What happens in Kindergarten? What do I do with this kid?
June 26, 2016 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Kid is four and a half but already finished kindergarten standards through lazy homeschooling. She can't go to kindergarten until next year. Preschool sucks. I have worries. Can you answer my question about what happens to kids like this in kindergarten and whether or not we've got the right plan?

The other day, my kid sat down and start working on a workbook that was labelled for first grade. Got curious, looked it up, and yup, she's mastered all the kindergarten common core standards. So what does that mean?

Because of when her birthday is, my kid can't go to kindergarten in the fall. But if we continue at this rate - and please keep in mind, I am facilitating but NOT forcing this learning - I'm pretty sure she's going to be further along by the time we get to real K in a year and a half.

My plan had been just go along with her and meet her needs and worry about school when it happens, but should I change this plan?

What happens when this kid starts kindergarten at five and a half but is working on a second grade level in at least some areas?

Can a kindergarten teacher differentiate the instruction this much?

Will she get more of the "kids that young don't do that?" that she's super sensitive to?

Will she find other kids working at the same level, or will they make her sit through things she mastered years ago?

Am I making it all up? I don't think she's unusually bright. But I don't know a lot of four year olds.

Should I call the school district and ask what they're going to do with her? Or is there something else I should ask? I don't want her retaliated against for having an annoying special snowflake parent.

I've missed early enrollment for this year - it was in February - and I don't really want her to go in the fall anyway. Am I being selfish for not at least trying? Am I setting her up for bigger problems down the road?

Can we always "just skip a grade" later if we need to? That sucked for me, but then, there was no possible good answer for me.

Not teaching her isn't an option. This kid needs learning like she needs food.

We had a bad experience in preschool from the kind of teacher or curriculum that doesn't believe in kids like this one and now my kid HATES school. It would be a hard sell to convince her that kindergarten is somehow better or different. "What happens with the kid in August" is another question - my plan right now is to put her in a different branch of the same preschool to at least get different kids and different teachers, but it's still the same flawed curriculum. Kid is already unhappy about this plan but has not been able to come up with an alternative that doesn't involve me quitting my job. I'm not quitting my job.

Disclaimer: I am a professor working on a education related doctorate but I teach adults, not preschoolers. I am teaching this preschooler and am reasonably able to assess the meeting of specific goals and abilities but am not able to assess this four year old compared to any other four year old.
posted by anonymous to Education (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think go with your gut for now-- the school situation will be highly specific to your school district, so there's not enough info here to predict. Let your kid lead the process, and know that you can continue enrichment opportunities outside of school even if her school district isn't great at differentiation. (Many are.)
posted by instamatic at 6:46 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The one piece I feel that is missing from your detailed post is the social and emotional learning that a child does in kindergarten alongside and with their peers. You would be surprised at how the smartest kid in the class is sometimes the one who is emotionally immature. I work at a public, urban elementary school that has pre-K-5th grade, and the K curriculum is one that is easily differentiated. Reading is individually based (Literacy Collaborative) and there is a lot of student lead work- for example the students each write and illustrate a do it yourself book- depending on the child's level they either write a whole lot, or a very little. Sometimes the teacher acts as a scribe for children who aren't writing yet. There is a lot of choice time, and students go to specials including dance, music, art, gym, library and science. There is a whole lot more to school then just academic learning. You have lots of good questions that I think can't be answered until your child is actually in school.
posted by momochan at 6:50 PM on June 26, 2016 [52 favorites]

Isn't kindergarten mostly about social skills anyway, that can't be taught at home by a parent? I would have to imagine that your child will benefit a lot from kindergarten in ways that that Common Core standards don't acknowledge.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:50 PM on June 26, 2016 [16 favorites]

My friend's kids go to a Waldorf mixed-age school - I think the kindergarten class is for four to six year olds. A lot of emphasis is on cooperation and sharing, and my friend's daughter, who is bright and beyond her years, ended up being a teacher's helper to the other kids when she was five. I don't know if this is an option for you, but I'll throw it out there, just in case.
posted by umwhat at 6:54 PM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Friends have sent their children to private school for kindergarten to get around the age/birthday cutoff. Then they switch to public school in first grade. Maybe that's an option for you?
posted by valeries at 6:55 PM on June 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

It is not unusual for some kids in kindergarten to be at a k+2 or +3 level. Relax, kindergarten is about learning to read (better, for some) and socialize.

If your teacher does anything different with your kid, it will be to steer them to stories more at their level. But most of kindergarten is arts and crafts and socializing/play, in my experience.
posted by zippy at 7:01 PM on June 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

My oldest passed the GA Kindergarten readiness test before he was 4 (it was administered by his godmother, a teacher.) She said he was going to bored sick in kindergarten and we needed to think about how to deal with that. We decided to homeschool kindergarten, which just put him that much farther ahead, and it sort of snowballed from there into homeschooling k-12.

He graduated college magna cum laude last month.

Which is not to say homeschooling is the option for you, but it worked for us and I've seen it work for lots of other kids. Might be something to consider if it can fit into your life.
posted by COD at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2016

This kid needs learning like she needs food.

