Q. Our daughter is 4 years old and extremely bright. She reads at a first- or second-grade level and enjoys it and does quite well with numbers, too.

She shows little interest in playing with children her own age, instead preferring those who are older. She does fine with these kids, though sometimes displays behavior typical of a 4-year-old.

She will be going to a private school next year, and we'd like your opinion on skipping her to first grade at that time. We're afraid she'll be bored in kindergarten, but we don't want to create potential social problems for her, either next year or later. She has one sibling, 3 years older.

A. You've heard about borrowing trouble?

Right now everything seems dandy with your little girl. She has progressed well, reaching out for more as she has needed it by learning how to read and by making older friends. This doesn't seem like the time to interfere.

It also isn't as much of your business as you might think. Although your wishes should be considered, it's basically for the school to decide what grade your daughter should enter.

A great many things will go into this decision, but the teachers probably will want your child to follow the regular route first so they can judge her abilities and maturity for themselves.

This is because bright children are blessed in many ways, but their social skills seldom match their intellectual ones. Six hours is a long time for a younger child to act as old as the rest of the class. If your child seemed more immature than the rest, she would feel out of place, losing some self-esteem just when she needed it most.

It's better for a child to be the leader of the class than the baby, or even to be bored rather than embarrassed.

Kindergarten also should fit better with her perseverance now. She may be far ahead in her academics, but she probably doesn't have the stamina to pursue them as much -- and as hard -- as the older children do.

This also is true on the playground, since a year makes a big difference in the size of children and in their ability to play games, to jump and hop and kick a ball. When children make fun of each other, it's often over their shortcomings at play.

A good school won't hold a child back. Instead, she will be encouraged to read with the first grade, to spend some time with the librarian, to work on science or math with a team of older children. This should help to satisfy her enjoyment of older children.

As for play, she would be spending the recess with children her own age, but could drift to the older ones at lunch time and on the days that she felt older herself.

Kindergarten and the first three years of school are supposed to give your child the security she needs for all the school years ahead -- a security that doesn't come from being conspicuous as the youngest in the class. In elementary school a child judges herself by what her classmates think of her, not by how well she can read and add. These could be cold comforts in the conforming years ahead.

And if your daughter is one of those rare children who is as advanced emotionally as mentally, there is always time to move her ahead--a decision you'll make with both of the teachers involved. If she had to move back, or repeat a grade, she would feel pretty bad about it; if she started a year ahead and kept up with the pace, she would scarcely notice it, but a promotion is a fine compliment.

It recognizes a child's ability in school, but after the fact -- not before it.

Reader's Comment: Regarding the woman who wrote about trying to decide what role, if any, religion should play in her small daughter's life:

Because my parents and all my grandparents are agnostics or atheists, religion had no role in my upbringing -- none.

I had a very sad and lonely childhood thinking there was nothing older, bigger or more important than my own life. Nothing else was sufficiently convincing, impressive or universal.

Parents should consider their children's needs, not their own prejudices. A child who grows up without religion is seriously deprived.