A major concern for many parents is their child’s intellectual and social development in school. Anxious parents may wonder if their child is well-liked by his or her peers, or if he or she is able to keep up with the daily reading requirements or the math homework. Others may be concerned with their child’s physical development- is he or she developing normally, able to throw a ball in gym class or run with the other children at recess? But few parents are prepared to learn that not only is their child able to keep up with his or her classmates, but is excelling beyond all expectations. They are the parents of a ‘gifted’ child, and must make some very difficult decisions concerning their child’s educational future. Should they continue to keep their child in a public school environment, or enroll him or her into a private school? Should they allow their child to skip a grade level? There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to allow your gifted child to skip a grade.
First of all, the one factor that should always be considered first is the wishes of the child. Being evaluated as gifted brings with it a host of concerns for the child, so any decision should wait until the child has had sufficient time to absorb this new development. Many parents who were average performers in school themselves sometimes assume that their gifted student will naturally leap at the chance of advancing a grade or two. This is not always the case, and parents should not try to unduly influence their child towards a decision that will make THEM happier than the child. A gifted child is still a child, not a trophy or the next topic of conversation at a party. Always offer options and choices- never box a child into making one decision. Whatever they decide to do, parents should always show respect for the child’s decision. A gifted child who decides against the advancement may be keenly aware of the consequences, good or bad, and has made the decision that works best for his or her own needs, not the parents’ or the teachers’ desires.
One factor to consider is social adjustment. Your child will be placed in an environment where the other children are at least a year older than he or she is. This may not seem like much difference by adult standards, but the difference in child years can be very noticeable. Evaluate your child’s overall social skills- Do they make friends easily? Do other kids look to them for leadership in class? How do they relate to older siblings or older neighborhood/church children?
Gifted students need not be exceptionally well-adjusted socially to enjoy the benefits of a skipped grade, but these qualities do help. If you honestly feel that your child may become inhibited by such placement, then present these concerns to your child and his instructors. Grade advancement has become more acceptable in recent years, but there may still be a stigma attached to the child on a peer level. He or she may never be accepted by older children as ‘normal’, but if his or her personality is strong enough to adjust, then acceptance is much more likely. Again, evaluate your child honestly- try not to read any more maturity in your child than actually exists. With any new experience of this magnitude, expect a difficult period of adjustment at first.
Another factor to consider is the child’s natural abilities and aptitudes. Many gifted students tend to excel in one academic area over another. One student may be a gifted mathemetician, but do poorly in English. Another may be an excellent writer, but cannot do math at his current level. You may have a budding artist or musician on your hands. Whatever their gifts and talents, no child is perfect. You may want to ask your child’s instructors about magnet school programs designed to encourage specific skills. You might also consider allowing the child to attend more advanced classes only in the field he or she shows the most ability. A second grader who reads at a fifth grade level, for example, might be excused to attend a reading class in the appropriate grade. They would not be advanced to that grade, but allowed to explore one or two areas of interest. If the opinion of the instructors indicate a more well-rounded student, then advancement may be the best route.
Finally, parents should consider the future goals of the child in practical terms. If a child skips a grade or two, he or she will graduate from High School at age 15 or 16 in some places. While many colleges and universities have early entry programs designed for the gifted student, these programs do not come cheap. Scholarships do help defray the costs, but parents may still find themselves unprepared financially for the shock of tuition at a good school. Any decision to advance your child at an early age will have ramifications at a later age. Once that decision has been made, then parents must stay aware of their child’s needs throughout their entire educational life. Having a gifted child can bring incredible joy and satisfaction to a parent’s life, but the decision to advance that child is one that requires careful consideration on the part of everyone involved- teachers, parents and especially the child.