In the past few weeks, I’ve had three different friends ask me about L.’s experiences in school, as their own kids faced the possibility of skipping a grade. This post is a synopsis of the past few years for us and L. as a student. My hope is for parents to find the right solution for each of their kids–it isn’t always easy!!
School starts early down here in south Florida, but it also ends in late May. After a summer full of relaxed mornings, a variety of day camps, and extra time with family, L. headed to school nearly two months ago; the first quarter ends next week (?!?!?). Third grade. There were a few comments about wishing summer vacation could keep going, but he has been getting up on time with no fuss and leaving cheerfully. He even gives his sister and me a kiss and a hug before going into the school building and up the stairs to his classroom. It’s looking promising. His teacher seems to possess a great balance of experience and enthusiasm, topped off with good organization. We met with her on one of the first afternoons of school and got to talk in more detail about the curriculum and her hopes for L. and the whole class over the year. I love feeling good about a school year early on.
Each year has gotten easier. When he started preschool at age 4 back in our old town, almost every morning I left him in tears. Sometimes he would start crying on the way to school in the car. I knew from talking with the teachers that the crying didn’t last long, but beginning our days like that for so long took its toll on both my son and myself. I began to wonder what the future held for him regarding his education. I have many friends who homeschool, and am not opposed to the idea, but based on my son’s personality and mine, as well as other factors concerning our family, my husband and I were hoping to find a school that would “fit”. Preschool was a Montessori school. Very simply, that meant that for part of the day, the students got to select their “work” and learn at a pace that was suitable for them, of course with guidance and help from teachers. The approach is more complex than what I’ve described, but I’m not trying to expound on educational methods at this time. We liked it because we have a quick learner who does well learning and trying things out on his own. Of course he benefitted from the teachers’ guidance and instruction, but it was great that he wasn’t feeling “held back” by others–he could sit on a cushion and read, while others were still learning that skill. He could dabble in various mathematical concepts, and we were able to get a clearer sense of his interests and gifts.
When we moved two hours south, we chose to look at private schools, specifically Christian ones. Our faith in Jesus is the cornerstone of our family life, and we feel it is important to also keep it as a central part of our children’s education. After a recommendation from a friend and a tour, we settled on the school our son now attends.
In 2010, he started out in “K5”–kindergarten. Part of this transition was making the jump from going to school three days a week/three hours each day to five days a week/seven hours each day. Our son’s teacher was magnificent; everything one would hope for in a kindergarten teacher–or any grade, for that matter. Despite making good friends and loving his teacher, our son came home every day from the beginning pretty miserable. “It’s soooo boring,” he would say, in tears. I want to write this out not because I want to brag about my son (though it’s hard for parents not to brag here and there), but because I want to help others who are starting their children out in school. There are key words and emotions to watch for in our kids that help us understand whether they are adjusting, thriving, or not! He would also complain that he knew everything already, and I knew from the things he brought home and told me about, that this was true at the time.
I’ve belonged to an e-mail list-serve group for a few years for parents of bright kids, through the MENSA organization (one does not have to be an official member to benefit from these online discussion boards). So many posts on there dealt with parents’ struggles to advocate for their children. What to do with a bored child? What resources does the school offer? Is there any opportunity for enrichment? Do we have to send in materials from home for our child to do after the regular schoolwork is done? What are our options? As we were facing these questions, I knew I had to politely bring up our boy’s frustrations to his teacher. I hoped she would have some answers or at least suggestions. Speaking up about this was a tad bit uncomfortable–who wants to presume that his or her child is smarter than others, or should receive special treatment? I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or make his teacher feel as though she was falling short in some way, because she wasn’t. This was just how K5 was. I sent what I thought was a tactful, but honest, e-mail, and within hours I got a reply. It turned out she had already noticed our son’s frustrations and had been discussing things with the principal. She was actually just about to contact us to meet with her and the principal to talk about where to go from here. I just about cried tears of joy. Nothing had changed yet, but knowing that this teacher and really this school as a whole cared so much about our little boy, made clear to us that we were in a good place and that they wanted the best for him.
A few evaluations later, the principal determined that we ought to consider letting L. skip a grade. That possibility had been in the back of my mind, and we were all sort of mentally prepared for it already. He could try it out, see how it would go, and then after about two weeks could decide to stay or return to K5. The next day, we had a “first day of school” again. I walked him further down the hall to one of the first grade classrooms. The teacher there had introduced our son to the class the previous day, simply telling them that he was joining them from K5. There was no need to make a big fuss over it, and she didn’t. He was accepted, though questioned. He made friends quickly, and the difference in his attitude about school went from night to day. No more boredom, no more frustration. He could still do the work handily, but there was challenge and excitement–and no nap, to his great joy.
First grade was a great year. When I look at all the transitions our son made that year, I am pretty much in awe of him: we welcomed his sister to the family; we moved; he started a new school that he had to attend every day, all day; he started over in a new grade. Here’s where I’m going to brag. He handled it better than many adults I know, including myself. He listened to our advice about changing to first grade, he was thoughtful and prayerful, he was brave and determined, he was friendly and approachable to kids in both classes. Some of his best friends two years later are from those early days in K5, and the ones who he met in the early days of first grade. I still overhear kids on the playground after school asking our boy why he left K5. He answers directly, honestly, and humbly. We found that the less we made of it, the more comfortable the transition would be.
I hope that somebody reading this will take heart if school is not all you hoped it would be for your child. Especially for parents of bright children, don’t be afraid to speak up, to ask teachers what options there are. Every school is different. Because our school is fairly small and is a private school, I am sure that our experience was a bit simpler than it would have been in a larger or public school. Resources exist, options are there, but we still need to be our kids’ biggest advocates. Any parent would speak up for a child with a learning disability, but I think we sometimes don’t know how to approach giftedness or brightness without sounding boastful or presumptuous. As parents, we need to stay open to the different options and thoughtfully consider each one. There is no single right answer for each student and each family. So much depends on the personality of the child, the attitude of the school, and the parents’ willingness and ability to work alongside the school to figure it all out. As I said before, we couldn’t be happier with the way everything went for our son, and I share this story to give credit to the school and encourage even just one person who might be facing the same situation.