I would encourage other types of learning to foster creativity, flexibility, critical thinking (you know, as much as a 4 year old can); maybe learning an instrument, art, building with pattern blocks, imaginative play, things beyond the common core/school curriculum. We loved our preschool that was "learning through play"/reggio based if that is an option somewhere close to you, I would recommend it.
posted by rozee at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Our school district does an assessment for any child going into kindergarten. Ask if yours does the same and find out if there are placement options in place for gifted children.

I started kindergarten when I was four. All the kids were older than me and I was still bored with the classes. I turned 18 during my freshman year of college. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like had my parents kept me with kids my own age or sent me to a challenging school. I don't know that there is an exact right answer for this question but I do think that it says a lot of good things about you as a parent that you are even asking it. I did learn more from independent studies than I did in class. School was for the social stuff like band and lunch. My dad always made sure to have my interests met with the right books and extra classes. He nurtured my passion for knowledge more than any class. It might be that when your child starts school doesn't matter as much as what you are already doing and will continue to do.
posted by myselfasme at 7:05 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing kindergarten is more about social skills than book learning. She will likely sit through stuff she's already learned. I'd keep teaching her at home as you do. You can contact the school district about it next year and see if there's anything they can do. I wouldn't send her to kindergarten early. School is more about social development age than book age so young.
posted by Kalmya at 7:05 PM on June 26, 2016

You've focused on the wrong kind of learning. Both kindergarten and ESPECIALLY preschool are about playing and social skills. There's a huge chunk missing from your description: FRIENDS.

If you are not putting your child into situations where they can practice and hone relationship skills, then your child is not really learning much. What's childhood without friends??
posted by jbenben at 7:29 PM on June 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Social issues aside, your daughter sounds like a good fit for home schooling. Find some local FB groups on the topic and some local home schoolong co-ops and start asking questions.
posted by vignettist at 7:46 PM on June 26, 2016

Here's one child's perspective:

I was skipped forward a grade in like 2nd or 3rd grade and then the next time we moved the new school put me back a year because I wasn't emotionally mature enough to skip a grade. I felt like I was going to be a little behind emotionally no matter what grade they put me it.

We moved a lot, and when I was in schools where I was being challenged intellectually, I was a happier child.
posted by aniola at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

My husband was advanced for his age. Like, doing multiplication before kindergarten because his older sister was doing it type of advanced. He went to school as early as he could - he has a summer birthday which put him on the edge of going to school a bit earlier than other kids or a bit later. His parents couldn't wait to get him into school.

Here's the thing about lots of kids who are advanced - they'll always be advanced. He was still way ahead in learning through all of his schooling. It wouldn't have mattered if he skipped a grade or anything because he learns like a sponge (he's a self taught programmer now.)

So I agree that you should put your kid in as soon as you can, and take advantage of advanced classes and external learning if your kid wants to do it. However there's a lot of social skills needed and anecdotally I think there would have been no difference to my husband if he had skipped a grade early other than leaving friends behind.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't stress too much about this. Both of my children had classmates who were performing way above grade level at the start of K and their respective teachers were able to give these kids the work they needed to feel challenged. Or so I assuming, based on volunteering in the classroom and those children still being at the same school and in the same grade rather than skipped ahead. .

A lot of typical early childhood development happens in spurts so it can be hard to tell if a child is advanced in an extended way or just ahead at a given point in time. My observation is that in grades K through 2 there is a lot of moving around in terms of who is advanced at any given time. Some kids start K way ahead, but by the end of second grade they aren't nearly ahead as they once were. Others are slow starters and by second grade are performing at the top of the class.

In addition to helping her with social-emotional development, you might want to focus on activities that support development of her executive functioning. There is a lot of new-ish research that suggests that executive functioning is the most important attribute that separates successful kids and adults. So, work on her bodily control, perseverance despite challenges, flexibility/adaptability. These are the kinds of qualities that will help your daughter succeed for her entire life. Encouraging these strengths in her will have a much greater long-term payoff than focusing on academics at this age (at most ages, I would argue).
posted by scantee at 7:53 PM on June 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

I have three kids who have homeschooled straight through and one who went to public school from a young 5s program (he wasn't socially ready for kindergarten at kindergarten age) through part of second grade.

I wouldn't worry too much about this yet. We found that the school did a good job dealing with the wide range of skills and abilities that the kindergartners came in with. They also had what they call "good fit" groups in which all the classrooms at a certain grade level coordinated so that kids who were working at the same level were together for some of their math and reading instruction. The kids were very aware of what "reading level" they were at, and where they'd progressed in math. Our kid was really comfortable being right in the middle of the pack for these things—we used to joke that he was the modal child that the curriculum was built for—and knowing that others in the class were working at higher levels. This can be stressful for some kids, though. A similar program was for me when I was a kid. But I was impressed with the job they did targeting instruction to the widely varying abilities of the kids.

Another example: you may hear about kids keeping journals in kindergarten. For some kids, they will be writing sentences. Others will be drawing pictures and writing with invented spelling. Others will be dictating to an adult helper.

