What No One Ever Tells You About Grade Skipping

Volume 7

Academic acceleration for gifted students can take many forms but one of the most controversial is whole grade acceleration, commonly known as, ‘grade skipping.’ This practice is controversial only because negative preconceptions still prevail among teachers, administrators and parents that grade skipping is harmful to students.  We now have reams of research indicating that whole grade acceleration is successful for most of the students who skip.

Five years ago, my son skipped the third grade as he transitioned to a new school. I learned a lot about the consequences of him skipping a grade that I wish someone had told me back then. It likely wouldn’t have changed our decision to grade-skip him, but it may have made my son’s journey a bit easier. Several parents I know have also grade skipped their children. After speaking with them, here are just a few of the lessons we parents have learned along the way.

Make sure your child is truly prepared to be the last one to reach milestones.

Our son is tall, so he has always looked older than he is. But other children who grade skip may be the smallest in their class throughout their years in school. This difference may bother some children. When classmates start to show outward signs of puberty (acne, facial hair, braces, etc.), grade skipped kids may feel left behind. We have to remind our children that they are ‘normal’ and that they, too, will go through all the same changes in another year. I imagine we will face similar issues when our kids’ friends start driving. The key is to make sure your child understands that their body isn’t necessarily accelerated at the same pace as their brain. 

 Be prepared to tell every single one of your child’s teachers every single year that your child is younger than classmates.

When my son was grade-skipped, I assumed each of his teachers would be informed. Nope. Few, if any, of his teachers had any idea he was a full 1-2 years younger than his classmates. In notes home to me, teachers would tell me how ‘immature’ my son was and how he was behind in social skills. I had to schedule parent-teacher conferences with each teacher to tell them that he was, in fact, much younger than the other children in his class. After hearing that, teachers would apologize to me saying they had no idea he had grade skipped. I even had to go speak to my son’s physical education teacher because he kept getting “P” for progressing on his report card rather than satisfactory grades in gym class. When I told the teacher my son was younger, the teacher said, “Oh that explains why he doesn’t have the coordination to do this activity…he isn’t supposed to be there developmentally yet.” After that, my son had a much easier time in gym class! Occasionally, parents of accelerated students meet with a teacher who says she doesn’t believe in grade skipping. One even sniped to me, “Well he’s just going to have to learn how to act more mature!” I laughed out loud. “How does one pretend to be older than they really are?” I asked her perplexed.

You will have to work hard to help your child develop social connections.

For neurotypical children, there comes a point where mom and dad no longer coordinate play dates, orchestrate social interactions, buddy their kids up for camps and otherwise direct their child’s social life. But with gifted children who are younger than their peers, parents must work extra hard to make sure friendships are strong. Younger children often have different interests than their older classmates so it’s important for mom and dad to continue to make sure the accelerated child has solid social connections inside and outside of school. This means befriending the parents of your child’s classmates and extending lots of invitations for kids to come over and play at your house.

Arm your child with answers to student, teacher and parent questions about why they skipped ahead.

Teachers, parents, and classmates still ask my son, “Why did you skip a grade?” when they hear he accelerated. At first, he was embarrassed by this question and wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to sound like he was bragging about being smart or imply others were not as advanced. After much discussion about how to respond, we settled on, “I was ready.” Usually, that works to assuage inquiring minds but occasionally there are still teachers (!!) who make comments to my son about how they believe grade skipping is a huge mistake. Other parents I know face the same criticisms, sometimes within their own families. Myths still abound that full grade acceleration is damaging to children.

If your child is very, very advanced academically, consider a multi-year grade skip.

By skipping one grade, we tried to toe the line between getting our son more advanced material but keeping him socially close to kids his age. I’m not sure we gained much academically by only advancing one grade. If you’re going to skip, consider putting the student where they should be academically, even if that means skipping several grades ahead. Sometimes this means forfeiting social connections, but other times putting a child with intellectual peers results in more friends. Classmates finally understand their jokes and perspectives.

