Adventures in kindergarten choices

So, if you’ve been keeping up…

DC misses our state cut-off for kindergarten.  We’d been planning to stay at hir preschool through kindergarten and go straight to first in public school.  But, ze has been growing out of hir Montessori and all (but one or two) of hir friends are going to kindergarten next year.  (All but one of hir friends are about a year older.)  So we figured, why not look into starting early.

So I read up on tons of books about giftedness and early acceleration, because I’m a nerd and a wonk and I like to make informed choices.  Acceleration is a good thing for gifted kids, not ideal, but a good thing, especially little wunderkinds like ours.  It’s not a good thing for all kids, and you hear the occasional horror story because folks don’t understand counterfactuals– people tend to blame all their problems on the skip even if they would have been even more miserable without it.

We called up our local public kindergarten and then a bunch of other public schools to ask about acceleration.  They weren’t interested in talking with us.  Another parent says you have to be very vague over the phone and then spring these kinds of things on them in person after you’ve got your foot in the door.  We will keep that in mind for the future.

Then we called around to the private schools we’d heard good things about and talked to lots of parents about their schooling choices.  The Catholic school has no exceptions in their policy for skipping/early entrance, which is to say they don’t allow it.  At half the price of all the other private schools in town, they can do that.

After some searching we found the ideal situation.  A dream K teacher, experienced, loved by everybody, full of differentiation and stations at a school that allows acceleration and so on.  Whew.  DC spent a day there and loved it so much ze wanted to start K this year instead of waiting until next.

Then, the day after DC’s kindergarten readiness test, we found out that this dream teacher of 30 years up and quit.  She wanted to transition to part-time and because of some miscommunication with administration, she was moving to a half-day kindergarten at a different school (with a wait list a mile long and no acceleration).  Ack.

So we talked to more parents and checked out the super-expensive prep school that allows early entrance.  It was horrible.  So many wasted resources.  Tiny classes, but the kids were bored stiff and misbehaving.  Their science class, in a separate room with a specialized science teacher, was coloring in a worksheet of a stylized tree.  (At DC’s Montessori, they look at actual plants!)  The teachers didn’t understand the terminology I was using to ask about differentiation (“differentiation” “acceleration” “clustering” etc.) and the admissions director had to ask them my questions again using tiny words.  No wonder the best college the graduating students get into is the local state school.

The prep-school experience did change our framing… instead of comparing to the wonderful K teacher we’d lost, we were able to see that we had two good options, even if we’d lost the amazing one.  DC could stay at Montessori another year and we could try to enter 1st grade at one of these private schools the next year, or we could go with the original school we’d decided on and their new teacher.

We talked with Montessori and found out that one of hir friends who we thought would be going to K next year actually misses the cutoff by a couple of days.  So DC would have two friends staying back, not just one (and would be second oldest, not oldest).  Ze would still be learning a lot of geography and history and hands on science, even if not accelerating so much in math and language arts.  Montessori is also less expensive and tax-deductible as it would still count as preschool.  On the minus side, they told us that ze would be spending a lot more time as a teachers assistant for the younger kids, training them on stations and so on.

At the private school, they’re moving up the pre-K teacher to K.  Her teaching style is much more rote- repeat, but she knows that is not really appropriate for older children and is working on changing, shadowing the current K teacher a couple of times a week.  The kids in her class are well-behaved and not as bored as the ones at the prep school.  The language, music, etc. teachers will not be changing.  There’s less racial, ethnic, and religious diversity at this school than at Montessori, which is too bad, but more diversity in terms of disabilities.  DC will also not be the youngest in the class– there’s another wunderkind a month younger and one a month older.

What decided us was that after talking with the new K teacher, we got an email from admissions requesting DC to come in for more testing.  They tested DC at the reading level of an 8 year old (apparently ze couldn’t define the word, “quench”) and they weren’t able to finish the math testing but ze got a perfect on what they did test.  The recommendation is single subject acceleration to first grade for math and reading.  While there for testing, DH talked to some of the parents who were there for track and field day and they told amazing stories of how their children’s lives had been changed for the better by the school.

So not perfect like before, but not terrible either.  We think ze is going to be able to continue learning in a supportive environment, and that’s what’s important.  The kids around should also be nice and well-behaved.  Hopefully this is what we’re going to go with and there will be no more unpleasant changes!

