Parenting question of the day – split classes and skipping grades

by DaniGirl on June 5, 2013 · 27 comments

in Mothering without a licence

This question inspired by Lucas, my precocious junior kindergartener. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was dancing with glee at the idea of him benefitting from all-day kindergarten. I knew he was more than ready, and I wasn’t sad about not having to pay one last year of daycare for mornings.

Alarm bells started to ring in my head when I found out a few weeks ago that they seem to be doing away with the idea of junior and senior kindergartens for a blended kingergarten group. I was fine with everything else in the program, like what seems like a Montessori-influenced emphasis on play-based learning, and larger class sizes supported by an ECE, and the day split into English and French.

I have real concerns, though, that my already advanced (IMHO, at least) February-born boy will be in a class with some kids who will be only three years old in the fall. He can already read and write and do simple math. Heck, I wanted to enroll him in JK a year early, just because I knew he was ready. Having just shepherded two boys through the primary grades, I’m very confident that he’s academically capable to start Grade 1 in the fall. I was worried about separating him from his peer group, but he is in a JK/SK split right now so in fact he will have some of his current classmates in his grade whether he starts SK or Grade 1 in the fall.

This has churned up all kinds of interesting questions. While I know you don’t have the insight into what’s best for Lucas, I am very curious to know your experience and opinions about skipping grades and split classes. Do they even skip kids ahead any more? It was common enough in the 1970s that I have a few friends who skipped grades. I was never that hard of a worker, although school did come easily enough for me when I bothered to try.

Moreso, though, I’m interested in your thoughts about split classes. I am genuinely worried about Lucas stagnating for a year because the teacher (and ECE, I suppose) will be trying to meet the needs of kids across a giant spectrum of capabilities. I had a really interesting conversation over coffee with a friend who has done a lot more research on this and she said it’s a myth that they put the more capable and advanced kids in the lower end of a split class. She is of the opinion that being in the older group in a split or mixed class teaches kids leadership and compassion and empathy. While I can appreciate that (although I admit, it hadn’t occurred to me) I think I would rather he be learning math and reading skills. It’s not an either-or, I know.


And here’s another question all tangled up in the same quagmire: is it better to challenge a child or let them excel? If I were to ask the school to consider skipping him ahead to Grade 1, I’d be raising the bar for him and he’d be working to play catch-up. If I wait a year, I think even Grade 1 will be easy for him – he picks up SO much just from his older brothers, and from the terrific daycare we have. If he’d been born 40 days earlier, he’d be enrolled in Grade 1 anyway. So is it better to leave him and let his confidence grow so he thinks school is easy and fun rather than challenging him to rise up to what I am confident he can do? What if the easy path doesn’t lead to confidence but boredom?

So mamy questions! The easy path is, of course, to just let the years play out, and have him go ahead with his year of SK in September. But I can’t help wondering if I am doing him a disservice by not taking this chance to give him a boost which I genuinely believe would be in his best interest. I wouldn’t consider skipping a child in an older grade unless there were some truly extenuating circumstances – I saw first hand how kids can react to kids who fail and who skip from a social perspective and it’s wasn’t pretty then. I wouldn’t expect it to be better now. But to skip SK into Grade 1 seems more feasible, especially if I know he’s already well equipped for the challenge.

Lots of issues wrapped up in this one, eh? I know there are a good handful of teachers reading, I would love to hear from your perspective. And parents, what do you think about the “challenge vs confidence” question, or the whole split grade thing? Oh heck, while we’re at it, could you haul out your crystal ball and tell me the right answer? Because I’ve been around and around on this one and the more I think about it the more unsure I get!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah McCormack June 5, 2013 at 8:07 am

Absolutely, positively, definitely do not skip him forward. (even if they let you, which I am not sure they would) let him enjoy kindergarten for all that it is… much of which is not academic, and hopefully his confidence will be nurtured and he will love school. this is so much more important than anything!!!!

i have realized that I have WAY too much to say to leave in this comment box….