Grade skipping can make a huge difference to your child.

When a child is placed in the right academic setting for their abilities, it can be life-changing. Frustrations disappear and children are excited to learn again. Some parents even report improvements in a child’s executive function skills after a grade skip because when more is expected of them, they rise to the occasion.

Grade skipping isn’t right for every gifted child. There must be a compelling reason to consider this type of acceleration. Using the Iowa Acceleration Scale can provide schools and parents with objective criteria to determine if grade skipping is the right form of acceleration for a student. Ultimately, the decision rests with parents. If you feel grade skipping is right for your child, pursue it while keeping these lessons in mind.

“How I Respond to Awkward Comments About My Child’s Giftedness.”

Volume 6

Strangers and family members alike sometimes say offensive, confusing or awkward things to parents when the subject of giftedness comes up. This is how I have handled actual comments people have made to me about one or the other of my sons these past few years.

“Why did your son skip a grade?”

“He was ready.”

“So how smart is he?”

“He requires a different educational approach in order to be appropriately challenged in school.”

“He doesn’t seem that smart…clearly, he’s no genius.”

“Thank you. We work hard to help him develop the social skills he needs to fit in with other children his age.”

“All kids are gifted.”

“You’re right…all kids have gifts. “Gifted” is the word used to describe a particular subset of children who have IQs that are one or more standard deviations from the norm and who are asynchronous in their development.”

“Why are you homeschooling him?”

“So he can learn at his own pace.”

“We don’t push our child…they are only kids once.”

“We don’t push ours either…he pulls us in the direction where he wants to go.”

“Grade skipping hurts kids socially.”

“That is a widely held belief but actually the research shows that grade skipping benefits the majority of children who are ready for it.”

“I was shocked to hear that your son is in the gifted program” (said about my 2e child)

“There are many children who are gifted and who also have another exceptionality such as ADHD or a learning disability. It’s more common than you might think.”

What are some of the awkward comments people have made to you about your gifted child? Share on the Facebook page @Raising Children with Intelligence.

Home School “Hacks” Part 1

Volume 5

As a mom who has been homeschooling her son for fewer than 30 days, I’m hardly qualified to share hacks with parents who have been their child’s teachers since birth. However, as a newbie to this world, I’ve seen some super amazing things that blew the roof off everything I thought I knew about homeschooling. Here are a few hacks I want to share…especially with parents who think, “I could NEVER EVER homeschool my child!” I’m proof that yes….yes, you can.

1 – You can work full time and homeschool.

Sorta. If you have elementary age children, this could be a challenge. But if you have fairly-responsible middle schoolers, you absolutely can work full time. I met a mom who is a college professor and when she goes out the door to work in the morning, she leaves a schedule and list of assignments for her son. She Facetimes him throughout the day on her breaks to check in and see how he’s doing. At the end of the day, they review his work and determine the next day’s agenda. Other parents work from home a few days a week and bring their homeschoolers to centers or classes while they type away on their laptops at a local coffee shop, which is exactly where I am typing this blog. So it is definitely possible to homeschool and work a demanding full-time job.

2 – You don’t have to do any teaching. Like at all.

There are so many different flavors of homeschooling. For those of us who live in Virginia, the requirements to demonstrate that your child has made progress in their academics are (shockingly) lax. So, you can pretty much do whatever you think your child will enjoy and call it ‘school.’ There are entire Facebook communities of parents who homeschool their children using only YouTube and Netflix! There are groups who swap curricula every year with other parents to minimize costs. There are groups that co-op the teaching so each family teaches all of the kids one day each month and the rest of the time their children are off with other parents. There are at least three dedicated “centers” near me – and many more around the country – that offer one-off and seminar classes just for homeschoolers. The public library has literature programs for homeschoolers. The gym offers PE classes during the day. Home schooling can just as easily be called ‘taxi driving your kid to various places around town’ because parents aren’t actually teaching most (any?) of the time. And if you don’t live in an area with robust homeschool communities, there are a ton of online resources – classes, mentorships, virtual field trips, online chess tournaments, etc.  Most of us raising gifted kids know our children are way smarter than we are anyway so it’s a relief to realize we don’t have to try to teach them anything.