So that’s our kindergarten adventures.  Hopefully our first-grade adventures will be less exciting for us.

39 Responses to “Adventures in kindergarten choices”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I imagine you’re going to get some flak about trying to send your kid early, but if I could give my perspective, hopefully, that’ll be another data point for you.

    My son, just barely made the kindergarten cutoff. He’s the youngest in his class, but he’s also gigantic, so he’s the second biggest kid. He did head start, so he has always been and continues to be at the head of the class with regards to reading, writing and especially math. His teacher actually gives him harder reading assignments than the other kids but he still says the books are “too easy.”

    I don’t think my kid is gifted, but I also don’t think age is the only indicator of readiness. In my son’s case, his size and his head start training gave him a leg up from many of the other kids.

    I also think if the school stuff is too easy you can supplement with your own learning adventures. The kids were learning about birds, so we canoed through a wildlife area and saw raptors and all kinds of nesting birds. When we got home we identified them in our field guide and read about the habitat and breeding, etc. You can get into more depth than they do in school. Last night we found the bald eagle that is living in our lake. Very cool. First one in these parts in many years.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s very cool. The Montessori actually recently did a birding adventure during their unit on birds. (Their current unit is volcanos, but I don’t think they’ll be visiting one of those).

      DH has been going through a bunch of books on Science experiments for kids. And we’re now in a building phase… I amazed what DC can do with legos. Ze has also been putting together all sorts of model kits, including a really awesome one from Germany (with all sorts of screws and washers and brackets) she got at hir birthday party that can be turned into an airplane or a helicopter.

      So far nobody has questioned the choice once they’ve actually *met* DC. Ze is only of average height (the doctor even recently predicted final adult height to be exactly average), but it would be awful to make hir go through the alphabet, numbers 1-30, etc. not next year but a full year from now. I’m very glad the school is offering single subject acceleration too. (And we’re only accelerating to 1st grade for single subjects now even though ze tested at 3rd.)

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  3. Everyday Tips Says:

    I feel your pain!

    It is amazing how difficult a kindergarten decision can be, and you will never know what the ‘right’ decision will be.

    All you can do is gather as much information you can (like you are doing) and try to match the learning environment the best you can to that of your child. When we were evaluating schools, someone suggested a certain prep school near where we live. This school produces a lot of doctors and lawyers in the end, but it was too regimented and incredibly structured. Don’t get me wrong, structure can be great, but choices are good too.

    We decided that the school would just reinforce my son’s already overly regimented personality and would probably get pretty darn boring with the busy work and such. The school received great recommendations from many, but we just didn’t feel it was a great match for our kids.

    Good luck with your quest!!

  4. Jacq Says:

    That sounds great! I think some people that skipped or accelerated may just have had negative experiences (like me) because of how it was handled back in the day in a regular school. But times have changed it sounds like – for the better.
    Hmm… makes me wonder though what kinds of things would or could be done today for someone like my sister who was doing high school math before going to school.

    Now if I could only find a solution for my “socially not academically gifted” little stand up comedian whose primary goal seems to be making his teacher crack and laugh out loud…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Internship on the Daily Show?

      It’s hard to say what your experiences would have been like had you not been accelerated… maybe you would have dropped out of school without graduating. Maybe things would have been fine. It is difficult to say. Super smart kids tend to have problems whether they’re accelerated or not.

  5. Dr. Sneetch Says:

    My kid missed the cut-off for KG too. I made some attempt to find an alternative KG and then gave up and let him stay one more year in his day-care since he liked it and I liked it too and we knew everyone. He loved being the oldest kid in pre-school. He started KG this year and it was perfect timing for him. I’m glad I just let that one go.

    But I also did a lot of homeschooling with him which was a big time sink (worth it but big time commitment). Will start backposting on everything I did this year and last year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Staying in hir preschool would not have been the end of the world this year– ze’d still be getting lots of science, geography, history, art history etc. Yesterday they made popcorn kernels dance with vinegar and baking soda.