2 Cindy June 5, 2013 at 8:13 am

I am in the Kawartha board area, and I’ve been told that they have only skipped one girl in the last decade.

I skipped two grades in the 80s…grade 1and grade 8.

Dd is now in grade 5, and we struggled with the same decision about sk. We decided to put her in French immersion for sk for a bit more challenge.

Next year, she is switching out of FI, and into the gifted stream, which was her decision.

3 Susan June 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

My first question is, will the school even let him skip a grade? I was under the impression that skipping/holding back kids is not done anymore these days. I have a few thoughts from the perspective of a parent with a child who is not in the same grade as their peers, although we are in the opposite situation. My son’s birthday is in late October, so he was one of those 3 year old JK students you mentioned. Socially he was more than ready to start school, but his academic development was slower. By grade 1, he was struggling, although still within the range of normal. We moved to the U.S. 3 months into grade 1, but the district we moved to had a 6-by-Sept. 1 cutoff date for grade 1, and after a quick assessment he was put into a kindergarten class for the rest of the year. The switch from being one of the youngest in his class to one of the oldest was amazing for him. He flourished academically. Then, 18 months later, we returned to Canada and I had a dilemma. Skip him to grade 3 so he’d be with the “right” grade for his birth year, or keep following the path we started on in the U.S. Because he thrived as the oldest in his class, we decided to put him in grade 2 for this school year. He has had a great year, but questions do arise about his age, particularly when he’s playing sports or other activities where the divisions are done by birth year and he ends up in an older group than his classmates from school. I worry about it quite a bit, and think about trying to accelerate him somehow into the right year at school, but I must say it doesn’t seem to bother him so far. In the U.S. it is common to see parents holding their kids back for a year when they have a birthday near the cutoff. No one wants their kid to be the youngest in his/her class!

Another thought – when I was a kid I was put into a gifted program and I really disliked being singled out as being different. Don’t forget the social aspect of school is just as important as the academic. In the end, your child’s personality is a critical consideration in this decision. I think I would be inclined to keep him in the right year and find other ways to challenge him academically.

4 Jen Blattman June 5, 2013 at 9:27 am

While neither of my kids have had a split grade to deal with, I’ve heard both pros and cons of both. As for the confidence piece, I just read this article yesterday that I think is worth a gander.

5 Jen Blattman June 5, 2013 at 9:27 am

Oops, i meant to say that they HAVEN’T had split grades to deal with. Sorry.

6 Windex June 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

They do allow students to skip classes but have only seen it in the older primary grades.
I’m a parent so no expert here. I have been told the same thing about being the older one in the split class as your friend did. My youngest is going to be in SK in this new all-day program. I have a lot of concerns but at the same time I (and seems like you) am an involved parent in my kids education/lives. I will be aware of what is going on and what they are learning and will fill in what I feel they are missing and will challenge her where she needs to be.
At this young age I would not ask them to skip a grade…Let him enjoy the couple of easy years that he has and who knows maybe as he is the youngest in the family the “leadership and compassion and empathy” that he may obtain is what he needs because if it is anything like our house…the older kids are always the boss and the younger one just goes along with it.
Something else to consider is regarding a recently released study that my teacher friend was telling me about: Younger kids in the class do not become equivalent to their peers – when it comes to testing – until Grade 10. Would making Lucas the youngest in his class if he skipped actually be putting him at a disadvantage as the years go on.
I would also look at his comfort level – if he is not bored and is enjoying it maybe you are thinking to much into it?
And a good point made by the post comment – when it comes to sports he may be singled out. Not saying we base decision in life on that but you mentioned it regarding yourself so it may be a concern for Lucas
Something one of the teachers at our school told me when I expressed concern about my soon to be SKer…is wait and see what the teacher does. You may have a wonderful teacher who is great at challenging the older ones and using it to her advantage.
Tough decision for you….good luck!

