One of my friends said that she was considering accelerating her 3-year old son the other day so that he starts school in September. He is October-born so would only be starting school 2 months earlier than an August-born child and he is ahead of his peers. However, I have my reservations but are they unfounded? The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children but does research bear this out?
Research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.
The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) endorse the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.
Perhaps it depends on how gifted a child is as to whether there are benefits in accelerating them. Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4 to 5 years old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3 to 4 years old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. A level 1 gifted child is able to read children’s non-picture books by age seven to seven and a half and is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). It may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.
The research suggests that I should be more open to the idea of accelerating gifted children. However, I still think that gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to socialise and play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may always feel smaller than their friends and it is unlikely that they would be picked for the school sports teams against bigger children. Gifted children may also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics, so it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.
If I go back to my friend’s dilemma about whether to accelerate her 3-year old son or not, I would say that she has to judge at what level he is gifted to make a decision as to whether to accelerate him. I also believe that young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted so she needs to think about whether her son is still enjoying free play. Another thing she needs to consider is whether her son has the emotional maturity to deal with full-time schooling. Children may be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.