Originally posted June 8, 2008
I responded to the following query posted in one of our discussion forums, but wanted to highlight it here as I think a lot of parents wrestle with the same conundrum:
"I'm the mom of an exceptionally bright 4 year old who just completed Preschool. He enjoyed the socializing aspect of preschool but had to be challenged daily because he is so bright. He has been reading for a year now and currently reads and comprehends on a 1st grade level. He knows all the letters, letter sounds and can write all the letters. He sounds out words and has quite the vocabulary. He can write several words. He can count and is grasping addition. He is probably more computer savvy than me. I can't take any credit for any of this. It has all come naturally.
The issue in our household is whether to send him onto Pre K next year (he will not turn 5 until November) or to have him tested for Kindergarten. My husband thinks his little brainiac should go to Kindergarten but I, on the other hand, realize that my little Einstein is a bit immature and may benefit from another year with peers his own age."
As a family therapist and school counselor I often get this
question. My bias is generally to keep kids with their
same-aged peers, as academic development is not the only focus of
the school experience. Kids also need to develop as emotional
and social creatures, and this can be challenging if
they regularly attend school with older kids. Consider
that many parents in our area already have their kids begin K a
year late for various reasons, chief among them an apparent desire
to make their kids more competitive as they age (sports, academic
scholarships, etc.) -- though some have valid concerns about their
child's maturity or readiness for school.
Whatever the reason for their choices, consider too that girls generally mature more quickly physically and sometimes emotionally -- so a boy leaping ahead of his age-mates could have classmates a couple of years advanced in areas besides the academic. This isn't wholly negative, but it means that you'll have to contend with certain issues earlier. Your child's friends may be driving cars, considering sexuality, or experimenting with substances earlier than you may be comfortable.
As for your child's academic needs, there are wonderful programs already in place in many Illinois public schools that challenge kids who need or want additional challenges. Nobody wants your child to be bored, which can net a number of results: you might get a fidgity kid who ends up acting-out, causing observers (teachers and parents) to misname the problem, or even find that a child who is underwhelmed and understimulated ironically performs below typical grade-level expectations. These are interesting possibilities worth thoughtful exploration.
No matter your decision, remember that you are the expert on your child (though the final decision about grade assignment must be made in collaboration with your school district, based on a number of variables, including resources).
For me, while there are endless whiny days when I just wanna drop kick my offspring to the moon (or to college a little early...), I'm occasionally jealous of those parents who thought to keep their kids back a year before beginning kindergarten. Oh, you know, they get to enjoy their sidekicks at home another year, and can revel in the cozy illusion a tad longer that they can actually insulate their babies from the harsher realities of 'real life' beyond the nest.
So I'll put the question to all of you veteran parents out there, who've perhaps already faced this concern and have some kernels of wisdom to pass along. How do we capitalize on the school experience as an opportunity to best meet the academic, social and emotional needs of our children?
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.