      But our state is very weak on K in general– the plan for K in public schools is literally: Alphabet, numbers up to 30, colors, shapes, a very small amount of money/measurement/time right at the end of the year. They also do some phonics but don’t expect kids to be able to read until the middle of first grade. That would just be deadly if we waited yet another year. If we were in a state with higher standards, this wouldn’t be such an important decision. But to ask hir as a 6 year old to do things ze has been doing since before ze was 2…

      • ABDMama Says:

        It’s amazing how different the standards are for K. In our state it is completely focused on reading. Students learn phonics and by the end of the year are writing and taking spelling tests each week (about 10 two syllable words a week). So many children are unprepared for that rigor and my teacher friends struggle to teach social skills and the standards.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yup, here the main focus is on social skills… in this heavily bible-belt state, the ratio of kids who go to preschool is not as high as in other places. Based on our playground experiences, I think a lot of kids need that training. DC, of course, has been in preschool since ze was 8 months old so knows how to sit still, listen, take turns, etc.

      • leightpf Says:

        Wow… Your state really sucks for kindergarten. My elementary school (granted it was a traditional school, part of the public alternate system) had us reading in kindergarten.

        My mom says that I hated the parts on social skills and wanted to do more reading and math instead, complaining that she should homeschool me quite frequently. I wish there was single subject acceleration available at my school!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We think this is the only school in town that allows single subject acceleration.

        The town next to ours is much lower income, so they don’t have as much fancy stuff standard in the public schools. Apparently there’s a lot more variation in things like early entrance, acceleration, single subject acceleration, ability grouping, and so on… simply because they don’t have enough money to give the illusion of everything being shiny for everyone. Principals have much more autonomy to try things. They have lower test grades (almost certainly because they have lower SES) but they’re also more willing to work with parents. It’s ironic that more resources can lead to worse outcomes for folks who are farther away from the mean.

      • leightpf Says:

        It is, isn’t it? My traditional elementary school would hold children back, but wouldn’t let them move ahead. It wasn’t fair to only make the resources to help children on one side of the mean.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Our experiences were like that growing up too, though our childhood home state has fantastic special ed funding and resources. Here they do a piss poor job for anyone who is not at some average point. One of the things that convinced DH to pick this private school was a story one of the moms he talked to told him about her daughter being unable to read in third grade in the public schools and the teacher telling her that she could only become a bagger at the local grocery store. The private school diagnosed her as 2e (twice exceptional)–she had an undiagnosed learning disability that she was intelligent enough to compensate for. With appropriate instruction she’s reading, caught up, and now in 5th grade getting a B average which is on the increase.

  6. albe Says:

    Since you’ve done a lot of research, have you learned anything about intellectual readiness versus social readiness and/or size? I’ve got twins who are almost 3.5 and they can now already do everything on the kindergarten readiness test and beyond. But the problem is, their birthday is such that they’ll be old kindergarteners — 5.75 by the time they start. And by then they’ll be way beyond kindergarten stuff.

    However, I don’t feel great about accelerating them because they are so tiny. My daughter is also sort of socially awkward, so I’m not sure accelerating would be a good idea with that in mind. My guess is that even at 5.75 and practically the oldest kids in the class, my son will still be the smallest kid in the class. It’s a little early to worry too much about it, but it feels like there is a huge mismatch between their intellectual skills and their social/physical development.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      According to research the size thing actually only matters if the parents care about sports. (Also it may interact if the receiving teacher is against the skip, but if ze is against the skip that’s already a red flag.) There’s an acceleration readiness test that you can take that will take into account your individual characteristics. The Iowa Acceleration Scale … it looks a bit pricey ($90), but is based on the research and your individual situation.

      In terms of social readiness, there are two different things that can be going on. First, a kid could actually not be socially ready (termed “asynchronous development”). This would argue against a grade skip. Second, on the other hand, a kid can be “out of synch” with their peers, and thus behave perfectly well when surrounded by older kids, but overshooting immaturity or just being uncomfortable attempting to interact (or not interact) with kids in the same age group. If a kid has the chance to be placed in mixed age group situations, one may be able to determine which is going on. Sometimes schools (at least some talked about in the gifted books) will do trial accelerations for part of the day to see what happens when this is suspected. It takes support and flexibility from the school though.