I will say that one of the top reasons our homeschool group gets new families is that a school isn't giving a gifted child the challenges she needs—one family, for instance, started homeschooling after spending a year with the daughter having to do first grade math in school, and fourth grade math on her own time. So much depends on the individual school, both its philosophy and its resources. For instanced, the well-resourced public school our youngest attended had a full-time aide in every kindergarten class, and volunteer parents at least four days a week for differentiated activities during "centers." Other schools can be very well-intentioned but simply lack the resources to do this kind of thing well.

In our experience, taking things a step at a time has been really helpful. It was obvious that school was meeting our son's needs for three years, and just as obvious when it stopped being a good fit for him in second grade. It's been similar with our homeschooled kids, who have been ready for various academic things at different ages.

It's not too soon, if you're interested, to visit your local schools, though. You've missed your window for this year, but there will very likely be kindergarten info nights for future students next spring, and this fall the schools will have curriculum nights for each grade level, where parents can come and learn about the specific curriculum being used, and ask questions. It is totally appropriate for you to attend even though your daughter won't be enrolling this coming fall. In your shoes, I might go to both the kindergarten and first grade curriculum nights, and ask questions at both about differentiated instruction, how the school meets the needs of advanced children, and so on. The school district website will very likely post the schedule for these on its website, and they usually happen during the first couple of weeks of the school year.

If you're in a district that doesn't do things like kindergarten round-up and curriculum nights, that's a bit of a bad sign.
posted by not that girl at 7:56 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would have much much much rather have gone to a more challenging school - especially a boarding school when I was older - than have skipped first and second grade. Like aniola's, my family moved a lot and I ended up repeating fifth and sixth grades. I missed out on a ton of socialization skills and never really felt like I fit in in any grade. Ironically, my parents wouldn't let me go to private or boarding schools because the schools wouldn't put me in the grade I had skipped to. I still resent this a little.
posted by bendy at 8:02 PM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kids this age need to play. That's how they learn. Lots of kids are "advanced" at a young age. In kindergarten, they learn socialization.

Are you pushing for curriculum other than playing at preschool? Why? I'd say to take a step back.

Your kid is awesome, like every other kid. Some kids can already play violin in kindergarten. Some can dance. Some can use scissors properly. So your kid goes to kindergarten and learns how to get along in a classroom with other kids.

There are real disadvantages to being the youngest in the class. Plus parents are more likely to hold their kids back a year these days (because being bigger/older can be an advantage), which means, if your kid goes to school early, they might be with kids almost two years older. That's a really big deal, even when you don't think about puberty.

We have some friends whose daughter is very bright and and also one of the youngest in her class. She does seem younger than her classmates. I'm not sure that's a good thing in middle school and up.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:40 PM on June 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would have taught myself anything I needed under any kind of laissez faire home schooling method but I'm still really glad I went through regular school as I needed to learn to get along with people*. Kindergarden and preschool are for learning how to human, not how to read.

*Also sports, I loved sports, I would have been miserable without them.
posted by fshgrl at 8:40 PM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am not sure where you are, but in some states, if you send your child to a private kindergarten, you can put them in 1st grade the year after that. You can effectively skip your child ahead by doing Kindergarten this coming year at a private school and then go into 1st grade when they would be going into Kindergarten age wise.
posted by AugustWest at 8:41 PM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ex-advanced kindergartener here. (I'm now 46.) When I went to kindergarten, I could read on a second grade level, knew all my colors and numbers, blah blah blah. I self-taught reading at four because older brother (a year ahead of me) got to do on-mom's-lap Reading Time after kindergarden every day because it was homework. I did not get to do that because that was "His Time For His Very Important School Work and you, which_chick, will find out all about it next year when you are big enough to Go To School."

Insanely jealous of brother-the-elder, I applied myself to literacy with a bloody passion at that point. Mom stopped letting me stand tiptoe behind the chair when I started shouting out the words brother-the-elder didn't know, which did nothing to decrease my zeal for the project. When our next shipment of mail-ordered reading books came, I got one and went over to the dining room table by myself and went through it. (Book was "Frog and Toad are Friends" if that helps. Not, y'know, Doctor Zhivago or something.)

When I got done, I closed the book and said "I'm finished." My mom was "Finished with what, which_chick?" "Finished reading the book." "But which_chick, you can't read. You just looked at the pictures." "No, I read it. I can read." "Okay, then, come here and show me." So I did. I got done reading the book aloud to my mother and she got all tight lipped and pissy-faced, the "you are almost in trouble but I don't want to have to hand out a beating in the grocery store" face and said "Yes. You can read." I was expecting praise about how clever I was and this reaction seemed a bit anticlimactic, almost like she was mad, but whatever. (Years later, I asked why she hadn't been happier. All the while she'd been struggling with adhd and dyslexic older brother (who now has a master's degree) regarding literacy, she'd been quite looking forward to "teaching which_chick to read" and I'd gone and done it without her. So she was vaguely pissed in a way that she could not really express to me at the time.)

I did not work real hard at disclosing my reading ability to my kindergarten teacher but along about October she sent a note home (one of many) to my mother informing her that I could read. This was not news to my mother, who thought it was funny that it took the teacher until October to figure that out.

I did not enjoy kindergarten and I don't think my kindergarten teacher enjoyed me. I engaged the teacher in discussions when the written instructions on the worksheet did not match the verbal instructions given by the teacher. "But why do we have to do that? It's not what the worksheet says IN THE INSTRUCTIONS..."