3 –Home school kids learn what they want to learn rather than what adults want them to learn.

If your fear about homeschooling your child is that they would end up hanging out in their pj’s all day playing video games or Snapchatting friends, fear not. After exactly one day of that, my son announced he was bored. I said, “Well what do you want to learn?” and he said, “Solving the Rubik’s Cube is something that I’ve always wanted to figure out…I think I’ll do that.” He dusted off his 3×3 cube and before I knew it, he was pouring over pages of notes he had taken on algorithms for Beginner Strategy (which is a thing in cuber land.) He was soon spending his piggy bank money on 5×5 cubes and Pyraminx and other weirdly-named and shaped puzzles. He watched dozens and dozens of YouTube and other videos online about how to shave seconds off his solving time. Within two weeks he was able to solve the 3×3 in under a minute and today he’s down to about 48 seconds (and dropping). The best part is hearing him say, “I’m so proud of myself” each time he achieves a new personal best. This is a kid who routinely said, “I want to die,” as he walked out the door to catch the bus for school. Will solving the Rubik’s Cube help him get into Harvard? Nope. Will it allow him to connect with other kids just like him at whatever non-Harvard college he attends? Yup – and that is A-Okay with me. His happiness and enthusiasm for self-directed learning will pay dividends for the rest of his life.

4 – Your child will relax and be more pleasant if they are not dealing with the stress of school.

This morning my son said to my husband, “Dad I’ve noticed we’ve been getting along a lot better since I left school. I’m really glad because I love you a lot.” My husband nearly fell over. When kids enjoy more time in the safety and sanctity of home without the stress of having to ‘suit up’ to head into a stressful school building every day, they are much more pleasant people. It’s not necessarily the stress of performing that impacts them, but the stress of performing in an environment which is not a good fit for them. Our son still attends his school six hours a week for high school classes and on those days he is generally less pleasant.

Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. I swore I would never do it. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. But I did. And I am so glad we made this decision for this child at this time in his life. Six months from now I may have some real hacks to offer you but for now I just wanted to share some surprising side-effects and benefits of bringing your baby back home to the nest.

“Why Parents Hate the Label Gifted

Volume 4

I would like to meet the person (or committee more likely) who first used the word ‘gifted’ to describe high ability children. I would tell this person that being this way…so different from everyone else intellectually, emotionally and otherwise…is no gift!

It’s actually unclear who first used the label “gifted” to describe children with high potential. In 1972, S.P. Marland delivered the first national report to US Congress about gifted children and their educational needs. That presentation, now known as The Marland Report, contained a definition of giftedness along with research supporting the need to differentiate classroom instruction for gifted learnersRead a full history of gifted education published by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).

What I call tell you after speaking with hundreds of parents raising gifted children is that few, if any, like the label gifted. Many of us feel the term reeks of elitism and it does not accurately represent both sides of the high-ability coin. Yes, our children have aptitudes that surpass the norm, but they also face unique challenges trying to fit into a world that is not designed to accommodate their needs.

