Should I push my child ahead in school?

I often have parents ask questions like:

  • can I enroll my 2.5 year old child in a preschool that’s for ages 3 and up?
  • my child will turn 5 in October – should I apply for early entrance into kindergarten?
  • my child is a few months younger than the requirement for the camp – can I sign them up anyway?
  • my child is gifted – should they skip a grade?

I also see in classes my children take that if the class is for ages 5 to 7, it’s filled with 5 year olds, because all the 6 year olds are in the class that’s for ages 6 to 8, and so on.

It seems as if many parents believe that “the best” education is the most advanced education that they can possibly squeeze their children into.

I know that as a parent, we want what is best for our children. It may seem like starting on skills earlier will benefit them, but that is often not the case. If we push a child up a level in classes, that means they will be the youngest child there. They may be developmentally ready in some areas, but they may be behind in others – they may end up successful in some ways, but perhaps also feeling like they’re always the smallest, slowest or least socially skilled. It is so much better to place them in an age appropriate class that is still able to challenge them. In that setting, it is easier for them to feel successful, easier to feel like they fit in, and easier to develop in all areas into a well-rounded individual.

When we push kids faster along a certain track, they may succeed at that track, but that focus can mean they miss out on other learning opportunities. For example, a child enrolled in academic preschool may move further ahead on reading and writing, but may not have the opportunity to fully develop the social skills and independent decision making they would gain at a play-based preschool. A child whose time is all focused on moving forward in baseball never has the opportunity to learn the physical skills they would learn in swimming or gymnastics classes, or the emotional intelligence that could be learned in a theater class.

Rather than trying to jump your child forward to the next level (the accelerated approach), try to think about what other opportunities there are to broaden their learning at their current level (the horizontal or enrichment approach.)

For example, if you have a toddler or preschooler who is doing well with language and literacy type skills, think of ways to enhance their other intelligences:

  • Could they take music classes? There are a lot of learning benefits to music that go far beyond that realm.
  • Could they spend more time in free play outdoors? Learn about the benefits of nature play, and about outdoor preschool.
  • Could they spend more time learning social and emotional skills through pretend play? Or go to a theatre preschool? Or have more playdates to practice their social skills?
  • Could they build their small motor skills and creativity in art classes?
  • Could they build their knowledge of how to use their body (which will help in all sports, or dance, or just moving through the world) by taking aikido classes? Or dance? Or climbing trees and clambering on rocks?
  • Could you choose play-based classes (like co-op preschools) that offer a wide range of experiences and let your child choose the ones that most engage them at the moment? The most learning will occur when your child is fully engaged in an activity of their choice.

You can find lots more ideas for activities to enhance all types of intelligence in this post on Toys and Activities to Build Young Brains.

At whatever level your child is at, there is always more to learn, without needing to push them ahead to an older level.

As a teacher, I also have to say that when I have let children who are younger than the designated age into my class, it has rarely been the best fit for them, or for us. Not that the children “failed.” They were able to participate in class, and learn from it. But not as much as they could have learned if they had waited a year. Also, I had to leave some projects out of my class that wouldn’t have been safe for the little ones, and I had to choose simpler books to read aloud so the little ones would understand, and I had to do more classroom management to keep the little ones focused, and my older children missed out on some learning they could have gotten if all the children in the class were fully developmentally ready for the content.

So, I would encourage most parents, in most circumstances, to trust the teachers when they tell you what age children their program is the best fit for. Your child will learn best when they are in an environment where all the aspects are age appropriate.

Learn More

These articles are all about starting kindergarten, but the concepts could apply to starting preschool early, skipping grades in school, and so on.

Also, be sure to check out my post on acceleration vs. enrichment.

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