When parents (or community that involves both the parents and teacher) realize that their child is struggling to keep up academically with their peers in school and would benefit from the opportunity to repeat a grade, they oftentimes hold the child back for their own good. It’s not easy and certainly has its pros and cons, but they usually do it because it is in the child’s best interest. What if the situation was at the other end of the spectrum and your child was having difficulty actually staying at the class pace? What if he/she always seems to have already internalized what was being taught and was constantly ready and eager to learn more? Would you be willing to consider skipping a grade to keep him/her engaged? Would that be in his/her best interest?
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SKIPPING THE GRADE: BENEFIT OR DETRIMENT?
Before I go any further, let’s just get this out there in the open right now. There is NOT going to be a cookie cutter answer to this one. Every situation is different. Every student, every family, every educational environment, every social situation, etc. ~ all different. There are a lot of factors that would go into a decision like this. The reason I am sharing our story is because I know there has to be someone out there who could benefit from knowing what we faced and why we did what we did. Perhaps this will help them decide whether or not skipping the grade would be in their own child’s best interest.
The Negative Comments
There are going to be a lot of naysayers out there who will argue points such as social readiness and maturity. Is the child emotionally ready to be thrust into a group of people who are older, taller, perhaps more physically developed? Will they be able to handle both the social differences and the academic challenges at the same time? What about bullying? Will this create a situation that is actually more detrimental than beneficial? Again, it is all dependent upon an extensive list of variables. These are valid questions for sure, but they are not going to have the same answers for every student.
We certainly faced the criticism. We unfortunately know the conversation all too well. “He’s going to get depressed. He’s not going to fit in. What happens when others can drive and he can’t? What about puberty? How he is going to face that when his classmates are going through it and he still has his baby voice? ” Oh, my goodness, people! The list goes on and on. My head hurts from everybody trying to parent us in this situation.
For our family, this was a necessary challenge we had to face. We didn’t take it lightly and we certainly didn’t do it to thrust our son into some sort of spotlight. He had shown, since infancy, that he was born out of time and, to be honest, we were students right along with our firstborn, so we needed to learn what was best for him.
Even as an infant, our oldest son would sit in his stroller so upright and attentive that people thought he was six months older than he actually was. He crawled early, walked early, got his teeth early, read early…you name it, he surpassed nearly every developmental milestone before its time. No, that in itself doesn’t say “genius,” but it does show that he was determined and wanted to take the next step (or ten).
I have been fortunate enough to stay at home with our children. When our oldest was able to hold a crayon without eating it, we let him draw and create. We worked with blocks, sang educational songs and practiced his writing skills early. I did this with him as fun with no structure (though he craved structure with every fiber of his being). We would just take five to fifteen to thirty minute blocks scattered throughout the day and work on these things. In the car, we sang our own unique songs about the days of the week, months of the year and even the seven continents. He started his education very early. So, by the time he reached school age, he was already showing signs of needing to be challenged.
He entered preschool and, obviously, there was not a lot of tremendous academic growth going on there. It’s more about the social aspect at that age and he certainly needed that. No arguments there!! He had a little brother at home, but they were not peers yet and could not communicate on par with each other. At school, he was learning how to interact and work with others. However, even then, we noticed that he was still a little different than the other kids. We chalked it up to being “three.”
By kindergarten, we had moved (we did that a lot with my hubby’s career) and were faced with a new school situation. We chose a private school at that point and, like most at this grade level, the school required an entrance test to make sure he was ready. He blew the test out of the water and they were very interested in immediately bumping him to first grade. At that point, I was the one who wasn’t ready. It would mean losing my baby all day long. I was pregnant with baby number three, extremely emotional and still feeling the pangs of having moved yet again. Perhaps it was an emotional decision on my part, but it just wasn’t time. We consciously chose to keep him in half day kindergarten at that point.
Within a few weeks, however, he was begging me to homeschool him. His teacher was even trying to supplement his learning, but he was already growing bored and getting antsy. That made me nervous because I was that way in school. If I grew bored, I was in everybody else’s business and had to be a “teacher” to my peers. Not a good thing ~ not at all.
PERSONAL SIDE NOTE: When I was in fifth grade, my teacher knew I needed something to keep me occupied. Besides having me placed in a gifted program with many of my friends, my teacher took it upon herself to teach me how to type. I LOVED it! I typed dittos (yes, I just dated myself) and more. Before long, the other kids wanted to learn and more typewriters were brought into the classroom. It worked for me and, because it was such a success among others, she continued to do this all the way until her retirement (to my knowledge). Mrs. Rose Carley has since passed away, but she will forever be my favorite teacher!
A Difficult Decision
We made a command decision, with the support and encouragement of the school, to pull our son and begin homeschooling. To be honest, it ended up being a tremendous blessing in disguise because I had been experiencing a very difficult pregnancy this go round and ultimately ended up on three months of bed rest. Driving him to school and picking him up every day was not going to be possible.
We also made the decision to bump him immediately. There was no reason to reteach him everything he had been taught and create an environment where he would act out his frustration and boredom at home. So, we bumped to first grade and he loved it. If there was a gap, I taught him through the gap. He learned it very quickly. It was a huge success.
And then his youngest brother was born….
We faced many health challenges with our youngest and it came to a point where we had to place our oldest back in the brick and mortar school system. LET ME BE CLEAR!! I am not against brick and mortar schools. I am not against homeschooling. You will not find me promoting private or public education over the other. I certainly can find reasons why a particular educational system is not deemed worthy or efficient. Nonetheless, I will not generalize my feelings regarding any educational system.
