Should You Let Your Child Skip a Grade in School?
I skipped first grade. Here’s a look at how it affected my life as I grew up.
“This is not a child’s decision.”
That’s what Mrs. Button, my first-grade teacher, told my mother on the phone one September night many years ago. She explained that I already knew how to read, write, add, subtract, and multiply, pretty much everything she would teach all year.
“There’s a spot for Paul in Mrs. Davis’ second-grade class if you want to move him forward a year,” said Mrs. Button, leaving my mom with a difficult decision.
The next day, I was a second-grader. I want to share with you how skipping a grade shaped the rest of my academic life.
The advantages of letting a child skip a grade
Before we get to my story, let’s share some considerations any parent would take into account in making this tough decision.
First of all, let’s all be honest. Bragging rights are a major factor. When I skipped a grade, I was the talk of the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles for weeks. Their grandson or nephew was one of the smartest kids at school! That was quite a source of pride for my mother.
By skipping a grade, I was less likely to be bored. Instead of practicing handwriting individual letters in first grade, I got to write the “Morning News” for my second-grade teacher every morning. My reading assignments were more interesting. I could still do all the math but at least it was less basic.
I’d get an extra year of adult life. Skipping a grade would put me on track to graduate high school at 17, and college at 21. I’d get a year’s head start in the workforce over kids born the same year as me.
Disadvantages of skipping a grade — from my own experience
Mrs. Button did not think I would experience any huge difficulties being a year younger than all the other second-graders. She was correct. That year, it was not a problem.
In later years, though, being a year younger caused some issues, both educational and social.
Coursework my brain was not ready to handle
In eighth grade, our prealgebra teacher Mr. Newton asked to meet with seven of us about two weeks after the semester started. “In my opinion, you kids have demonstrated that you don’t need to be here,” Mr. Newton said. “I’d like to move you directly into Algebra I next week.” Algebra I was a class ninth-graders with an aptitude for math were assigned to.
Here I was, a seventh-grader in terms of age, taking a math class for “smart” ninth-graders. My brain just wasn’t ready. It hadn’t developed the connections to be able to handle functions and equations that advanced.
My quality of work slipped, and for the first time ever I brought a C home on my report card. I felt like a failure. I felt like the other kids were laughing that their classmate who had always outperformed them had finally been taken down a peg. A few days I faked illnesses to stay home, not wanting to deal with algebra; of course, missing days put me even further behind.
In ninth grade, I took Algebra II and endured a second year of Cs, further hurting my self-esteem. Although my grades remained high in other classes, I wondered if my days as a gifted student had come to an end.
Eventually, I caught up. By the time I took trigonometry in 11th grade and calculus as a senior, the underlying algebra skills had worked themselves out. I went on to major in computer science and math in college and taught math for several years at a large public university.
All that success, later on, couldn’t undo what those Cs did to me at the time, though.
Or, should I say, the lack of dating.
It didn’t help that I was a late bloomer, even for my age. As high school began, I stood only a couple of inches above 5 feet tall. I owned weights and attempted to work out, but saw no muscle gain.
Let’s face it, the 15-year-old, the sophomore who’s on dance squad and one of the most popular girls in her class, wants to brag to her friends that the 6-foot tall, 200-pound, 17-year-old football player asked her out. Not the 14-year-old who would have to stand on a stepladder to be able to kiss her.
In hindsight, a lot of the problem was all in my mind. When you’re in that situation, though, the barriers feel quite real. I didn’t date in high school and even missed my senior prom. I feel quite confident that I would have had much better luck dating if I had remained in my natural class.
Being a year behind everyone else meant that I would not turn 16 until the middle of my junior year. That meant I spent a year having to beg for rides with friends who were legally able to drive. I became the tag-along to football games, to school dances. When my friends had parties I suffered the embarrassment of my mom dropping me off and picking me up.
Sometimes I couldn’t find a ride and had to stay home. Sometimes finding a ride meant having to be in a car full of 16-year-olds with illegal beer — a car doing 75 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. I wanted nothing to do with the beer, but if we’d been stopped I would have gone to juvenile detention like everyone else. Thank goodness the police didn’t stop us those Friday and Saturday nights.
A parent’s attitude to this dilemma might be, “Well, having a vehicle isn’t as important as a teenager’s education.” Try telling that to a 15-year-old. Transportation is freedom at that age.
I attended a small liberal arts college in the South, in the city where I live to this day. About 70% of the student population belonged to a fraternity or sorority. Therefore, the first six weeks on campus were an exciting time for first-year students. They were invited to “rush” events so they could get to know the brothers or sisters of each Greek organization, and decide which house they’d like to pledge.
For the guys, the rush events weren’t held on campus. They were held at nearby bars that let 18 and up in, with the understanding that only those 21 and up could drink.
I was 17. The bars could lose their licenses for letting me in. So I missed a major part of rush, and ended up not pledging. In the end, it worked out, because I likely would have remained independent anyway. However, I felt like I was denied an important part of the college experience because of a decision that was made for me 11 years earlier.
I am not trying to tell you what to do here. Every child is different. If your son or daughter speaks three languages fluently and can solve calculus problems, he or she does not need to be in first grade.
All I want to do is make you aware of what the child could have ahead of him/her growing up. It could affect the child
- Academically — when they run into course material their brain is not yet wired to handle
- Socially — being a year behind can lead to difficulty dating and cause feelings of being left out in high school and college activities