7 Windex June 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

Just realized that my tone sounded like “Don’t do it”. It was meant more as a devil’s advocate sort of thing

8 Lee-Ann Sleegers June 5, 2013 at 10:12 am

Miss R is in the new formula Full Day Kindergarten as an SK and while I was worried about how it would work it has actually gone quite well. At least at her school there are still 2 streams of expectations for the kindergarten kids depending if they are year one or year two. The year two’s are expected to produce more – simple sentences as opposed to words and some degree of simple reading. My recommendation is don’t worry about it.

9 Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 10:22 am

I was actually coming over to say that if you think he’s ready, and your school is open to starting right in Grade 1, then I endorse you trusting your gut. But it appears that people who actually have experience with the Canadian system are trending in the opposite direction?

Wilder was in a grade 1/grade 2 class in his US school, and at the start of the year, the second-grade parents were … uh, peeved. Distressed. Unhappy. The class was taught by a first-grade teacher, the principal had packed advanced kids into both sections of the class, and the second-grade parents were worried their kids would not be challenged and thus not prepared for third grade, when testing starts. (These were 6- and 7-year olds, who had all had all-day kindergarten in a world of fairly academic kindergarten.) By the end of the year, my sense was that the second-grade parents felt it had been an excellent experience and they had no complaints — although I met them primarily at birthday parties, and for obvious reasons, they rarely vented to the parents of the first graders. (The first-grade parents ended the year universally thrilled with their kids’ experience; I think it ruined Wilder for regular classrooms for the rest of his elementary-school career.)

I can tell you that the second-grade kids were the social and academic stars of the classroom. I’ve heard through the grapevine that the leaders of that classroom remained leaders in the school for the duration (we were transferred to a newly-opening school at the end of that year, alas). There’s probably a chicken-egg question there, because the principal assigned confident and high-performing kids to the classroom in the first place, but there you have it.

Now, all that having been said, these were kids who all knew how to “do” school. The principal DID assign high-performing kids to the first-grade/lower section. I would imagine Lucas’s experience would depend entirely on how Montessori the classroom actually turns out to be, and how good the teacher is. (I have friends who did the Montessori route in private schools here in the States and all their kids had the second-year experience of being in a classroom with new/young students.)

I guess I would trust your gut. The research in the States has trended back toward meeting the academic needs of advanced students (i.e., grade skipping) over their social needs (i.e., grouping by birth date) but schools have been slow to accept that idea. Parents here usually have to fight pretty hard to get kids to skip a grade.

10 Jody June 5, 2013 at 10:23 am

That anonymous comment was me — I forgot to fill out the boxes. Sorry!

11 Valerie June 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

I don’t have strong opinions, but can tell you what I’ve seen. In Alberta, the split is at the end of Feb rather than Dec, so Sarah’s friend is a grade ahead, despite being barely older. She’s bright and is excelling. We started Sarah in Jan rather than Sept because of daycare conflicts, so she spent an extra 1/2 yr in Casa (SK) – she spent half of it colouring maps, waiting for the other kids to catch up enough to do group lessons. πŸ™ I think it damaged her enthusiasm. Another girl who started at the same time (with a Feb b’day) moved into gr 1 rather than wait a year (at her parents’ request) – she seemed to excel. Both girls had the group who started gr 1 as their social peers, so that has been hard on Sarah ever since, being a year behind her friends.

All that to say, if her birthday had been a month earlier and I had a re-do (with hindsight), I’d probably have asked to have her moved up, too.

12 DaniGirl June 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

You guys! How can I be more informed and less sure of what to do! Wow, what great insights – will come back later this aft to read them all in painstaking detail.

13 jennyandtim June 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

Ethan is among the youngest in his class, as was I, August birthday. As smart as Ethan seems, I can see the difference in what he achieves and what his older peers achieve, even in what he was able to do and what his brother (April birthday) was able to do in K.

I’m glad Ethan is with his social peers, but I wish he had another year to develop academically. He is an β€œA” β€œB” student, but I think with another year to mature as a boy, he would have been an β€œA” student.

That being said, one of my best friends in college graduated high school when she was 15.