If we must label these children, here are labels I would prefer use to describe our kids:

  • Asynchronous – This is the label I like best because it is devoid of positive or negative connotation. In technology, asynchronous means, “of or relating to operation without the use of fixed time intervals.” In human development, asynchronous learners simply are not synchronized with other children – they can be ahead in some areas and/or behind in others.
  • Precocious – This is a word with which most people are already familiar so it could easily be used to describe our kids. The formal definition is, “having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.” That one works fairly well as a label, but it sounds a bit old-fashioned.
  • Intellectually-Curious – This term suggests an innate desire to learn, which is a primary characteristic of gifted children, but ‘curious’ isn’t quite the right word. “Intellectually-ravenous” might be a better descriptor but I’m not sure the folks in the annals of education research would be happy with this label. And there are some students who have their curiosity diminished after spending time in educational environments that don’t meet their learning needs.
  • High-Needs– I use this term a lot to explain to people why it is so challenging to raise my two boys. “They are high-needs children,” says as much about the challenges of parenting these kids as it does about the characteristics of the children themselves. What I like about the term is that it doesn’t imply judgment. It simply indicates that the needs of this population are higher than average. We parents raising gifted children know this to be true.

Whether we like it or not, the label “gifted” is what is currently used in education, research, and child development circles to describe our asynchronous, precocious, intellectually-curious, high-needs kids. Which of these, or other, labels do you prefer? Email me chris@nationalcenterforgiftedservices.com.

“From Polar Shifts to Nuclear War; Why Gifted Children Worry (and How Parents Can Help)”

Volume 3

Why Gifted Children Worry

Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas of increased sensitivities more prevalent in those with higher intellectual capacity. These overexcitabilities (OE’s) include Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Emotional and Imaginational. Children with combinations of OE’s are capable of feeling very deeply about intellectually-advanced subjects, including perceived global threats. Unfortunately, by the very nature of these children being gifted and having asynchronous development, they don’t have the maturity to process these perceived threats emotionally. And since no gifted child has had decades of ‘real life’ experience on the planet to help them qualify threats as highly-unlikely, they worry. New research suggests that people with “hyper” brains (i.e. high IQ’s) also have “hyper” bodies with hyper-reactive nervous systems.

In our house, anxiety didn’t really present itself until the middle school years when adolescence began and the limbic “fight or flight” system started to become more active. Our eldest son had always worried a little bit about his parents dying and he would get hysterical if he couldn’t find one of us in the house. But in 6th grade after reading a (fake) news story about “the impending polar shift and how it was going to destroy the earth,” he become consumed with worry. He talked incessantly about the poles collapsing on whatever date the article had predicted they would shift, and no amount of reassurance from us would assuage him of his fears. When that day on the calendar came and went without incident, he calmed down for a few days and then transferred his worry to something else. His amygdala had been activated and it has not really calmed down since. Today he worries about North Korea nuking the United States despite repeated assurance from high-ranking US intelligence officer friends that such a scenario is extraordinarily unlikely.  My son’s self-defeating beliefs often sabotage his ability to enjoy the here and now.

Anxiety can be a tough dragon to slay but here are some of the tools we and other parents have used to help their gifted children manage their worries. Note: If the worrying interferes with your child’s ability to maintain their regular routine, it’s best to engage a good cognitive behavior therapist in your area who understands the needs of gifted children. Any threats of self-harm or symptoms of depression should be taken seriously and treated as medical emergencies.

  1. If the worry is pervasive but not overwhelming, encourage your child to get in the habit of taking three slow, deep breaths at various intervals throughout the day. Three calming breaths have been shown to completely reset brain chemistry and the increased blood flow to the extremities helps to calm jumpy nerves.
  2. If your child worries about world events, limit or eliminate their access to news. In the age of instant access to information, this is a lot harder than it sounds. But being able to recognize triggers is an important step towards helping your child manage his or her own anxiety in the years to come. And let’s face it, news today is all about producing anxiety in the viewer!
  3. Exercise is critically important to calm down the anxious brain. Encourage your child to move more and sit less during times of anxiety. Even a brisk 20-minute walk can help take the edge off.
  4. For some children, journaling helps them process their fears. Ask the child to write about their worries, including worst case scenarios. Have them also think about the statistical odds of these events happening. Some psychologists advocate having the child make a tape recording of them saying their worst fears. They advise that the kids play the tape repeatedly so the brain becomes desensitized to the message. Then when the fear crops up in their head, the brain considers it ‘old news’ and doesn’t react with a flood of adrenaline in a panicked response.
  5. Each time a perceived threat does not happen as feared, highlight that to your child as an example that sometimes we worry about things unnecessarily and that the more you live on the planet, the more you realize most fears are unfounded. Focus on concerns over which your child has direct control such as eating a healthy diet, getting ample sleep and developing hobbies.
  6. Practice mindfulness with your child where you teach them to focus on the here and now. When a child is feeling anxious, ask him or her to name five objects they see, sounds they hear and textures they feel in their environment at that exact moment. This exercise forces them to focus on the immediate rather than worry about the future.

