child’s teachers and “consider the trajectory of the whole school system beyond kindergarten and what options are available to high achievers.”
To skip or not to skip
“Many parents think that grade skipping is the answer for their very young, precocious child,” says DeBello, “but this is an intervention generally deemed appropriate for very few children.”
If an advanced learner is mature for his age and prefers the company of older students, skipping a grade can be a positive experience. More challenging work tends to keep a gifted student motivated to learn, and he would graduate from high school early.
However, some gifted children struggle socially when they are not with their same-age peers. And a child who has skipped a grade will reach major milestones, like hitting puberty or driving a car, after the older students in her new class.
Ready for college?
Dan Evans, director of college counseling at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, periodically encounters students who graduate early. “The big measuring stick is the student’s maturity,” he says. “There are certain hurtles in college, namely, living alone and navigating in an environment where they are treated as adults.”
Two students Evans worked with who each skipped a grade took a gap year before enrolling in college. One traveled abroad, and the other worked for a political campaign. “Their plans really helped them get solid footing for college,” Evans says.
Options to skipping a grade
Find a program that matches your child’s and family’s needs, advises Tim Lightman, head of the lower school at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA. A gifted program in a private school generally has smaller class sizes, more individualized attention and a strong cohort of peers.
“We feel that within the context of the private school program, there are a lot of opportunities to differentiate without skipping the child ahead one year,” Lightman says.
Last year in 7th grade Pandit’s daughter fared very well, but this mom still wonders how her daughter will transition to high school at age 13.
“It’s hard to predict if skipping a grade is going to cause problems later. We just have to weigh our options and make the best decision,” says Princeton, NJ psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. “Parents want to keep their children hungry for learning and help them to become fearless learners.”
Lynda Dell is a freelance writer and experienced PA-certified early childhood educator.