I argued with the teacher when a fellow student did the worksheet correctly ("circle the pictures that begin with "b") except in the wrong color crayon. At that time, I felt strongly that "correct initial consonant sound" was WAY more instructionally important than "using the correct color crayon". When I tried to argue the point, I was overruled with "Listening and following directions is Very Important, which_chick, and this isn't your paper anyway. Now go sit down."

I asked the teacher why we had to use big fat blue pencils (we used normal-people pencils at home) with the erasers cut off (the instructor tried to tell me that the erasers were NOT cut off when any idiot could clearly see they were because the red eraser part was leveled off at the top of the metal casing and rough, like it'd been cut and not greyish and smooth like it'd been erased away and anyway pencils without erasers have those smooth metal ends (if pricey) or plain wood-n-graphite ends (if cheap) and what did she think I was, stupid? I called her out on that. Pressed, she admitted that they'd been cut off because "it is important for us to see your mistakes before you have a chance to correct them" which was the dumbest damn explanation I had ever, at five, heard.) and on and on.

There were many, many notes sent home from kindergarten. I expect I was a trial to Ms. Moomaw, who was just trying to teach numbers and letters to larval rednecks in an overflow trailer in the Southern Fulton school district of Warfordsburg. Mrs. Moomaw, I'm sorry.

Anyway, in response to your questions, some of them...

What happens when this kid starts kindergarten at five and a half but is working on a second grade level in at least some areas? She will be bored part of the time, unless you live in a very upscale school district with thoughtful, well-funded enrichment OR if you are lucky enough to have exceptionally creative and driven teachers in your district. It is vital to note for the record that being bored part of the time will not kill your kid and is, in point of fact, a useful skill for the rest of her life. There will undoubtedly be boardroom meetings or quarterly profits meetings or symposiums or whatever that she's going to have to sit through and look interested during, so... start learning how to do that early.

Can a kindergarten teacher differentiate the instruction this much? Mine couldn't. Maybe yours will do better. There is a ton of socialization crap you have to learn in kindergarten anyway, especially if you were raised at the end of a two mile dirt road on a private estate of five hundred acres and didn't see other people that often. (I may be projecting a bit here.) Learning to take turns and wait in line and ask permission to pee and so forth is just as important as learning your colors. Learning to register-switch so that the other kids don't laugh at the way you talk is also a vital skill. Good times, there.

Will she get more of the "kids that young don't do that?" that she's super sensitive to? She may well. It's better to work on "Do what is right for YOU and don't worry about what other people think you should do" than it is to hope for a more-perfect environment surrounding your kid. You have more chance of success with the kid than with the environment. An involved and pro-active parent can also help her cope with stupid limits enforced by well-meaning but clueless school staff. Way back when, my mom went to the school and lobbied (successfully) for me to be allowed to take whatever books out of the library I wanted to take despite the fact that the library was roughly arranged as to grade-level suitability and the librarian had previously told me I could not take out books that were "too advanced" for me to read.

A valuable lesson for all folks, young and old, is that it's OK to be who you really are. Teach your kid to do what interests her, even if nobody else "her age" or "her gender" or whatever is interested in that. As a mom, support your kid's interests, whatever they are. (I am here assuming they're reasonably wholesome and not, y'know Setting Cats On Fire or something equally troubling.) Buy books, help research, get materials to pursue, make-build-do-try. It's OK if the interests are "read every single horse book that has ever been written" or "recite all the Pokemon in alphabetical order" or "learn to rewire outlets and build simple circuits" or "discover the world of clay and pottery" or "take up tap dancing"... even if they're stupid, they are HER interests, help her pursue them.

Will she find other kids working at the same level, or will they make her sit through things she mastered years ago? Depends on the size and overall demographics of the school. Sufficiently large schools in richer areas have enough high-end kids to allow for pull-out instruction at a level appropriate for these kids. If you're in a university town, perhaps college classes (eventually) might work. I went to a tiny little school in Greater Rednecklandia, town with two stoplights, 118 kids in my graduating class. I got to sit through a lot of things I mastered years previous with not a whole lot of intellectual peers. It did not kill me. (Helpful hint: you can read trashy novels in class if you hold them in the textbook. The teacher will know, but if you're unhelpfully smart enough, in exactly the right ways, they will leave you alone because it's easier.) One learns to cope.

Am I making it all up? I don't think she's unusually bright. But I don't know a lot of four year olds. If the only four year old you spend time with is yours, you may not have any idea what other four year olds do. My mom thought it was normal when my two-year-old brother said "Certainly" when the cashier asked her "Would your little boy like a lolly?" Cashier damn near dropped the lolly, which was when mom figured out that maybe he wasn't typical of two year olds.

You are probably not making it up. I'd play it by ear, but if your kid drinks in knowledge and learns without you shoving her down the path... she's probably pretty smart.