Anxiety is part and parcel with being gifted for many children. Most our kids will develop healthy coping mechanisms by the time they become adults. Parents can help by expressing empathy and patience when a child worries. Try some of these techniques with your child and let me know what works best.

“5 Things Parents of Gifted Kids Wish Every Teacher Understood”

Volume 2

1. Our children have a “rage to learn,” not perform.

Gifted children are the stewards of their own learning and we parents are just the chauffeurs and financiers who get dragged along for the ride. Often our kids pick a (seemingly random) subject and attack it with a voracious appetite…learning every little detail there is to know. In our house, we have enjoyed (endured?) hundreds of hours of discussions about the geographic borders of nations, US Presidents, the periodic table of elements, Pokémon (ugh) and, most recently, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. When one obsession subsides, another one quickly moves in to replace it. Gifted kids aren’t learning so they can perform well on a test or because they want to impress their teachers (ha – I wish). They are learning because it’s who they are. For them, learning is as important as breathing. My son once said to me through tears, “Mommy I’m a terrible person because after I meet someone and suck all of the knowledge out of their heads, I feel like I am done with them and I want to move on to the next person.” Our kids are learning machines! If a teacher is having trouble getting a gifted child to perform…to produce output…he or she could try aligning the assignment with the child’s latest obsession.

2. Socializing is critical to our child’s happiness…please keep them with their friends!

There seems to be an unwritten edict upheld by teachers and administrators dictating that friends should be separated from one another at school. Making a friend is such a monumental achievement for a gifted child that the least a teacher can do is allow the child to spend time with their friend. Our kids need all the social-emotional coaching they can get. Please let them “feel normal” for a change by allowing them to sit with their buddies at lunch or during recess. In elementary school, put gifted kids in classes with other bright children but also with whomever their ‘best’ friend is for that year. In middle school, make sure gifted students have lunch at the same time as their friends and let them sit together, even if it means bending the rules to do so. If you cut off a gifted child socially, he or she will have a much harder time engaging in the entire school day. Know that we parents are working overtime during the non-school hours to cultivate and support these friendships and we appreciate you encouraging the bonds while your child is under your direction at school.

3. Some gifted children do not speak the help language.

There is a fantastic video on YouTube called “James and Susie; An Allegory” that highlights why gifted children can under-achieve in school. As odd as this may sound, many extremely bright, articulate children do not have the vocabulary to ask for help. I was at a parent-teacher conference once with my son and his teacher was utterly dumbfounded about why my son was “refusing” (her word) to do an assignment. She was telling me how he just stared at his paper the entire period and would not start writing. I turned to my son and asked why he hadn’t done the assignment and he said he did not understand what she wanted him to do. Incredulous, I asked him, “Why didn’t you ask for help…ask her to explain it in a different way?!” He said, “I will never ask for help, mom. I just won’t.” It was then that I realized he had NO IDEA how to ask for help in a way that didn’t diminish him or make him feel ashamed that he needed more direction. Our children often don’t have to ask for help – they “get” things intuitively and everything comes easy for them. Until it doesn’t. Then our kids do not have the words…the vocabulary…to ask for help in a way that doesn’t make them feel extremely uncomfortable or somehow ‘less than’ in their minds. Often, their entire identity is wrapped up in being smart so if they are having to ask for help…what does that mean? They suffer a mini existential crisis that leaves them staring at a blank piece of paper or getting an F on an assignment. Teachers might assume the child is being difficult when the problem is actually a language issue.

