Every year, I hear about homeschool families debating if their 5-, 6- or 7-year-old should “officially” skip a grade. I always say “NO.” Why? There are several reasons, let’s look at this gifted child at different ages.
Addressing Academic “Boredom”
“My 5-year-old is bored with this curriculum. They can already read and write, add and subtract. We should skip up to second grade, right?”
No, you should put that curriculum down! This is a case of a bad fit of curriculum. Your child obviously doesn’t need a curriculum for those things they know. So just let that go. Instead of worrying about pushing them as fast as they can go through reading, writing, and math, take time to focus on what they don’t know.
Does your child know how to work with a group of kids? Play complex games? Solve problems that don’t have an obvious solution? Can they ride a bike? Cut with scissors? Sing songs? Play hopscotch? Do they have life skills? At 5, life skills should include helping in the kitchen, helping with yard work, and knowing how to cross the street safely. While your gifted child may already be reading, they usually aren’t doing all of these things. And it is important to take time to do them all now, while they are little. Skipping kindergarten doesn’t give you an advantage in life. Studies have proven that it is better to have a developmental year of playing and learning these skills now than to skip over them in favor of more academics.
This same child at the first or second-grade level may be able to fly through their work in some subjects, maybe even all of them. Your goal as a parent is to find a way to bring breadth and depth to their education. What do I mean by that? I mean that your child will benefit from an education that introduces lots of ideas, opportunities, and subjects. Go ahead and teach history, science, art, music, and dance. Help your child become well-rounded. While they may know all the usual first-grade spelling words, there are so many things they can learn instead! They can spend time learning to knit, speak a foreign language or play the recorder.
There is no reason to stick to a curriculum for their age. Instead, look for something that will spark their interest. Curriculums with lots of open-ended activities may work best for letting your child go deeper and further with their learning while giving you some structure to follow.
Adolescence. The Great Equalizer.
Middle school, ages 11-13, is when the wheels come off the cart in terms of your child’s education. This is the age when you may be very glad you didn’t skip a grade, especially if you live in a state that requires testing or reporting. Every child in this age range is experiencing a brain rewiring that makes life challenging.
At this age, the human brain sort of unplugs all the parts from how it worked in childhood and re-plugs it into an adult version. Unfortunately, this can be sort of like getting a new cable company. And your child may have a waiting period between the unplugging and replugging in periods. This means that your brilliant child is suddenly making simple mistakes, tripping over their own feet or struggling to find the right word for something you know they know.
This child is also going through some significant hormone changes. Their natural desire to be aware of world events may be making them depressed and anxious. They may deal with the equivalent of a midlife crisis at age 12 that more typical children don’t face. They may not be able to focus on school work for months as they grapple with questions like “Why do I exist?” or “What is life?”
The great news is, if you didn’t skip a grade, you can literally let your child do NO schoolwork for a year or more and they won’t be behind. You can just let them ride out this challenge in whatever manner you feel is best. Provide structure to the week or day, insist on them reading some books, encourage them to start a blog, or have poetry tea time. But you can set aside formal learning for a bit.
Getting Back On Track
When your child is ready, you can pick up where they left off. Or just make a plan for high school and move forward. You don’t need to backtrack.
We live with this myth that “sooner is better” but it isn’t. Taking the time for high school when your child is 14-18, letting them continue to grow up and mature at their natural pace gives your child a solid foundation for life. It is okay if they take those years to do both the regular high school course work and deep dives into their special interests. You can create “Honors” classes for them. You can let them take on-line college classes for free and give them high school credit for those. Your child can have a chance to be on a team, sing in a choir, play with a youth symphony, attend a dance and other typical high school activities. Pushing them to attend college sooner, leads to missing out on some of those high school experiences.
There’s No Rush
And really, what is so great about being a grown-up that you want to push your child to do it sooner? Are they going to be ready to move out and go to college at 16 or 17? Just because they have the book smarts, doesn’t mean they need to be pushed out of the nest. There’s no need to rush into grown-up responsibilities of college, jobs, car insurance, paying rent.
Most of us wish we could go back and be a kid again. So let your child be a kid. Turning 18 will come soon enough.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.