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Early Entry into Kindergarten for Gifted Children

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Arguments Against

  1. Social and Emotional Maturity
    One of the most common arguments against early entry into kindergarten is that a four-year-old is not mature enough to start school. A kindergartner is expected to be able to pay attention to the teacher, follow directions, and obey rules, all of which requires a degree of maturity. Kindergartners are expected to sit and listen to stories, stay focused on a task, and understand the difference between work and play and know when each is appropriate. Social immaturity can make it difficult for a child to interact appropriately with other children.

  2. Physical Maturity
    Another argument against early admission to kindergarten is that a child may not be physically ready for school. Physical readiness includes gross and fine motor skill development as well as physical size. If a child starts school early, he or she may not have the fine motor skills to be able hold a pencil properly and write well. In addition, children who start school early and are smaller than the other children may encounter social problems, including teasing by the other children.

  3. Impact on Adolescence
    Several other arguments against early entrance revolve around the effects that that early admission will have on a child's life in high school. A child who starts school early will be the last to be eligible to drive and will not be mature enough when his or her classmates are dating. This can make a child feel like an outcast and a misfit. In addition, a child who starts school early may be unable to participate in sports due to small physical size. When other teens are going to camp or participating in other summer programs, a child who started school early may not meet age requirements and will not be able to attend or participate.

Arguments For

  1. Social and Emotional Maturity
    Gifted children may be socially and emotionally mature enough to start school early. They often prefer the company of older children and frequently have fewer behavior problems when their classmates are older than they are.

  2. Physical Maturity
    Because of their asynchronous development, gifted children's physical development may lag behind their emotional and intellectual development. Waiting for their physical development to catch up can cause problems for them academically and socially. Also, gifted children are notorious for their poor handwriting. They can think faster than they write, which causes them to scribble things down as quickly as they can. That does not lead to neat handwriting. Waiting another year will not solve this problem. As for children's physical size, there is no guarantee that waiting an extra year will make the child grow any faster. Holding a child back an extra year might allow him to start out the same size as the older children, but they may outgrow him in a couple of years. (It's interesting to note that we don't grade skip a child who is big for his age even though his size can lead to teasing. In that case, the importance of academic needs is understood.)

  3. Impact on Adolescence
    Children, even the non-gifted ones, mature at different rates. A child who is the same age as his classmates may not be socially or emotionally mature enough to date. There is no way to know for sure if a child who starts early is any more or less ready than children who are a year older. As for driving, that is a parent's decision to make. Not all 16-year-olds drive, regardless of when they started school. Not all gifted children are interested in sports either, so making a decision for grade placement based on a possible future desire is not necessarily valid. Some sports, too, are not affected by physical size, track, for example.

Resolution

No easy resolution exists for this problem. The decision to put a child in school early is an agonizing one. Parents worry about which option will allow their child to fit in best with the other children. Unfortunately, neither is likely to be a perfect fit. If a child is not ready for school socially or emotionally, it can be difficult for the child to adjust. However, waiting that extra year can make the academic environment unbearable. In addition, even if a highly gifted child is socially, emotionally, and academically ready to start school early, the pace and depth of instruction still may be too slow and shallow.

No answer is right for all gifted children. Parents need to consider their child's emotional and social maturity, but they need to consider it in terms of the child's chronological age. A gifted four-year-old may think like a six or seven-year-old, but have the emotions and social skills of a five year old. This can make them look too immature for school, when in fact they would fit in with the other five-year-olds, at least emotionally. Intellectually, they would still be ahead.

How far ahead a gifted child is should also be considered. The more gifted a child is, the better off the child will be starting school early. In fact, the child might have to be advanced again at some point. Each year the child's progress should be monitored and placement reassessed.

One of the most important things for parents to understand is that the evidence for early entry and other types of acceleration of gifted children is overwhelmingly positive. (See A Nation Deceived.) Virtually no evidence supports holding a highly gifted child back -- if he or she is socially and emotionally ready. As Shakespeare would say, though, "There's the rub." Determining whether a child is socially and emotionally ready is not always easy. Parents can talk with their child's preschool teacher and with their child's pediatrician for help with this evaluation.
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