Q: My son is 4 years old and already reading well. He knows all the states and most capitals. He knows many countries. His preschool teacher tells me he is academically beyond a 4 or 5 year old. His maturity level is average according to his teacher. He has a June 6 birthday. Do I let him repeat kindergarten or go onto 1st grade?
A: You bring up a core issue in early childhood education, the promotion of children based on their academic ability. I am assuming that your child is currently in preschool and the question is whether he should go to kindergarten or to skip on to 1st grade. At issue is whether your child, who has a summer birthday, will be ready for not only the academics of 1st grade but the social climate and daily hours. The leap from kindergarten to 1st grade is immense in many ways. The hours are usually longer, there are fewer play activities and more requirement for "seatwork" and homework. Plus social circles (even cliques) start to develop at the 1st-grade level. Children who appear much younger either physically or socially are often not as comfortable with the other children . . . or even accepted.
When we look at who is ready to make the leap we look at the whole child, not just his academic ability. It is wonderful that your child is reading and remembering many facts. These will be skills that will help him throughout his schooling. Now take a look at the other factors that create the whole child. How does he interact with other children? Can he hold his own with groups of older children . . . both socially and physically? What about his creativity level? Does he like to experiment with materials and ideas? We know from studies that creative thinking is just as important to school success as cognitive/academic skills. Kindergarten is a wonderful place to develop the creative self.
The other factor to consider is the nature of the kindergarten he would be going into. Is there an allowance and encouragement for children to work above grade level? The optimum environment would be a program where he could be with children his own age and where he is stimulated to work on his own level academically. This would be what is called a "developmentally appropriate" program where children are met at whatever level they are with activities that take them to their own next level.
There are so many years of hard work ahead for your child . . . right straight through college. Why not let him learn through play in a setting that encourages him to be with children his own age and grow at his own amazing rate. Good luck with your decision.
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.