14 Marla Good June 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I only know from supervising lunch and recess and volunteering and running programs in our school, and I can only say that it’s not about how smart and ready to learn he is – it’s about how he can “get with the program” (if it’s even an option.) Does he have the appropriate behaviour, attention span, self-regulation, motor skills, physical ability, stamina and ability to follow instructions as most of the first grade students? Class time is structured very differently. The issues that I witness from the youngest students in the (nearly all) split grades at our school, but ESPECIALLY JK/SK/Gr 1 crop up in those areas – not in the learning arena. Look at the whole student, not just his academics.

15 Andrea June 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Yes, what Marla said.

Frances has always been very bright and more than capable of doing whatever needed doing, academically. But because her premature birth essentially skipped a grade for her (she’d be in grade 3 if she’d been born on time, but she wasn’t), her attention span and ability to sit still were not always where they assumed it should be. This was difficult for her, as she often struggled with feeling stupid or disobedient when she never had any trouble grasping the material. She was just fidgety.

She’s also been in a lot of split grades, both on the younger and older sides, thanks to her small school–and I’ve never seen it cause any kind of issue for any of the kids in those classes.

16 Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

No answers here, just questions. My November baby is just finishing JK (she was one of those 3-year-olds), and she’s been (unpleasantly) surprising us: by refusing to do things like write her name, insisting she doesn’t know how (she does. Or did.). Based on some things she’s said about her friends’ writing abilities, I worry that she’s seeing her skills as inferior, and thus refusing to try.

It kinda supports what I’ve read about January babies having an advantage in (and after) school, that has led some parents to hold back their late-year babies, starting them in JK when they’ll be the oldest in the class instead of the youngest. I never seriously considered doing that (any more than I question EVERY parenting decision I EVER make :P), but now I’m wondering if, as one of the youngest, she’s at a disadvantage.

If you’d asked me 2 years ago, I would have guessed that a split class would disadvantage the older kids. But I’m less sure of that now. Of course, we can’t dismiss the possibility that we all just worry too much about our kids, and that they’ll thrive (flourish, even) in sub-optimal conditions.

17 Sasha June 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Ooops. Didn’t mean to make that anonymous. The rambling comment above was me πŸ™‚

18 snackmommy June 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I’ve tried twice to type my long windy answer so here’s the condensed version:

I have experience with holding back a boy who would be the youngest to make him the oldest, having the same child in a split with the older kids he would have been with, having another late year baby who was beyond (eg starting kindergarden reading chapter books etc) where he should be academically for his grade but kept him with his peers

Without going into more detail, i would definitely keep him in his grade. The social piece is huge, partiularly at that young age. When my oldest in the class son was bumped up a grade for a year and became the youngest I saw his confidence plummet. In addition, I found while he could have been challenged more in the Kinder – gr 2 yrs, starting in grade 3 it started to level out (or maybe he got lazier, lol).

I also have had exceptional teachers who challenged my late year child with enrichment work and to keep him motivated, while still allowing him to stay with his peers from a social perspective. This an adapted learning plan and is reflected on his report card.

I hope this makes sense, but my bottom line advice……..DON”T BUMP HIM UP even if you are allowed. You can always challenge him in other areas when he is younger if needed to round him out, but you would never forgive yourself if you bumped him up and it wasn’t a great experience. I particularly would listen to the advice of those who spoke of leaders and followers. Just remember he’d also then be the youngest of his peers in the teenage years.

19 snackmommy June 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm

PS….being the youngest of three boys at home, it might also be a good experience for him to be one of the oldest for once. The big man on campus so to speak

20 Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 10:09 pm

My own situation is “opposite” to yours, i.e. two kids born late in the year. I sometimes say to other parents that I wish both kids were in the lower grade as they are certainly not as advanced in reading, writing and physical and emotional development as some of their peers. However, this post and the comments have made me really think about why I say that… and will no longer say it! They love going to school and I think this is a good indication that all is right. I do not even think they have started to compare their reading and writing skills to others and by the time they do, they will be reading and writing. Maybe Lucas will give you some sign if things are not quite right for him.