Should I call the school district and ask what they're going to do with her? Or is there something else I should ask? I don't want her retaliated against for having an annoying special snowflake parent. You can call and ask, but I wouldn't expect a whole lot of help until they meet her in person -- many parents think their own kid is wonderful and awesome and you will have difficulty convincing them otherwise until they've seen her in person. I'd wait for her to start school before getting too pressed about it. When school starts, meet your kid's teacher and (if possible) exchange contact info in a "Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about Kid." sort of way. I wouldn't tip your hand on the "my kid is really clever" front. If you haven't heard anything in a Notes Home sort of way, at parent-teacher night you can ask how kid is doing. (Your experience with Notes Sent Home or whatever they do nowadays, probably texting, may vary considerably from my mother's, especially if your kid is rather more easygoing and less willful and bloody-minded about things. Notes Sent Home is not a requirement for an exceptional child, just... there were a lot of them for me and for my two brothers.)

Gifted-talented stuff is... look. When we changed schools in fourth grade (it was 1981) they pulled me out for G&T testing and I was not interested in being so labeled or so treated, so I intentionally Did Not Excel on the testing. There was a note sent home because I "did not excel" far enough that they knew I was faking. (Turns out they will notice if you answer all the questions wrong. I was a clever eleven but not THAT clever.) Mom had a talk with me about not sandbagging the gifted and talented assessment process and told the district to give it another go once I'd been briefed. I qualified. (Did you know that when you turn 18, you can march into the guidance counselor's office and demand, as a legal adult, to see the results of your IQ testings? You can. It weirds the heck out of the counselors, too. My state did broad-based assessments in 9th and 11th grade. Counselor tried to claim that they didn't but folded when I asked what in Dog's name the Henmon Nelson Test of Mental Ability was if it wasn't a bloody IQ test.) I declined. Like, they sent home an IEP and I talked about it with mom and I was like "Meh" and so mom reported back to the school, "Well, I talked it over with which_chick and she's all meh so... no." And then the superintendent was like, "Why did you ask her? Why didn't you just tell her she had to do it?" and my mom was, "It is very, very difficult to get which_chick to do things if she is not on-board with them in the first place. She can be persuaded, but in this case she had some clear and rational objections to 'doing more of the same work and it's not any different, just... MORE.' and I honestly agree with her that that's not enrichment so much as it is burying her under an avalanche of busyworksheets. However, if you want to re-think the IEP and represent it to us, we're willing to reconsider."

Different, useful, interesting things for me to do were generated (by way of mom going, "So, you're going to have to do SOME KIND OF ENRICHMENT. What do you think would be interesting?") and I did them. I read books and wrote kind of "back-cover synopses" and designed advertisements for the books. I built a flower press and collected wildflowers through the season and looked them up in field guides and identified them and pressed them and made a book of them with things like "where collected" and "date collected" and scientific name and observations. I watched birds all winter that came to our birdfeeder and identified them and counted them and what kinds and how many and what times of day they came to the feeder. That stuff was educational and all, but also interesting TO ME while not being worksheets, because I am not a fan of worksheets.

If you go the Gifted and Talented route, note that an IEP is a negotiation. You are allowed to negotiate, to revise, to suggest, and to reshape. They give you their best guess for what your kid might do in the way of enrichment. If they're totally off the mark, brainstorm (with your kid, maybe) some alternative things that would suit. You do NOT have to accept the first IEP that comes down the pike.

So how did I turn out? I'm sort of odd, but I've always been sort of odd. I graduated from high school. I graduated from college (twice, one degree in English literature and one in industrial engineering). I have a job and friends and hobbies and I probably could have gotten married if I'd wanted that but turns out I didn't. There are many, many lives that are worse than mine. I am reasonably happy and doing Things I Find Interesting. If your kid winds up with that much, you'll have done all right. :) Good luck!
posted by which_chick at 8:43 PM on June 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

I agree w/ Zippy's answer above (regarding reading) and would add learning general number concepts beyond counting (more than/less than/equal to, the ideas of addition/subtraction).
But really the whole experience is about easing into interactions with people (adults and children) outside the family.
Nobody's going to make a big deal of her age unless you do.
posted by mdrew at 9:14 PM on June 26, 2016

which_chick just said this and I know you're in education, but I think it bears emphasis, just in case.

Once you've predigested the option or options, I think sitting down with your child to involve them in this decision-making process in an age-appropriate way cuts down on the "I would have preferred it happen this way when I was a child" moments later in life.
posted by aniola at 9:17 PM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mom of an about-to-be-second-grader. Your kid can be a huge academic achiever but honestly, it is the social and emotional component at school that seems to be on every parents' mind. My read of my kid's cohort is that the younger students have a harder time socially and the bright students sometimes have behavioral issues. YMMV of course but as a first step I'd start learning more about your local school. Then I'd look into enrichment activities (music, art, whatever) that may channel some of your child's energy and enthusiasm for learning. Then look into different preschools.
posted by k8t at 9:33 PM on June 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

In second grade, I had finished the whole year of math and the first part of third grade math. So they sent me up to finish the year in third grade. But when I moved up to third grade, they wouldn't let me go into fourth grade math. That led my parents to homeschool me for many years, and eventually, I skipped eighth grade. Then I went to high school halfway through tenth grade, when teaching myself Geometry and Chemistry wasn't going too well.

I was the last in my class to get a driver's licence. It meant I graduated college before I could drink legally. When I graduated and entered the teaching profession, I was only two years apart from some of my students. Now at 33, I have more years of experience and way more in retirement than peers of my age.