4. Classes like P.E. and Art can be as challenging to the gifted child as Math or Science is for other students.

Some intellectually-advanced children are also gifted athletes and artists but most are not. For kids who tend to be not-very-athletic, physical education class can be the “hardest” class of the day. Not only do these children suffer the humiliation of being picked last for teams or dropping the ball on a big play but they are often teased by the very people who are supposed to protect them from bullies – their teachers! Some PE teachers punish children for their asynchronous development by making them do pushups or run laps when they are not as athletically competent as their neurotypical classmates. Others delight in poking fun of very intelligent kids to show the other children that, “smart kids have weaknesses too.”

In art class, gifted children can be paralyzed with fear when asked to produce an original work since there is no “right” answer. Research shows gifted children have trouble seeing shades of gray (figuratively, not literally) so they struggle when asked to comment on why they do or do not like a work of art or how it makes them feel. Most of all, many gifted children struggle to understand why they must sit through ‘boring’ Art and PE when they could be reading a novel or learning something that interests them. Electives like PE and Art are the “school” part of the school day for many gifted children.

5. Our kids aren’t showing off when they raise their hands in class, they are desperately trying to stay engaged.

I once had a teacher tell me at a parent-teacher conference that she won’t call on my son because “He always has his hand up and gets the right answer and it makes the other kids feel bad.” Uh…my son is raising his hand because otherwise, he would have nothing to do since he already learned what you are teaching and, by the way, maybe he can add new information to the discussion IF YOU WOULD CALL ON HIM. Rant over. It’s so hard for our kids to stay engaged in lessons they already know or to be enthused about another round of review. If they raise their hand, please acknowledge that they are sincerely trying to participate. Yes, they can be distracting when they bring in ancillary details and, yes, there are 34 other students in the class who also want to participate, but please don’t penalize gifted children for knowing the answers and wanting to stay engaged in the lesson.

 What are some of the things you wish your child’s teachers understood about gifted children? Join the discussion on the @Raising Children with Intelligence Facebook page.

How the National Center for Gifted Services Came to Be

Volume 1

Hi, I’m Chris Croll, founder of the National Center for Gifted Services.  The Center launched in 2017 with the goal of developing a resource for parents across America who are raising gifted children. The Center is a safe place where parents can interact with one another, access the latest research and do a deep-dive with parenting and behavior experts who have first-hand experience raising and teaching gifted kids like ours.

One of the reasons we parents of gifted children struggle so much is because the world isn’t always kind to gifted children (or their beleaguered parents!). Many confuse ‘gifted’ with ‘high achieving’ and assume that our children earn straight A’s in school, behave themselves like little adults at home and are all on a path to lifelong success. Anyone raising gifted children can tell you this is, laughably, not usually the case.

When my oldest son was “diagnosed” as being profoundly gifted (yes, I consider it a diagnosis since the ramifications are as broad and deep as any other learning difference), my husband and I had to develop our own roadmap to chart our son’s education and personal development. After I launched a local parenting group in my community, Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students, it became clear that many parents of gifted children need broader and more personalized support than what is generally available today.

Parents of gifted children often feel woefully unprepared for the unique challenges we face trying to raise our children. Sadly, due to society’s misunderstanding of what ‘gifted’ really entails, we are often forced to face these challenges alone. For some parents, even close family members and friends are ambivalent or even hostile when we try to talk about how hard it is to raise asynchronous children.

The National Center for Gifted Services is here to help parents connect with resources and other parents of gifted children. My goal is to work together with you to create home and school environments that allow our kids to develop optimally and to achieve their full potential in life.

Thank you for visiting. I look forward to hearing your feedback.