How do you determine whether your child should skip a grade and on what should you base your decision?

John R. started reading when he was just three years old. As he entered kindergarten, his reading level tested out at the second grade level. After meeting with the school psychologist, his parents opted to move him right into the first grade and skip kindergarten altogether.

Sarah, John's kindergarten classmate, showed a special ability for math. At kindergarten orientation, she demonstrated that she could already do addition and subtraction, and had a clear grasp of the concept of multiplication. But her parents decided not to push Sarah a grade ahead. Instead, the school arranged for her to take math class with second graders and remain with her kindergarten peers for the majority of the school day.

If your child shows exceptional abilities in a particular subject or an overall advanced intellectual capability, you may want to consider the possibility of moving him or her ahead a grade. But while it's nice that teachers are taking note of your child's "gifts," you need to take careful consideration of what's best for your son or daughter in terms of both short-term progress and long-term plans.

Having a Holistic Approach

Moving ahead a grade was once thought to be the only way to challenge intellectually gifted children. But today's educators have a different outlook. Many are concerned with a more holistic approach to child development and point to both emotional and social maturity as important factors to consider when children skip grades.

"When a kid in kindergarten demonstrates an ability with reading or is precocious in math, of course we consider whether we should accelerate them," says Bob Ferrari, principal of the M.E. Fitzgerald School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But our feeling is that it's best to keep kids curious and creative and not push them too fast. Let them pursue their interests, but keep them with their age mates and peers."

Finding an Alternative

Developmental classrooms that combine two grades into one class are an excellent way to give the intellectually gifted child a way to deal with advanced material while remaining with children of the same age. Many teachers accommodate gifted children by grouping them into skill levels or by providing them with special projects. Some schools offer students who need more challenging work an opportunity to sit with a more advanced class when the subject matter in which the child excels is taught.

Giving Acceleration a Try

Sometimes, in spite of the school's best efforts, you may still feel that the best option is acceleration. Some learning professionals feel that gifted and talented students who accelerate are better off overall. If you have lingering questions as to whether your child has the emotional maturity to interact on a daily basis with older children, be prepared to visit the classroom for a couple of hours once they move up. Objectively watch how your child behaves with other students and the teachers. If you note that he or she is having some problems, but they don't seem severe, your child may just need a little coaching or insight into appropriate classroom behavior.

When children move into a more advanced grade, they have to face the reality that they are no longer the best in the class and may need your help in understanding and accepting this. They also need to understand that if the move doesn't work out for any reason, a move back is not a failure.

Making a Decision

When your child is first starting school, you may want to communicate with the teacher about your child's particular academic strengths, and what you have observed about his or her gifts.

Mary McDonald wanted her son Larry to sharpen his math skills when he entered kindergarten. "Larry was proud of his math capabilities but also saw numbers as a way to have fun," she says. "I wanted the teachers to help him move ahead, but I also wanted them to stimulate him in a way that retained the playfulness he had when we worked with numbers at home."

Helping Your Child Succeed in Every Grade

You are your children's best advocate and the most important support system for helping them get the best out of their school experience.

It's important to think through all the available options and exactly what you want your child to learn. If the school isn't providing the challenges you feel your child needs, try to pose some innovative solutions that could benefit other kids besides your own. Maybe a group of available parents can organize an after-school program that has a particular theme. Try involving your child in programs at local science museums, boys and/or girls clubs, or arts and craft studios.

In fact, many educators have recently pointed out that these types of outside activities may be an important developmental asset. It turns out that the logico-mathematical intelligence and linguistic intelligence, so valued by our traditional academic systems, are not the only types of "intelligence" needed for success in life. Emotional intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, and spatial intelligence are all desirable attributes that enhance our ability to comprehend and contribute to the world around us. If your child is reasonably challenged and socially well-adapted in school, you may want to look to opportunities that take place outside the traditional academic walls.