  7. Dr. O Says:

    I’m glad y’all were able to find something that sounds like it will work. Where I’m from, public schools are so variable depending on district. And even within the district, quality and standards can vary dramatically. Finding solutions in places like that is difficult, and you’re to be commended for taking the time to investigate your options!

  8. becca Says:

    So is the plan to stay with this school after kindergarten, and keep doing single-subject advancement?

    In first grade, I had single-subject reading advancement, and it was excellent. But the school district was adjusting to a bunch of changes (my elementary school got burned down halfway through the year), and there was no follow-up. In second grade I got to do the gifted pull out program 2x monthly, which was beyond wonderful, but it didn’t quite make up for being yelled at for reading ahead in my regular class.

    On anecdotes for ways to cope with advanced kids- my mom was advanced two years, and struggled sometimes, and so she didn’t think of it as a great option. My dad they just sent him off to the library to read on his own whenever he got bored (or avoided being bored by getting into great conversations with the teacher… that then prevented the teacher from addressing the rest of the class), and he thought of that as a fabulous option. Me, I’ve always been academically and socially out of synch, and so I was a challenge. There was the gifted program, but as I said, also the yelling for reading ahead, and I acted out. Eventually (halfway through fifth grade), my dad started unschooling me. It’s not a perfect solution, but it worked well for me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re taking it a year at a time, but right now the plan is to stick with this school and re-evaluate in 2 years. At that point we would be able to keep hir in the same grade level at our neighborhood public or at the other private school in the area. Or DH might not get tenure and we might have to move. Heck, I might not get tenure and we’ll have to move.

      We want DC to have to struggle from time to time. We believe that facing challenges and overcoming them early will allow hir more freedom and flexibility to take risks and achieve hir goals later on in life. Coasting until high school or college or graduate school like we did isn’t healthy and can result in therapy, low self-esteem, and a bad attitude about one’s slower peers.

      #2 is very jealous of me because I was allowed to read quietly in a subset of the classes in which I knew all of the material and had nothing to learn. She never was.

  9. hush Says:

    What Dr. O just said. Good for you!

    I’m sure you’ve already considered this – obviously socialization matters a lot, too. Maybe even more than academic success if you believe David Brooks. Anyway, I’m a recovering dork (still a nerdy wonk, though) who like you, doesn’t always pick up on the obvious social cues; like the importance of waiting until you have established some in-person rapport with people before you go asking for the big order (yeah, I’ve done similar shizz. Sad face). Clearly there were some lessons I didn’t learn up there in my accelerated ivory tower. My emotional intelligence still isn’t as high as many of my peers – sometimes my reading of social situations is a little off. Not that this fate awaits all vaunted “gifted” kids, but it bears mentioning. One of my hopes for my kids is that they will be much more socially successful than their parents.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, in terms of what we did, we just anonymously called various schools and asked if they allowed early entrance to kindergarten. All the publics said no, two of the privates said yes. This was way back when we were just starting to realize that our initial plan to keep hir in Montessori until age 6 might not work out. We weren’t asking to accelerate our child, just if they had any policies about acceleration. Since then we’ve talked to a lot of parents who say it basically doesn’t happen in elementary except at the private school we’re going to and in the next town over. The davidson gifted forums, however, suggest that in extreme cases even schools like ours might make exceptions to their blanket rules, but it takes a lot of advocacy and some suffering on the part of the child before the school listens. Since we have more money than time, we decided not to pursue the public school option further.

      According to the research, highly gifted and profoundly gifted kids tend to do much better socially when they are accelerated (if being in groups of other gifted kids is not an option). Certainly for me that was definitely true– I always got along very well with kids who were a year or two older than I was and I lost a lot socially when the school district stopped doing single subject acceleration (and did beautifully socially in high school math as an 8th grader– far better than with my age-level peers). DC is in a mixed age-range classroom now and with one exception has chosen peers who are at least a year older. Ze is very popular. Moderately gifted kids tend to do great socially in their own grade level.

  10. bogart Says:

    Oh dear. This leaves me glad we have good public schools in my town, and that my DC was born in spring — not only did I miss the challenging combination of third-trimester-of-pregnancy plus summer-heat (noticeable in these parts) but we are months and months from the school cutoff.

