is early entrance to kindergarten a good idea?

I have written about this topic before, but thought I would address it again, this time not just as a teacher, but as the mother of a child who skipped a grade.  (Keep in mind that going to kindergarten early is a grade skip.)

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My husband is sad about our oldest child leaving for college.  Never mind the fact that our son will only be starting high school in September, and his departure is four years away; my husband is sad.  (I am fine, so far.  Talk to me in four years.  When I think about it, however, I think it will be when my baby leaves for college that I will fall apart.  At present, my baby is ten years old, so my breakdown is a ways off.)

“I really wish we had thought about this more carefully when we let him skip first grade,” my husband says, with a tinge of anguish and regret in his voice.

“I’m pretty sure we did the right thing,” I reply.  “He was miserable in kindergarten.  He moved to second grade and then he was happy, and he has been appropriately challenged ever since.  If he had stayed in his grade, he would have been bored and unhappy.”

“Do you mean to say that the school wouldn’t have been able to challenge him at his level?”

“Well, yes.  It’s much easier for them to let a kid take a class a year ahead, rather than two.  He has been taking 9th grade math as an 8th grader, when really he is supposed to only be in 7th.”

“I don’t know that you’re right,” my husband says.  “I just wish we had more time with him.”

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Our older son is probably gifted.  I knew back when he was two that I should start thinking about early entrance to kindergarten.  When he was two, he knew all the basic shapes and was working on figuring out the difference between an octagon and a hectagon.  He knew all the letters of the alphabet, capital and lowercase, in any order, and could name the numbers from 0-31 in any order.  He was also very articulate, with a huge vocabulary.  By the time he was three, he knew all the letter sounds, and he could read at four.  Before kindergarten he was reading the Magic Treehouse books, and devouring them one by one, in about 45 minutes each.

He has a September birthday, and would miss the cutoff of being five by September 1 by a few weeks.  I started to agonize over whether or not I should try to get him into kindergarten early.  I went to school fairs, I talked to teachers and principals, I read things online….and got a lot of mixed messages.  The reflexive response of the teachers and principals was to say NO.  They all thought that early entrance to kindergarten was a bad idea.  I know (especially now, with years of experience under my belt) that there are tons of parents out there who think their kid is really smart or even gifted, and should go to K early, and a lot of them are wrong.  What irritated me no end was that none of the school personnel I talked to would even admit the possible existence of actually gifted preschoolers who really were ready for K.

Hoagie’s Gifted and other websites, on the other hand, do support grade-skipping and early entrance when it is warranted.  You can read what Hoagie’s has to say here.  I finally decided to wait.  He was in a wonderful Montessori preschool with an incredible teacher who was able to keep him challenged.  He stayed, and did the kindergarten curriculum with the kindergartners in his class.

When he started actual kindergarten, the teacher didn’t know what to do with him.  She’d never had a student like him before.  It was a rough year.  The next fall, in a 1st and 2nd grade combined classroom, the teachers said to my seven year old at our parent teacher conference, “would you like to be a 2nd grader?”  That was it; they never even talked to me about it!  But, lucky for them, I was relieved.  My son also thought it was a great idea, so that day in October he became a 2nd grader, after one month of 1st grade.  I have always been happy that it was the school that skipped him, rather than pressure from me before kindergarten, which would always have made me wonder if I’d done the right thing.

It has gone well ever since.  There was, however, a time in 3rd grade when he kept getting sent to the principal’s office for fighting at recess, which was quite unlike him.  I finally realized it was directly related to his grade skip.  He was a 8 year old 3rd grader, in a class with both 3rd and 4th grade, with some 4th grade boys who were 10 (their parents had held them back).  The 9, 10 and 11 year olds were more mature, and could handle squabbles or unfair behavior on the playground, but my 8 year old just couldn’t.  Lucky for us, that was really the only time that his social immaturity was an issue.

Now he is heading off to high school, where he will be taking mostly honors and AP classes, and he is both excited and ready.

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So here are some things to keep in mind if you are thinking about putting your child into kindergarten a year early.

  • You will get one less year with your sweet child at home with you.
  • Early entrance to kindergarten is best for gifted kids, not the average smart kid.
  • If you wait, you can see if the school will challenge your child, and if not, you can always request a grade skip.  (I know, some schools are better about this than others.)
  • Social immaturity may raise its ugly head at different times after a grade skip.  For some kids, it is a recurring problem.  Your child must be mature and socially skillful in addition to being ahead academically.  You might still have problems.
  • Your child will be with older children (or teenagers) and will be exposed to certain things (swear words, peer pressure, etc.) a year earlier than kids who stay with their grade, all through his/her education.

I hope this has been helpful to those parents out there who are grappling with this issue now.

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