21 Jen June 5, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I wrote the last comment…did not mean to post it as anonymous

22 Stefania June 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Interesting discussion.

My youngest is a January baby. She certainly was ready socially and intellectually when she started school. My oldest is now in grade 3 and has been in split classes until this year. She did well academically and enjoyed being given the responsibility to help out fellow students when her work was done.

My Hubby doesn’t agree with skipping grades. He did it and he was always the youngest and smallest. Apparently, the social aspect is very important. A friend, who is a teacher, said that they would rather deal with the academic issues instead of dealing with holding a kid back away from friends. Another friend had to fight with the school to keep her daughter back. She was very behind. She may have some kind of learning disability, but testing isn’t done until later grades unless you pay out of pocket (which she can’t). She wanted her daughter to catch up with other kids who are learning the same material. Finally she convinced the school. Either way it’s a fight.

I’ve been told that if I want my kids to be challenged then to put them in French Immersion. I don’t agree. French may not be the challenge they’re looking for and you may end up with a child who is bored or frustrated. If a child is looking to be challenged in science, arts, etc then asking them to learn the subject in French isn’t exactly the challenge they’re looking for.

Keep us posted on what you decide.

23 Karen June 6, 2013 at 6:17 pm

My two cents is that – realistically – he’s likely already in a class where there are all different levels of ability. So, how’s he handling it? Brandon has areas where he’s very advanced compared to peers (reading) and probably at the back of the pack (writing due to fine motor delays). Ultimately, what I’ve heard from his teacher all year is that every child is in a different place and she does her best to get them all as close to each other as possible.

The experience we’re having at B’s school is that they’re working hard to individualize the experience for each child. It’s not going to ever be perfect – there aren’t enough resources – but I don’t think I’d bump Brandon up if we were in your shoes. One of the things that I love seeing is how much Brandon has learned over this past year. So much of that is due to peers who are more advanced. I’m seeing him teach other kids now. Teaching can reinforce things he’s learning and what an opportunity for him to evolve into a leadership role as well!

24 Cath in Ottawa June 8, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I share some of the misgivings about skipping – dh skipped a grade and really regrets it – no question he was smart enough but socially and in terms of size (small to begin with) it put him at a real disadvantage.

We experienced this dilemma with dd6 who read at a grade 5-6 level at 4 years old – and in the end, put her in a multiyear classroom where she totally thrived, both when she was at the younger and the older end. I think having younger ones around not only didn’t detract academically, it helped her become a great, compassionate teacher, which I love and which she wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

25 Carmen June 10, 2013 at 9:56 am

No matter how intelligent a child is, maturity comes with time and life experience. Just think about how different you are now compared to when you were 16 – even though you may have been very intelligent at 16. I would keep you son with kids his own age and don’t rush him to grow up. He will be just fine.

26 Suze June 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm

This may be a little late, but here are my two cents:
I spend a lot of time in my kids’ school, and I don’t think there’s a single child who is not at the grade level for their birth year, regardless of their academic or social ability. There are extrememly bright children and children who struggle in every grade and class.
My daughter, who was born in the summer, was in SK of one of those JK/SK classes. She adored the class, even though it was not very challenging for her academically. But she left SK at a reading level higher than most grade 1s, and quite a few grade 2s — her teacher worked with every child individually (or in small groups) in reading to test their reading level, and just kept moving her up. I was worried that she would be bored, but she just really enjoyed playing and having time to spend with friends. She went to grade 1 in a 1/2 split and is thriving. Academically, she could probably go into grade 3 next year, but why rush her?

I also would think about the future. Kids are graduating out of grade 12 now — those 3 year olds from JK are only 17 when they graduate, expected to move away to school and live on their own. There’s no way I was ready to leave at 17… Do you really want him to graduate a year earlier?

27 Tara in Ontario January 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I have the same dilemma as you, my oldest daughter is born January 1! She is in JK now, in French immersion, and is surpassing some of the SKs in her split level class. I am struggling with the decision on wether to push for her to skip to grade 1 in September or not. What was your final decision, and how has your child fared?

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