Last year I was asked by my son’s preschool teacher on several occasions if we were planning to put him in Kindergarten for the 2020 school year. I informed her that he’s a September birthday and misses the cutoff. She kept gently asking us if we would consider having him take our district test and start school a year early.
Starting Preschool Early
He actually did preschool a year early, just because we fell into this. He went to Gymboree music and play classes, and they naturally led him to an early preschool class. We drove 30 minutes to go to class and I’d work at a coffee shop while he’d attend for two hours once a week. It was a great gig for both of us!
When I had my second that didn’t work with our schedule anymore. I couldn’t take a newborn to the shop for hours on end. And it was time to find something closer to home.
A family friend said they’d take him, even though he was two (almost three) since he was potty trained and already used to academia. He was also advanced in his letters/shapes/numbers and they were happy to have him! So we put him in school with the conundrum of whether he should be in preschool three years, or if we’d try to push him ahead a year.
His school closed (the teacher retired) and we were lucky to get accepted to a Montessori school with a huge emphasis on reading. The teachers were amazing, and just what our kid needed!
They also kept telling me they’d gladly keep him one more year, they love him! But, he learned to read so early they really wondered if an early start to elementary school was in his best interest.
Gifted Children and Early Kindergarten
He’s a smart kid. I know most parents feel their kid is gifted or special, so I’m always hesitant to label mine this way. I read a study when he was two that said almost every kid is gifted in one or more areas, and many parents assume their child is gifted all around. As a former teacher, I saw this often! Book smarts and reading skills don’t always equate to other areas. So as a parent, it’s a tricky call to make! But I have had every other adult who has met my son make comments on how gifted he seems in so many areas.
I’ve sat on this difficult decision for an entire year. I asked on Instagram what experiences others had. I was amazed to have literally thousands of responses! And not just from people who had moved ahead in a grade, but those who had been academically redshirted, or been the oldest September birthday. To say I heard a full myriad of perspectives would be an understatement! Teachers, parents, students, and academic researchers all brought many valuable points to the table.
Principals and Academic Researchers Opinions on Early Kindergarten
I ended up having a few key people have personal conversations with me that helped me learn so much! The first was a college professor who studies this very subject and is well-published in their experiences. She informed me that you can’t actually tell a child is “gifted” and should be ahead until the third grade. This blew my mind! She told me it was no easy task, but you can insist a school and district test your child at that point and move them up then which yields the best of all worlds.
Also, she shared many alarming statistics on how many kids repeat kindergarten or other subjects. And also affirmed that many kids excel in one area, but struggle in others. This may not manifest until high school or college. Not always, but it was one more data point to consider.
She also encouraged me to look into junior high advancement. Many students start too early and it’s a difficult transition. She said it’s usually easy to test children at a 6th/7th grade level for junior high and have them advance classes and even grades at that point for early graduation.
My Experience With High School Grade Advancement
I actually read all her research and suggestions and realized this is exactly what I did! I am a January birthday so went in at a standard time. But before sixth and seventh grade I took math and English tests and ended up skipping some core subjects to advance levels that better fit where I was. I could have graduated a year early with a few summer classes. My parents felt strongly I needed to do one more year of high school, even though I only went half-time.
I look back and realized I could have been ahead academically, but I see why for me personally it was the best decision. At the end of all of this it comes down to what is best at an individual level!
I took college classes. I was on the student council and had the chance to varsity letter in soccer. But what my parents hoped would happen did: I was forced to make new friends when most of mine were older. Truthfully, I burned out with high school drama this year and had a strong desire to graduate and leave for the adult world. I truly had a mix of the best of all experiences and my parents knew I needed it.
District Specialist Opinions on Early Kindergarten
I also had the academic recorder of my very large school district get in contact with me through his wife who follows me (and I’m forever grateful)! He literally studies this right where I live and helps make recommendations. We live in a huge city, we have a huge very established school district, and there are a lot of options.
After sharing our experiences, he also recommended looking into gifted programs that advance students if they are ready. He gave two schools to look into, and also affirmed a language immersion program would likely be our best choice.
He also said we could request advancement at third grade or junior high.
Plus, our district has some programs where students can start ASU in high school and graduate with associates degrees. One includes two years towards an engineering degree, which you know my husband fully supports! Oh, the options this lucky kid has!