That being said….
We placed our oldest back in another private school. The problem was that they refused to allow him to bump and insisted he stay with his peers. We had a long talk as a family. Even at his young age, he understood the reasoning and took it on as a personal challenge….and he certainly faced a handful of them. He himself had just been diagnosed with a neurologic condition that had its good days and its bad days. Teachers didn’t understand the condition all that well and it created a little bit of a fuss at times. But he trudged on…because that is what he does. He sees a mountain and wants to climb it. So, he mastered first grade all over again.
At one point, my mother had a friend who was a guidance counselor in a local high school. She was interested in testing our son to see where he fell. We allowed her to do so in our home at 4 PM in the afternoon after a long day of school. He scored just a point or two below genius level. We had no idea what to do with that information. The school didn’t accept it as credible (even though it was a standard test). So, we tucked it away in our memory box, keeping it only for our own knowledge.
Time Brings Change
The years went by and we had yet another move. This was where life got even more interesting. We placed him once again in another private school ~ which was what he needed for various reasons. There, it became even more evident that his vocabulary did not match his peers. He was incessantly correcting teachers and insistent on being one himself. His reading and math skills were well above grade level and his math skills even off the charts. He had his shortcomings, such as creative writing at the time (he lacked an ability to imagine at that point and saw things very practically and black & white), but there was still obviously something that was not allowing him to thrive socially or feel challenged academically.
There was a gifted program in the school and they tried that. He enjoyed being with those kids, who were actually all a grade higher than he was. I had a friend ask me to have him evaluated for Asperger’s, but his pediatrician didn’t think that was what we were dealing with here. Others felt he had a behavioral problem, but I was his mother. I knew him better than anyone and this was not a behavioral problem. His third grade teacher was growing more and more frustrated as she had a hard time controlling him in class. We began to notice that we had hit a breaking point. Something had to change. So, as there was no room in the grade level above him, we decided to pull him out and homeschool him again.
Just as we were about to order curriculum and get his classroom all set up, the school called and said there was an opening due to a child moving away. They invited us to consider allowing him to bump. This was a welcomed invitation. However, at the same time, this was going to be a tough grade to bump halfway through the year. The kids in fourth grade already saw him as a third grader and already knew him to be the kid who liked to answer everything.
We had a very long talk as a family ~ our son, my husband and I. We discussed numerous challenges he could face, all the possible benefits being made available to him and how he would handle the obstacles that lie ahead. My husband and I created various scenarios to see how he would react, so that he had at least some kind of reference if and when it happened. We talked about physical changes, emotional differences, etc. We encouraged him in that this was a unique situation (not exclusive, but unique) and that he had an opportunity here to show he was ready.
He was all over it. He wanted it. It didn’t matter to him if anybody in the class liked him (though I admit I was concerned). To him, he knew the teacher believed in him (she was also the gifted program director) and he wanted the opportunity to grow. He had personal goals at such a young age and now had the opportunity to attain them.
From That Point On
That was the just the beginning. He took on that challenge and mastered it ~ yes, facing bullying, ridicule, competition and everything. He wanted this and he grabbed it. For the rest of his education, he continued on that path, taking on challenges and new adventures with every step, including a few more moves. We made certain he remained well rounded and he exceeded our expectations, securing leadership roles in community service groups and student government. Today, he is in the college of his choice and still taking on things that are technically out of his reach.
All in the Family
Our other two have followed a similar, but much easier path. They, too, showed the same determination, skill sets, ability to learn and maturity beyond their years. The only difference was that we bumped them earlier, bumping both them from first to second immediately. We also bumped them through homeschooling and were fortunate enough to find school systems in each of our locations (again, we moved a lot) that were accepting and respectful of their academic growth and placement.
For us, this worked. Our boys needed the bump because they were not being challenged enough and their educational environments were fraught with frustration and boredom. As their ever-so-involved parents, we made a huge decision for them,. However, we made sure they were intricately a part of the equation. Before long, they fit right in and became a part of that peer group.
In fact, it’s hard to think of them being with the kids their own actual age at this point. The college kid is where he needs to be and now among many others who have also skipped a grade, some two! Our high schooler loves how it stuns his peers when they finally figure out he is a year or two younger than they are (he doesn’t offer that information freely). Our youngest is homeschooling once again (virtual school) for health reasons. However, he floors his teachers on a regular basis with what he is able to do and knows.
Making the Decision
These were not easy decisions and we faced tremendous scrutiny at times. The boys faced social challenges and had to learn how to focus on what was truly important, which was being happy and in an environment that was conducive to their own personal learning and growth.
Some educational systems have gifted and talented programs. Some educational systems are challenging enough for their highly academic students. Sometimes, our children need us to take giant leaps of faith and make decisions like bumping them a grade in order to keep them engaged and prospering. It worked for us….and I honestly have only one regret.
My only regret is that I have willingly lost a year of my sons’ lives with me, in my arms, in my grasp, in my home, under my watchful eye. This is a struggle I face as their mother, internally, every so often. However, I don’t think I could have lived with us not having done this for them. I simply have to hope and pray that they have learned and are learning, through us and their schooling, what they need to meet life with a firm handshake and a smile, ready to be a part of the change our future desperately needs.
My Best Advice
Stay attentive. Stay alert. Be a student of your own children. Learn what makes them tick and how they learn best. Fight for them. Stand up for them. Be determined to see them thriving in an environment that best suits their needs. From there, watch them grow, flourish, develop and change the world for the better!
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