So it evens out eventually, but I definitely felt left out when everyone turned 16, then 18, then 21 and I didn't. I didn't have major social issues because I had church and homeschool and neighbourhood friends that helped make up the difference. I did miss out on a huge part of normal social cues and interactions, but that was just as much due to my parents limiting what I could read/watch/hear than homeschooling or the skipped grade.


If this were my child, I would find a Montessori or Waldorf kindergarten and share your concerns with the teacher. After that year, I'd reassess and see if moving to public school for 1st grade makes sense.

I would absolutely involve my child in the decision. I didn't get any say in what happened in my schooling - both being pulled out of school and dropped back in - and it sucked.

I would also go through how to handle being bored in school. It's something I wish ALL parents would do with their kid. Being bored is a major cause of behaviour problems in primary grades, and essentially, it's wasted time. It just depends on how many students' time is wasted (which is what happens when teachers have to deal with discipline issues). Give her books to take to school. Give her a journal. Give her a book of puzzles, or even just a colouring book. Teach her some games she can play on her own quietly. Help her make use of her boredom in school. When she's older, electronics can come into play here too. In my classroom, if students finish early, they can work on a vocabulary or typing game, read a book, do Seeker work (extra credit not really worth points) help a classmate, or do work for another class. I have kids (I did this too!) who have no homework because they used their boredom to good effect.

Good luck. This is a tough set of decisions for you and your family. I wish you all the best.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:08 PM on June 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I went into kindergarten already knowing how to read. It was awesome. During the learn to read lessons, I got to sit in a comfy chair in the play area... and read. I was offered the chance to skip first grade, and my mom declined. I think it was a mistake because it made me kinda cocky later on, because I knew I was the smartest kid in the room. There were challenges, too, though, because I just thought differently. I remember my parents were called into a conference because on a learning colors worksheet for the color black, I colored the whole page black, and the teacher was concerned for my mental health. I didn't get what the big deal was. Obviously, I colored the whole page black because it was night time. I went through the G & T program, which helped, and took all Honors classes throughout middle and high school, but I was bored, and stopped caring. I learned what I wanted to learn on my own, because I wasn't getting what I needed in school. I would have done well in a Montessori or similarly alternative school.
posted by Ruki at 10:50 PM on June 26, 2016

You've focused on the wrong kind of learning.

Arggggh! What a horrible thing to say: there is no "wrong kind of learning.” This is the sort of thing that bad teachers tell parents of high achieving kids because they would rather deal with 20 plodders than one kid who is engaged and inquisitive and challenges them by already knowing something.

Anybody here telling you about their own experience from 20 plus years ago may have interesting anecdotes and general insight, but what they have to say is woefully out of date. Yes, kindergarten used to be all about social skills and sitting around on the rug and all that, but nowadays in many places it is about learning to read and "academics” and standardized tests. In the old system a good kindergarten teacher could accommodate a bright kid by engaging with them on a different level to those who were just acclimating to the whole school thing. One of my kids was pulled out for reading, sent to first grade for math, and played elaborate games with the teacher over seemingly simple things like bringing in objects starting with a specific letter (everybody else brought in one — he went with a backpack stuffed full of weird objects). It was all charming and creative and wonderful, but ancient history as he graduated from college a couple of years ago; from what I hear from parents with kids still in the system, it just wouldn’t happen like that any more because the teachers just don’t have the time.

So much of what you are asking is school district dependent thus advice from parents in your school district will be much more relevant. Look for local mailing lists and Facebook groups for parents in your area as the people there will be the ones who have the most useful information. Details of what is available are local: for instance our elementary district now has essentially zero G&T programs (except for math, and they keep trying to get rid of that too), while yours may have extensive offerings.

So, you are not making all your concerns up; trust your gut, and meet problems when you come to them. Differentiation can happen effectively with a good teacher in the right environment, but as practiced it’s mostly a crock designed to silence demanding parents. Whether your daughter will find other kids at her level will depend largely on chance (two out of three of my kids got lucky with their peers, one less so). Policies on things like skipping vary, and can change. One of my kids was skipped and it worked well for him and at least one other kid in his class, but it was the last year they allowed skipping. The only way you can find out what’s possible is to talk to your school and to other parents.

Keep on going, keep advocating for your kid, keep teaching her and keep her love of learning alive. Good luck!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:27 PM on June 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Kindergarten is for social skills and learning to be in school. Just find her someplace she can have a reasonably good time for the next year and to kindergarten the following year. She needn't be 'accomplishing' anything except developing interests and seeing where her brain takes her.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:06 AM on June 27, 2016

I agree with everyone above who noted that kindergarten is about much more than just academic learning. My daughter is 4 and a half, and is just finishing JK (kids in Ontario start public school at age 4 in Junior Kindergarten). She is very academically ahead - she is probably the best reader in her mixed JK/SK class - but she is probably behind the average when it comes to social skills. Kindergarten has been immensely valuable to her as a place to learn how to interact with other kids (especially because she is an only child). I am not concerned about her academically, she is a bright girl who will not have trouble with traditional learning. However a lot of the focus in kindergarten has been on social and emotional development (a lot more than when I was a child). This has been hugely beneficial to her.
posted by barnoley at 5:38 AM on June 27, 2016

I like which_chick was one of those super precocious kids in elementary school. (Well and high school and at University and grad school and during a postdoc etc. etc. etc. I get called wikipedia sometimes because of random facts that come spewing out of my mouth) I once made a teacher laugh when asked about how high I could count, because I replied that I couldn't count to the end because there was always a number bigger than any number, I just might not know the name of it.