    I suppose it’s possible that as kindergarten draws nearer I’ll develop concerns (well-placed or otherwise, I mean, why limit myself) but for now this seems to be a non-issue for us. Phew.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ha! Yes, August while heavily pregnant was Not Fun.

      • bogart Says:

        Yeah, I watched my SIL go through it (BONUS: while she watched my brother load all their possessions into a mini-van so they could move to his new job ~2 weeks before their daughter was due — just one more perq of academia ;) ). She, and they, did remarkably well. But yuck!

  11. Cloud Says:

    I’m glad you found a Kindergarten arrangement that will work for you guys. The standard curriculum in your area does sound remarkably simple, but then, I don’t know what it is here. I guess I should find out. I have another 6 months or so before we need to start making our own decisions about where our oldest will go to Kindergarten.

    I think I was probably moderately gifted. I had a once a week special class starting in 4th grade, and your standard advanced tracking in junior high/high school, and that worked great for me.

    It is hard for me to judge how gifted my daughter may or may not be- she seems bright, but not unusual. But she’s only 4, and the only kids I have to compare her with are her day care classmates, and given the location of our day care, those kids are probably more likely than most to have scientists and engineers for parents. So it is hard to say.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      CA’s standard curriculum is pretty jam-packed in Kindy. And if we were in CA, we’d be starting K next year standard because we would make the cut-off (though they’re moving the start date back a month a year until it hits the modal start date for the rest of the country).

  12. Sandy H Says:

    When I was looking into enrolling our daughter into school early last year we ran up against some walls. In the end the Aug, 2010 deadline came and passed us for PS (although she tested into it). Mainly because my hubby was focused on public school is free why would we pay to send her to private school.
    As she was my first, I wasn’t asking the right questions. We had moved states, and Missouri has free public school, our KS school district actually makes you pay for Kindergarten. I couldn’t believe it when I found that out in Dec.
    I wish I would have asked the right questions and our daughter would be having her last day of kindergarten now instead of just going into it next year. She is already doing the same things the graduating kindergartners are doing.

    Unfortunately, knowing the right questions to ask, and when to ask them (phone vs in person interview) makes a huge difference. Hindsight.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They make you *pay* for kindergarten? That is insane!!

      There’s still time if you think your daughter is ready– I don’t know about the Kansas state laws, but in many states kindergarten is not mandatory and you can skip directly to first grade. Possibly not in a public school, but if you have to pay for kindy anyway…

      • Sandy H Says:

        The school district we live in is crazy. Wish I would have researched it more before we moved here- but this is a stepping stone to a completely different school district.
        But yes, paying for Kindergarten is the craziest thing I have ever heard of.

        Our daughter is of age (I guess is how we say it) to enter Kindergarten Fall, 2011. I have checked into her just starting first grade, but the PS is against skipping Kindergarten (and this is the only PS within a 45 minute drive of our current home), and the public schools have an age limit for both Kindergarten and first grade- so we wouldn’t be able to have her tested at a public school and immediately enrolled in first grade, because she would be a year too young.

        The whole school process is crazy. And we are also in a pretty rural area- so we don’t have very many options.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s really hard. :(

  13. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I am also in the Bible Belt. Schools don’t like to hear the word ‘acceleration.’ What are you uppity or something? LOL I complained to my children’s teachers that they were not assigned enough work. Both teachers almost collapsed. So, I made it my goal to be more pro-active about teaching them. Consequently, the youngest of the three, age 2, was probably the only child her age on the earth who knew the meaning of waxing and waning AND which was happening with the moon each night. They were required to memorize poems. All activities were deliberately made into learning experiences.

    The baby is now a first-grade teacher. The older is a hs and college English teacher. The middle one spends all her time focusing on her children, and she has produced children who are in advanced classes because of her attention and teaching them. Nope, she did not attend college.

    This is my first visit here.

    Oh, the older son learned by age two to ask me “look in cycopedia” when he asked a question. He was socially and verbally advanced, very intelligent. I thought his conversations at 18 months were normal. Older mothers informed me it was not normal.

    • Sandy H Says:

      Unless you are around children a lot, I think with first born we tend to think they are normal and rely on our pediatricians or daycares to tell us differently.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I just figured the baby books were out of touch. Until I started getting nasty comments from other parents. Actually, that was pretty early on.

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