Many parents each school year are faced with the decision of whether or not grade skipping, or acceleration, is the right move for their academically advanced child. As the parent of a now Tenth Grader, who skipped the Third Grade, I can relate. When the school approached us about their opinion that the best course of action for my daughter was to skip a grade, the decision to follow through with it was more difficult than I expected. When grade skipping is being considered by the school and parents of the child, the school understandably wants a decision as quickly as possible. If you find yourself in this position, and need some insight fast, please read further.
IMMEDIATE BENEFITS OF GRADE SKIPPING
There are definitely some immediate benefits to grade skipping. The most prevalent of those being, that the child is now academically challenged and stimulated by their school work. For those with a child who is bored stiff in a class where every bit of material presented is material that the child has long ago mastered, they know what it’s like to watch their child lose interest in school, perhaps making statements full of frustration such as, “I don’t even have to think in there!”, as my daughter did in First Grade. While parents who do not face this situation may find it hard to see why this situation really needs some kind of resolution, those who do, understand clearly that to leave things exactly as they are may potentially cause their child to eventually lose all interest in school and learning. Once a child is skipped up, as in our case, it often becomes quite apparent to everyone that the child feels much more comfortable in this more challenging academic setting.
Contrary to what many might think, when a child is first skipped up in the early grades, their social interactions with others may actually improve quite a bit. This seems to be, at least in part, due to the fact that the child is now spending more time with children who are a bit older, and usually, a bit more mature than the students who filled the class of the child’s previous grade. Academically advanced children are often a bit mature for their ages as well. Not always, but often. They may find social interactions with most children of their own age somewhat difficult, because the behavior that is very typical or “normal” for children their own ages, often comes across to the academically advanced, or gifted child, as babyish or even mean. When that same child is placed in a setting where they are able to interact for several hours every day with children closer to their own maturity level, they may very well be happier, feeling that they fit in better with this new group.
POSSIBLE LONG TERM EFFECTS
Although the effects of grade skipping really do often appear to have some strong benefits for the child throughout their elementary years, once that child enters middle and high school, things change. It’s not that the child is an immediate outcast once they transfer to middle school, in fact their academic performance and social life may actually continue to flourish, as in our daughter’s case. However, it became obvious rather quickly, that there were certain dynamics of having a child who had skipped a grade now enter middle school, that had me seriously wondering if I had made the right decision all those years before.
If you have a child who skips a grade in elementary school, and you live in a community where the school setup includes middle school, rather than junior high school, that means that your child will be leaving the elementary school setting at the age of ten. Yes, ten. This is because middle school begins with Sixth Grade, rather than the Seventh Grade that junior high starts with. So, this is something you must consider thoughtfully. Do you feel it will be the best situation for your child, at the still pretty tender age of ten, to enter a middle school atmosphere, one that includes changing clothes and showering for P.E. class, children who now have boyfriend/girlfriend type relationships, and unfortunately, many children who are beginning to abuse drugs and alcohol? Not to mention kids who are now, because they are all one to three years older than your child, well into their puberty transformation, making them not only physically more mature, but sometimes downright huge? Our daughter was significantly smaller than 98% of her schoolmates until her Ninth Grade year! And although many people thought of her as “cute”, at fourteen, that was the last thing she wanted. On the other hand, the boys she was going to school with were much older than her, so the fact that she hadn’t exactly “blossomed” yet was fine with me, but it really bothered her for a long time. She didn’t get treated bad because of it, but it did affect her self esteem.
It seems relevant to add a note here specifically intended for parents who are considering having their son skip a grade. Since boys have so much to deal with in terms of the competitiveness of other boys, does it really serve your son’s best interest to place him in a situation that will eventually mean he is the smallest guy in middle school, and possibly even for the first year or two of high school? Think about how that will affect his self esteem before making your decision. Perhaps your son is uncommonly tall or well built for his age, and in that case, you may not have to spend as much time considering this aspect of grade skipping. But if he’s not, or if he’s even small for his age, he may be far better off with a educational change that does not involve grade skipping. You have to consider what life will be like for him not just tomorrow, but in high school, as well. If he feels seriously inferior in middle school and high school, the low self esteem may follow him into his adult life, which is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. You don’t want an immediate solution to defeat your long term purpose.
As children who have skipped a grade enter high school, things change even more. Kids who have skipped a grade will enter high school at the age of thirteen. The vast majority of students they now share their lives with each day are anywhere from fourteen to nineteen years old! There may be one or two other kids in school who skipped a grade somewhere down the line, but they are likely not in your child’s grade, so they’re still older. So, think about that. Do you want your thirteen year old child spending the majority of their time surrounded and influenced by young adults of this age? Remember, at these ages, most of these students will be driving, working, sexually active, and partying. You may think it isn’t “most” kids, but let me assure you, we live in a very nice community, my daughter goes to a very nice high school with kids who are generally well taken care of and whose families have above average yearly incomes. And my daughter has always been honest to tell me that she has very few friends who do not drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, among other things. And no, the group she spends the most time with is not the “Misfit” group whose members have multiple piercings and wear nothing but black (although she likes them, too!), but instead is the group made up of “preppy” girls who get good grades, work, and participate in sports such as cheer leading and basketball. Even at that, she knows a lot of students who party. So you cannot assume that your child will fall into a group that does not party, or have sex, or any of those things that make us parents so nervous. I personally don’t believe those groups even exist in most schools anymore. You have to consider this situation from a realistic viewpoint. Will your child be ready to handle this at thirteen?
In all honesty, even though my daughter is happy and doing well socially, I really believe that if I had the choice to make over again, I would not skip her up a grade. Even though she has always been mature for her age, I still think another year of maturing would have benefited her before leaving the elementary school setting. She began working at her first job at fourteen, is now wanting to buy a car at fifteen, and has an “admirer” who is seventeen. Parenting a teen is tricky enough, without trying to navigate this minefield of important decisions with the disadvantage of your child being younger than all of their peers.
Now, my husband feels totally the opposite, and is still glad we let her skip a grade. We have another daughter is who is quite mature and academically advanced, but I will fight tooth and nail to keep her from skipping a grade. You’ll just have to consider what information you have, and make the best decision you can make.