In my case I was extra lucky because my Mother was also a teacher at the school. They asked her what to do when I was reading the third and fourth grade book in kindergarten. She said that if I was happy just let me read the books. I got pulled into the enrichment program and gave my first lecture to the kids in my first grade class (About the different types of dinosaurs I was going to be a paleontologist when I was younger)

Through most of my schooling I was essentially left alone to do what I wanted. I went to class, but sometimes would wander off to go and do something else. I was trusted to be able to go to the library on my own and helped the librarian when I was bored by sorting the books, usually getting caught in one or the other for a time.

Usually at some point in the year they would do some remedial work to ensure the other kids understood the material and weren't falling behind, I usually was shuttled off somewhere else doing some enrichment project. The best one I remember was building robots using logo for lego. I built a robotic arm which would pick up a block from a conveyor belt and drop it back at the beginning, then move it to the end and do it all over again, essentially a more complicated useless machine.

I also agree with some others in that I probably wouldn't have had that experience in a school today. When my mother retired she was getting so frustrated with "time on task" and the inability of the curriculum setters to see that making green eggs and ham is a perfectly valid kindergarten science experiment. I doubt that I would have been allowed to wander to the library on my own when I had finished the lessons and the teacher was going around helping the other kids. I do think that "No Child Left Behind" unfortunately has led to "No Child Learns Extra" because so much time is spent on bringing the slow kids up to speed that the advanced kids who can pass the test even before they have the lesson are just left to pass the test to keep up the numbers.
posted by koolkat at 6:06 AM on June 27, 2016

I'll give you what I would do and then my rationale.

1. You need to get plugged into the parent/mom network in your area ASAP for a wide variety of reasons including finding equally bright playmates but also to start getting the lowdown on schools and teachers. If you're in the US this is where I think magnet schools are a boon but you need the intel.

1. a) I'm sure your child is bright but if the local cohort is an engaged middle class+ group, many of them may be doing work at that level so don't trust the number on the book cover. The curriculum is set though.

2. It's much easier to pull a child out than put them in midstream and kids are pretty resilient and also their strengths can shift a lot. My older son was decoding words for joy at 2.5, whereupon he got into numbers and didn't move to fluent reading for almost 2 years. It was baffling. He did learn long division before he could read.

So...my older kid was in Montessori, as is my youngest, up to the start of grade one. He covered most of the curriculum to grade 3 before he hit public school. It was almost a disaster; the principal was not good, ditto teachers, and my child decided school is where you go to retreat into the life of the inner self and only rarely deigned to put pencil to paper.

In grade 4, after years of tears (especially once he started to have to learn after a two year hiatus...had we not been in family illness and financial heck we'd've gone private), he went into French, got a great teacher, got a new STEM-focused principal and now he is not just doing great at grades (which are very disparate from learning for him) but is clearly on intellectual fire. We are planning the same grade one transition for my younger child who has his own cluster of uniqueness but before the school turned around it was kind of a "private or move" situation.

I'm not recommending all the bad years we had but during that time my son found a group of local friends he hangs out with, excelled at martial arts, pottery and did ok in an extracurricular math program, and it hasn't ruined him. So that's why I say give it a go. The big thing is to not freak out, but not disengaged - if it really, really isn't working you will know. French was our last experiment before eating rice & beans to go private.

It really was about the school and the teachers though and that's what parents like you will know.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:40 AM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

One idea that you may find useful (as we did): kindergarten teaches kids to be students, and to be members of a class/cohort. It also teaches them some amount of academic stuff: counting, letters, hand-writing, or how to read, depending on the program. If your child arrives knowing a lot of the academic stuff, they are spared that new work and can concentrate on the social stuff.

And then next year, kids who got a lot of academic stuff in Kindergarten are spared the effort of learning it in first grade on top of the effort required to transition to first grade (which may include no naps, longer hours, homework for the first time, etc., etc.). Again, this lets them focus on the new things, and eases their transition. Amazingly, a good early start can pay back dividends in school for years.

Will it result in boredom for a smart kid who arrives at Kindergarten well-prepared? Not if the teacher is warned, and can adjust their curriculum. (And like which_chick wrote, this varies by the town and the school and the teacher, sadly.) All four of my kids went to a small, YMCA-run Kindergarten that they had also attended for part-time Pre-K and pre-school, and the teachers made sure to push them a little harder.

When they got to the public schools for first grade, we met the principal ahead of time and just warned her (all were women!) that Incoming Child would tear a path through any class that let them sit idle...but at the same time, Child could benefit from a little extra TLC to make sure they were emotionally strong. (And when the end of the year approached and the Child got squirreley as they sensed the transition, the teachers could tell and would help us ease that anxiety.) (God bless the staff of 4CELC!)

