We’ve recently been having a bit of an acceleration dilemma. When we first went through this process, I remember how thirsty I was for real stories, so I’m going to share mine here.
Chatterboy was born in September. He learned to read pretty much on his own, and around the time he turned four, he progressed to sitting reading books silently to himself at all corners of the house. This, of course, pleased Mr Penguin and me immensely, to have passed on our favourite hobby. We were also searching for a good preschool for his final year before school (which are in short supply in our area), and we mentioned his reading abilities to the preschools we visited – asking them how they would keep him interested in “group time”. Their reactions varied, but one of them suggested we get him tested to see if he should start school early. We scoffed, but thought we had better do it just in case we were wrong. The educational psychologist strongly recommended an early start to school, and after a huge amount of angst and internet research (and difficulty finding a school that would do it – our local school refused) we took his advice. He started school the following January, aged 4 and a quarter, six weeks too young for the official cut-off, and probably three months younger than the next youngest child in the class.
So far, it’s been a fantastic decision. Chatterboy went from not having any friends at preschool (which worried us a lot) to being part of the gang at school. He’s still not the most popular child in class, but he’s a real part of class life. He’s thrived on the school work, and continues to amaze us with the facts he dredges up from odd corners of his reading at the most apposite times. This year he’s been in the bottom half of a composite class (Year 2 of 2/3) and continued to love his time at school. He’s had a very close best friend this year (exactly a year older than him, and more than a head taller).
But this week, the school came to us and suggested that he should be accelerated again. His current teacher (who he adores) is taking the current year 3s with her to a year 4 class next year), and the school thinks that he’s going to have to skip another year eventually. Now is the perfect time, with a teacher who already understands him, and half a class that he already knows.
We’re very very torn. It’s almost certainly going to be the right decision next year – from what we’ve seen this year. And probably the year after that, too. He does genuinely seem to get on well with kids older than him (it’s not just him being a mascot that they think is cute). One of the kids from our street is three years older than him, and they thrive on swapping books with each other and sharing computer games.
But … what is it going to be like in high school? I’ve so far got quite impatient with people who’ve said that to me about Chatterboy starting school early. I was young for my year, and I can’t see that it made much difference to my social success or otherwise at school. I don’t think it matters that he’ll be driving and drinking later than his peers. But he’ll now be seriously younger, and much smaller (if he follows my family he will shoot up to adult height pretty late in his teenage years, so he’ll be very small for quite a while). That’s bound to create some issues in our very sporty Australian culture.
But most studies of accelerated children have found that on average it is a good call. The trick is to make sure you’re comparing like with like. Accelerated children generally do have a few more social issues than average. But if they hadn’t been accelerated, they generally have far more. And it is a much easier intervention for the school and the child, in many ways, than complicated pull out sessions for a small sub group of children to keep them interested when they’ve already mastered the main curriculum.
We’ve decided to do it anyway, on the school’s advice. But it’s one of those decisions that we’re not going to know whether it was right or not for quite a few years.