Do kids need a ‘gap year’ before high school?

Some parents are giving their children an extra year in eighth grade to prepare for the rigors of high school, writes Jessica Lahey, a middle-school teacher, in The Atlantic.

The recent push for increased academic rigor also means kids need more well-developed executive-functioning skills, or the ability organize, plan, schedule, and self-regulate. These skills originate in the prefrontal cortex, one of the last areas of the brain to develop, and are vital to student success, particularly as students shift from the relatively low organizational demands of elementary school to the more complicated an onerous demands of middle school.

Sam Strohbehn’s mother, Judy, thought he wasn’t ready for high school in Hanover, NH. He agreed to spend a fourth year in middle school.

Sam is our youngest boy, and the youngest child in his grade. We knew what was coming academically and socially, and that to navigate high school, he needed some time to become a mature learner, to appreciate all that high school was going to offer. Sam had not yet developed strong organizational techniques, study skills, and time management tools. When his teachers weighed in, they stressed that he simply needed more time. We were told to consider a gap year after high school, but decided not to wait and give him that time now.

When Sam had “matured academically and socially” by the time he started high school, his mother writes.

Still, the “gift of time” is expensive for taxpayers, who have to pay for that extra year of schooling. Lahey thinks it makes more sense to put more time and effort into teaching students to organize, plan, schedule and self-regulate.

These are very useful skills in life, not just in high school.

Teaching self-control

Can teachers increase students’ self-control? (pdf) Children who haven’t learned to regulate their behavior at home can develop the skills in warm, organized, orderly classrooms, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in the new American Educator.