And I also agree that a lot of Kindergarten is crafts and "centers" and recess, so your little one should be able to stretch some of the boundaries to fit in more-advanced books, and still enjoy making holiday craft project out of macaroni and paint and feathers and stuff. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:53 AM on June 27, 2016

Have you looked around for a home day care situation? When I lived in a university town I knew several highly-educated parents who provided day care for other people's children. They were much more flexible and much more open-minded than many of the local day care centers. Or you might look for a homeschooling family whose views are similar to yours who would enjoy having another kid around.

One of my kids was allowed to start kindergarten early in spite of his 10-days-over-the-line birthday. He hated it because he was bored shitless. He used to sneak out and go to his oldest brother's 5 th grade classroom. One time when his brother's class was on a field trip he walked home by himself, several blocks across big streets.

First grade started out just as bad. The teacher wanted to send him back to kindergarten because he wouldn't participate. At first she didn't believe me when I said he was probably just bored, but then she did and let him do more challenging work.
posted by mareli at 7:06 AM on June 27, 2016

I was reading before school and perpetually bored while in school. But, I don't think the boredom started until 2nd or 3rd grade. I was not socially ready to be pushed ahead and am glad I wasn't. If it were my kid, I would focus on enriching extra curricular activities no matter what you decide about school. There are programming tutorials geared towards kids, puzzle books with a logical bent, board games that are word based (Balderdash and Oxford Dilemma), other games that are more puzzle like. Having those things available to me as a kid was (or would have been) pure heaven.
posted by soelo at 8:01 AM on June 27, 2016

I've spent a lot of time observing and teaching in kindergarten (I am a substitute teacher), and I will tell you (as has been said above many times) that kids who are ahead in the work are often less patient and socially mature than you think. A good teacher will help her to learn how to interact positively with her peers, and that will be her learning for the year.

Also, I have observed that kinders who already know how to read well often don't have their fine motor skills all that developed--and so they can't write. So that becomes a focus, and they'll sometimes find they're not better than other kids at that.
posted by RedEmma at 8:08 AM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing the social issues thing, and backing it up with anecdata: I skipped kindergarten because we lived in the bush (my father was a wildlife biologist) that year. I was working ahead of my peers on academics, so they put me straight into first grade instead of having me in kindergarten. In the long run--now, in my 40s, it makes no difference whatsoever to me. In my early schooling years, however, it would have been a lot easier on me if I'd learned the social skills and learned that when the teacher says to do things, we do the things, even if we don't feel like it.
posted by telophase at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2016

You don't have enough information yet to make big decisions because you and your kid don't know if she's going to be one of those kids that is 4-5 grades ahead in one subject and just 1-2 in the others, or ahead in almost everything, a kid that hates structured learning or thrives on structure, a kid that is super extroverted and needs lots of peers, or a kid who prefers a few close friends of mixed ages... it's just way too early.

And she's little. The good news is that at this age if you're lucky you can find play-centered preschools (Montessori works for structured kids with a sympathetic teacher, Waldorf if she's good with woo-stuff, Reggio is a balance between, often what you want is someone who's basically been running a mixed age home daycare for a while and lets them play all day) where there are kids who range up to 6-7 years at least. A play center with afterschool kids attending would be nice. If you can't find somewhere like that, you can cobble together activities like swim team, theater class, music group, playdates etc, to make your own "play" school schedule with a regular mixed-age peer group in shared interests.

Worry about Grade 1 when she's closer to actual enrollment and you can tell if she's just going to need to skip a year or get extra enrichment for one beloved subject, or if regular school is hilariously wrong for her.

And considering the cost of kindergarten, paying for a home tutor or a babysitter to take her to activities? Probably close. I'd get daily three hours one-on-one tuition for my kid for the cost of two days of kindergarten a week... and that looks increasingly the way we're going with a kid who sounds fairly similar to yours. Memail me - mine is five later this year.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2016

Sorry if this has already been said but first find out more about your local school. A significant portion of the local kids here are already "held back" or "redshirted" starting kindergarten past age 6. This happens at various rates in different parts of the country and different school districts. Starting kindergarten at 5y11m and 5y10m, my two children are by far not the youngest in their classes (especially for boys whose families are interested in sports).

Second, again check into your local school district. Our local public school curriculum is 2 years ahead of those standard curriculum books you mention - this is more complex but means that their curriculum is more advanced than some other schools. Additionally, their half-day kindergarten covers a full day curriculum, so proceeds very quickly.

If your local school has similar situation, then you may want to revamp your thinking on what kindergarten is.

Personally and academically, there is no right solution as evidenced by the previous answers.

For us, kindergarten was the least of concerns because the day was short and packed. The kids varied from not knowing being able to write their own name to being able to write paragraphs. The commonly-used format of stations in kindergarten means that each kid can navigate their own level: the cutting station has some kids cutting straight lines and other kids doing more intricate work cutting out pictures in magazines, the reading station has some kids listening to an audio book while following along in the book and other kids already reading to themselves. The subsequent years are where the group learning is harder for the more advanced kids unless the teachers and district are able and willing to accelerate/enrich to each child's abilities. Usually by this time there are such acceleration and enrichment options - depending on your state budget and valuing of education and district and teacher.
posted by RoadScholar at 10:04 AM on June 27, 2016

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