Sunday, May 3, 2015

Early Enrollment Myths: Social And Emotional Fit

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Image: Alkawa Ke

B mentioned a few months ago that she'd like to go to school next year.

Her request caused a myriad of emotions that I am working through, but that is a different post.

We are fortunate to live in an area with many charter schools and a good public school district. I found a small Montessori-based charter for next year, and set a time for her to shadow a classroom and see what it was like. While she visited, I sat down with the assistant director to ask some important questions.

Among other things, I asked how the school approached teaching a child who was in 2nd grade, but working at a much higher level in some subjects. The answer was reasonable - the kids are assessed at the beginning of the year to determine their academic levels. If they are working at various grade levels, they are placed in the appropriate grade for the that part of the day. Classes are multi-age. Students are grouped K/1st, 1st/2nd, and 3rd/4th. Chances are good that B will spend part of her day in the 1st/2nd class and the majority in the 3rd/4th class.

I asked about early enrollment for kindergarten. C will turn 5 a few months after the August cut-off date. I don't plan on sending her to school at this point, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and I like to know my options. I don't think preschool would be a good fit.  She is reading well and catching on to math quickly - she has almost caught up to B without any formal instruction. Her favorite friends are 6 & 7 and they like to play with her too.  The K/1st class could be a good option for her.

The administrator's tone changed.

"We do not take any early enrollment. We have found that it is rarely a good social fit."

She continued,

"You know, it's really much better for them not to start early. You see it clearly right around middle school and high school. It's difficult for them to be emotionally younger than their classmates.  They have a hard time fitting in."

I sighed inwardly as I heard the fallacy that so many teachers and administrators believe despite the well-researched work of Assouline and Coangelo and many others. "Acceleration is bad. It doesn't work socially. We should slow them down when they are young so they will fit in as teenagers."

She couldn't see the contradiction in her answers. According to that philosophy, won't B run into the same problems? What if B completes the work through 4th grade - will they keep her in the building so she will be with age-peers instead of moving her on to the 5th-8th grade campus?

More importantly, if you have a child who is learning at a rapid speed, whose mind is years ahead and they don't fit in with age-peers at four or five years old, why on earth would you assume that same child will magically fit in with age-peers in seven years when they begin middle school?

As Ann Shoplik wisely said, "Academically talented children may complain because they feel “different” or socially isolated from other students in their grade. Moving them ahead actually helps them to fit in better, because they share similar interests with the older students who are closer to their intellectual level."

B is still thinking her about her final decision. She's talked to me about the pros and cons and will make her choice by the end of June.

If she goes, how will I advocate for her? If C follows in a year, how do I encourage administration to look beyond her age, and to her personality and ability?  Have you been through this or have similar questions of your own?

Thankfully, my friend Celi from Crushing Tall Poppies just wrote a book that answers many of these questions, and she'll be guest posting here next week!

A few resources on acceleration and early enrollment:

Skip a Grade? Start Kindergarten Early? It's not so Easy - NPR

What is Holding Back America's Brightest Students? - Jonathan Wai @ 

Accelerated - Noah's Story


  1. We went through this with my son. The assessment for kinder left the teachers awestruck with my sons abilities. They knew right away he was gifted, however the kept him at this age level for that very reason (which I don't necessarily agree with given how ugly children can be. Especially when a child is smaller). Anyways after struggling year after year we are now homeschooling. Cole is in a hybrid homeschool (2 days a week) and finally feels like he fits in. The kids are all goo era just like him and I'm loving it as a parent seeing this children blossom in their own skin the way God made them!!!