A Principal Weighs in on Why the Decision is So Personal
The last was a principal who told me I’d probably have every teacher tell me not to do it, but she disagreed. She has two children, her son started a year early. And her daughter went on-grade, but she wishes she would have held her back. She let me know deep down you know their emotional maturity and you can foster their academic success no matter what.
I had a lot to think about. Apparently there were more options than just start now, or start next year.
I began to make it a spiritual matter. So much of your life is impacted by the time you graduate! It can change your friends, your career, your confidence, and your opportunities both during school and in your career.
Jacob and I were ready to do what was best for our son either way! All while the teachers kept reminding me he was the most advanced kid and he’s been so ready for early school. And if I’m being honest, it gives me more time to work which is certainly tempting!
And then within one week, we had two experiences that changed how I saw things.
Emotional Intelligence Considerations
He does quiet time for hours, and listens to audiobooks and plays and creates things in his room while the baby naps and I work. This particular day, he was listening to Runaway Ralph from the Mouse and the Motorcycle series. I heard an outburst of tears. I figured he’d jumped off his bed and broken a bone with the sudden tears! So I ran in the room, and I asked him if he was okay. He wiped his tears told me how sad he was that Ralph and Garth were leaving summer camp and had to say goodbye forever. I had to comfort him letting him know sometimes goodbyes happen and they are hard.
What a deep-feeling kid! And oh my, what listening comprehension!
I looked into that sensitive little soul and saw his emotions on a level I had never seen before!
Social Skills Decisions
The same week I watched him in a playgroup. He’s so good with one-on-one playdates, but this small group of boys felt so overwhelming to him that he played mostly alone. I had another moment of realizing some of my son’s personality and needs.
And as I was thinking, maybe just maybe he needs one more year of quiet learning and bonding with more social experiences, I read something that gave me my answer.
The Gift of Childhood
I used to speak often to church groups about the dangers of pornography, after the abuse I’ve experienced in my past. As I became a boy mom I instantly began to think of my responsibility to teach them, to help them, and to keep that addiction as far from their lives as possible. Years ago, when I spoke I shared the statistic that most kids are exposed by age eight. But as I read this updated study from Fight the New Drug, they shared most kids are exposed in Kindergarten.
I cried reading this! And I looked at my sweet, tender-hearted, brilliant son who is so much like his dad I can hardly believe it, it hit me. If I can give him the gift of one more year of childhood, one more year before he’s exposed to so much more of the world, that’s one of the greatest gifts I’ll ever give him.
Our Decision and What we’re doing this year
I pulled a last-minute decision that shocked me. We decided to keep him on-grade and give that gift of one more year of at-home childhood. If the world reopens, I’ll be supplementing with so many field trips and museum outings. If they don’t, we’ll continue with all the home-based learning we’ve already been working on. I know he needs supplementation, and as a former teacher, I feel qualified to add additional learning opportunities at all phases of his academic career.
He’ll still do preschool and practice learning. I plan to send a very strong reader to Kindergarten next year. Maybe at a language immersion school, and maybe we’ll look at the gifted academies in our district if we feel he needs it.
School Closures Impact
I had made this decision just before the pandemic hit and schools closed down. As I think of the online learning happening right now, I’m grateful for teachers and parents making it work! I’m also so grateful for a year to not worry about online learning. My son will get to attend his first year of school in person (fingers crossed) next year. He’ll go full-time. I will miss him immensely. But at least we will both get one more year of childhood together.
I waited for years for this special soul. And he’s truly gifted and I know he’ll excel anywhere he goes! But for now I’m going to foster more emotional and social intelligence. I’m going to soak up in the gift God gave me with this miracle baby. And as he grows, I have that deep gut mom feeling that we’ll be looking at grade advancement and early college learning before we know it.
The Cons of Not Starting Kindergarten Early
I know my son will be a little bored this year. Deep down I know he could have started this week and rocked his entire school experience!
Do I worry he’ll be bored and that may cause behavior issues? I definitely do! Most of his friends are a year older than he is. I’m sad for him to lose so many playmates when we’re able to do that again. Socially, I do think he’s totally ready and would love all day school!
Conclusion for Any Parents Making this Decision:
I am glad I spent so much time and energy researching early Kindergarten registration! Now, I know that advancement isn’t a one-time thing. It can happen later in elementary school. Kids can test out of subjects, classes, and advance a lot easier these days. And so many universities do bridge learning programs to let college classes start early.
But if my son never advances to these things, we’ll love and support him just the way he is! And I’ll know that every parent has that gift to make the best decision for their kids. And this one right now, was the best for ours.
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