The question: My eight-year-old son has been identified as gifted. They would like to skip him a year in school. I'm worried this will hurt him in other ways much more than the benefit to his education. What do you think?
The answer: It has been many years since I last heard of a school advancing a gifted child to the next grade.
While each child's situation must be looked at individually, skipping a grade tends to be discouraged for a number of reasons. I am told by my teacher friends that current educational research suggests children have more success with their schooling if they remain with their peers. This makes intuitive sense since education, in the broadest sense of the term, is more than just pure academics. Development of fine motor, gross motor and social skills is also a critical component of the educational experience.
A child's education is further enhanced by involvement in extracurricular activities, including sports, music, drama and fine arts. Although a student may be able to hold their own academically with children one year older, I believe they run the risk of being marginalized socially. This can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem and confidence, two important ingredients for success later in life.
The reality is that every classroom has an enormous range of student talents and learning needs. Teachers are trained to deal with the challenges of meeting the individual learning needs of their students. In my region, schools offer enrichment programming for children who are gifted academically.
As the variety, quality and quantity of enrichment programs vary from school to school, parents should not hesitate to meet with school or school-board officials to see what options are best suited to meet their child's needs. And don't forget that learning doesn't just occur in the classroom. Children with special talents will often be able to expand their educational experience through clubs and programs offered in the community outside school hours, and even online.
Children who are strong and confident academically may enjoy the challenge of developing skills outside their comfort zone, like learning a musical instrument, gaining proficiency in a new language, or developing strength and co-ordination through activities like swimming or cross-country skiing.
Before making any final decision, explore with the school what options and opportunities exist for your child if he stays with his peers. Don't be afraid to involve you son in the discussion as well. Although the final decision should be yours, don't be afraid to solicit his opinion.
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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