Q. Denver offers an advanced kindergarten program, and I think my child would qualify, but is it a good idea to enroll him?
A. Based on your question, I take it that you have a sense for the benefits of an accelerated program. The earlier we get children reading well, the more likely they are to gain benefit from all of their subsequent instruction. Children who are genuinely gifted can frequently feel different and isolated without the company of equally intellectually gifted peers. Instead, I am going to share with you some of the drawbacks of accelerated programs to increase your awareness of the opportunity costs.
First, the DPS kindergarten curriculum is fairly rigorous to begin with. I have visited many kindergarten classes in DPS in the past year and can attest to the fact that full-day kindergarten classes spend about three hours on various types of literacy instruction every day. They also spend large chunks of time on mathematics, science, nutrition, safety, and other curricula.
An advanced version of this curriculum will not only be for students who are already reading, writing, solving problems in a variety of ways, and representing abstract mathematical ideas with numbers and objects, but will also require strong self-regulation of attention, the ability to control emotions, and a high tolerance for frustration. If students are placed in these programs incorrectly, they may end up feeling frustrated, begin to dislike school, and develop a sense that they are less capable than others.
The second thing about accelerated classes is that it is highly likely that you will find much less of the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity that makes DPS a rich educational environment. Children gain significant incidental benefit from interacting with others who look, sound, or act different from themselves.
In order for students to be enrolled in the advanced kindergarten program they have to be able to pay the assessment and full-day kindergarten fees (although financial assistance is available). The advanced kindergarten program is not offered at every school and transportation is not provided, so many of the parents must be able drive their children to a school outside their neighborhood. These factors can restrict opportunities for children of some families who may not have cars or flexible work schedules to accommodate driving, may not have money for fees, or the language skills to navigate the application process.
Lastly, when we group students by ability it can skew a child’s perspective of themselves in the context of their peers. While a child may be a strong reader, but are in class with students who are all better readers, they can develop the self-image of a poor reader. Even in kindergarten, children compare themselves with others and generally know each other’s strengths and needs.
All that said, selecting a school, class, or program for our children is all about how well it “fits.” If you visit one of the advanced kindergarten classes and think that your child will thrive, then it might be the right thing.
Editor’s note: Read this story about increased interest in Denver’s advanced kindergarten programs in Education News Colorado.