Monday, January 9, 2012

Early Entry to Kindergarten

Many of us grew up with a friend or fellow student that skipped a grade.  Grade skipping or "acceleration" is a topic that is subject to much controversy.  The current research actually supports acceleration as a great way to meet the needs of gifted students, but the subject becomes even more convoluted when the question is whether or not to provide early entry into kindergarten.

I have been a kindergarten teacher for nearly 20 years and I have very mixed emotions on the subject.  On the one hand, if a child is reading and seems to be fluent in the subjects taught in kindergarten, it seems silly to make him or her sit out for another year. On the other hand, kindergarten has a lot to do with following directions and rules, getting along with peers, and learning how to follow a proscribed curriculum, instead of the child directing his learning.  Kindergarten success is based a lot on the child being developmentally ready to do all of the work. Remember, giftedness is asynchronous, meaning that a child may be reading at three, but may not be able to identify colors or be potty trained.  In an effort to help parents decide whether or not to push for early entry, I have done some reading and research to help guide the decision. has a good article that succinctly describes both the pros and cons of early entry into kindergarten.  I think that it is worth clicking on the "Readers Respond " area to read what other parents have to say.  Most of the readers had children who were gifted and missed the school deadline by just a few days.  I think that this situation certainly warrants parents inquiring about early entry.  Click here to read the article.

Now, just to play devil's advocate, I want to tell you about my experience with this situation.  My oldest son's birthday is Sept. 4th, just 3 days past our school deadline.  He is gifted and needed to be in an academic pre-school.  We were new to the area, so I stopped in the school office and asked the principal for a recommendation for an academic pre-school.  The principal informed me that the school had an early entry policy. If a child turned 5 by November 15, the parent could request that he be tested and enter kindergarten as a four year old. We opted to do this, and he was given an IQ test as well as the school's regular kindergarten screening.  He scored in the 98th percentile on the IQ-type test and the only Kindergarten skill he didn't do well on was cutting. (Hmmm, probably because he cut up our family pictures so the scissors had been hidden for some time.) After some discussion, we decided to put him into kindergarten.  He was able to do all the work, but he was more interested in the social aspect of school and he often had to bring unfinished work home. In short, he was just squirrelly!  The following year, we moved again, and in this district, the kindergarten deadline was August 15th.  We opted to have our son repeat kindergarten, even though he was fine academically.  It was kind of a boring year for him, but I have never regretted my decision.  He was an awesome, settled student all the way through high school and college.  He excelled in everything he touched.  I think that he would have been ok if we had not kept him with his age-level peers, but it would have been a lot more work both for him and for me!

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development has a more scholarly article about early entry into kindergarten. It was written by Nancy Robinson and Linda Weimert, and it describes several studies on this subject.  The authors suggest that students should be selected for early entry after "careful evaluation."  That, I believe, is the key.  Students need to be evaluated on several levels to determine their readiness.  My son, was ready for the curriculum, but he was not ready for the rigors of school, but this is not always the case.  Many gifted students have high social maturity as well, and this must be a consideration when making the decision.

The authors suggest the following areas of  assessment:
Cognitive Ability (IQ 125+ as a loose predictor using a test like the Wechsler. The authors suggest, "Individual administration allows the tester to observe the child's reaction to challenge and difficulty, enthusiasm for problem solving, or anxiety in a new situation. Such information is useful in predicting a child's response to early entrance and is also essential (especially for the young child) in estimating the degree to which test performance approximates the child's best effort."

Academic Abilities
The student is reading, writing, and doing math, or shows readiness to do so.

Classroom Learning Skills
"Although not strictly academic, there also exist a set of learning skills that most children acquire in the course of preschool. These include, for example, the ability to remain engaged in an interesting task for perhaps 15 minutes without adult redirection, the ability to be a member of a group (as, e.g., listening to a story), the ability to listen and remember oral instructions, the ability to translate from one visual stimulus (e.g., a blackboard) to another (e.g., a piece of paper), and a vocabulary that encompasses concepts of relationship and quantity basic to classroom communication. There is no easy measure for any of these behaviors.Perhaps the best source of information here is the preschool teacher, who generally has a good sense of how a child compares with age-mates in these learning skills. A child who has not attended preschool, and therefore has not had the previous experience of developing group social skills, adapting to structured routines, and sharing adult attention, is seldom a good candidate for early school entry." (Robinson and Weimert).

Motor Development
"The child's competence in motor skills, as well as health and physical stamina, is important in determining a comfortable fit within the peer group and the ability to participate in classroom and playground activities. Fine motor coordination and visual-motor integration are essential to the paper and pencil activities typically introduced in kindergarten, and delays in visual-motor integration are often associated with delays in acquiring reading skills. Well-standardized measures of visual-motor integration are exemplified by the tasks of copying designs that are included in subscales of the WPPSIR and the Stanford-Binet, Fourth Edition."
(Robinson and Weimert).

Additional areas to screen are:
Screening for Learning Problems
Adequate visual discrimination and orientation
Auditory discrimination
Auditory processing
Information from parent interview in assessing risk for learning problems.

One final website may be helpful.  Click here and choose the pdf called Kindergarten Readiness: is early entry to kindergarten right for my child? This is a less technical site that lists several areas to consider if you want your child to enter kindergarten early. The areas are:
1. Cognitive (academic) readiness.
2. Developmental readiness.
3. Physical readiness.

In conclusion, it is always a difficult decision when our little ones are involved, but parents know their children best...follow your instincts and do what you think is right!

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