Should Your Child Skip a Grade?
by Marissa K. Lingen
Getting out was the best thing I ever did in the public school system. I skipped my junior year of high school, and I have never once regretted it– something that seems to disappoint all the people from my home town who predicted it would be “a big mistake.”
A few of my teachers suggested skipping to my parents as early as first grade. Others risked their jobs to suggest that I might be better off in a private school setting. After examining the options in the area, my parents decided that the school district I was enrolled in was the best choice, and I remained there, in my original grade.
I was an early-bloomer, both intellectually and physically. I raced through most of my classwork and got sent to the library multiple times in a given grade school class day. (A good school librarian is a gifted kid’s best friend. God bless you, Mrs. Huntley, wherever you are.) I was in the gifted program (by whatever name they were calling it that year), and did additional enrichment projects with the gifted instructor. In my spare time, I wrote countless plays and stories– even a novel when I was in sixth grade. School, in short, was much too easy.
When I got to junior high, I had a few really great teachers and the opportunity to participate in academic competitions. That was all wonderful, but it didn’t fix the problem. I was sick for a month in eighth grade and made the homework up in two days. It only took me that long because it was busy-work. Several of my teachers recognized the problem and tried to get me into classes for tenth graders as I entered ninth grade. I looked at my schedule over the years and realized that if I stayed for a senior year at my high school, I would only have one academic class that was more advanced than what I had already taken. That’s kind of a problem in an eight-period school day.
I was amazed at how much opposition my parents ran into when they decided to let me graduate a year early. Everybody seemed to know what was best for our family. (I’ve since discovered that this is amazingly common.) Even teachers I loved and respected said things like, “We could find something for you to do around here for another year.” Finding something to do is not the same thing as having room to challenge oneself. I got out, and I’m glad I did.
I’d suggest several rules for determining whether your child should skip a grade. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Does the kid want to do it? Skipping should never be something that the parents and teachers conspire to force on a student. Give your children a chance to look at the pros and cons themselves. They are, after all, the people most involved.
2) Will it solve the problem? If my parents had skipped me when I was in first grade, chances are pretty good I would have caught up quickly and been bored again. If the system is inherently not designed for your child, finding another way to school him or her might be a better solution than skipping. (Private schools, other public school districts nearby, homeschooling, and more enrichment opportunities would all be options to consider.) If, on the other hand, skipping a grade will get him or her moved on to bigger and better things, it’s probably a good idea.
3) Is your kid likely to be a lot less physically mature than his or her classmates? Is this likely to be a big problem? In any class, there are going to be kids who grow quickly and kids who grow slowly. If your family has a history of late puberty, you might want to consider whether skipping a grade would make things worse for your kid. Some kids can handle that kind of situation more easily than others, so physical changes alone shouldn’t be enough to make the decision for you.
4) Is the kid as socially mature as he or she is likely to get in this setting? Note that this does not ask whether he or she is totally socially mature. School is often hell for gifted kids, and giving them another year of hell is unlikely to help their social adjustment. Many people who are opposed to skipping site social concerns. It’s reasonable, though, to ask yourself: if my kid stayed where he was, would his social skills and social life be likely to improve or deteriorate? Either is possible.
5) Are there any family situations that might contribute to having a difficult year? It’s impossible to foresee what’s going to happen in a kid’s school year. But you want to try to time skipping so that it doesn’t seem like the source of problems, or like “just one more thing” the kid has to deal with. (Staying in a situation that makes the kid miserable could also be “just one more thing” to deal with.)
As with anything else in parenting, there are very few easy answers. I was purely confident that skipping was going to be the right thing for me, but I know my parents agonized– and now that I’m a bona fide grown-up, I understand why. However, skipping can be a positive experience under the right circumstances, and it certainly should be considered if your kid is really bright.