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Early Entry into Kindergarten for Gifted Children

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Gifted children are often ready to begin school at age four. They may be reading already or ready to read. They may be doing math problems, adding and subtracting in their heads. Although state laws require children to wait until they are at least 5 to enter kindergarten, individual schools can usually waive the requirement. Parents of pre-school age children wonder whether they should apply for a waiver and start their child in school early or wait till their child reaches the required age. Parents will sometimes agonize over the decision, especially since most schools actively discourage the practice. Is early entry into school a good idea for gifted children? To answer that question, it is helpful to look at a little of the history of education and the arguments against and for early entry.

Current Status

History

In the 1800s, most children attended school in a one-room school house. One teacher was responsible for teaching 30 to 40 students, from the youngest to the oldest. Sometimes, the teacher taught the older, more advanced students, while these students in turn taught the younger ones. Students were expected to learn certain skills and facts (grade levels) and as they learned them, they moved on to the next skill or next set of facts that needed to be learned.

As laws were passed requiring students to attend school, schools became overcrowded. New and bigger schools had to be built, schools with more than one room. Students had to be divided somehow for placement into the different rooms and the decision was made to divide them by age.

In general, the decision to use age as the basis for separating children into different classrooms was a valid one. After all, children at different ages tend to have different needs. Initially, though, classrooms were multi-age classrooms, with grades 1 through 3 being together and grades 4 through 8 being together. Students were still generally able to move up as they mastered skills and concepts. Eventually, the number of students grew to the point where students were separated by age and placed into individual grade levels. It became much more difficult for children who have mastered the skills and knowledge to move to the next level as it now would require a move to a new classroom.

To ensure that all students had the best chance to succeed, minimum age requirements were set for entry into school. Since most children were considered ready for school by age 6 (kindergarten by 5), that became the minimum age. This age requirement was not made with gifted children in mind. Parents of gifted children may think their children are ready for school early, but worry about them being in a class full of older children and wonder what will happen later. They ask whether early entry into school is a good idea for their children.
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