Tips from a Mom of a Precocious Child
Most of us see the gifted side of our children, and we all worry about our kids receiving the best possible education. Schools can seem slanted towards the average child, leaving parents nervous that advanced children will become bored in class. I personally spent many hours of elementary school doing workbooks, so when someone suggests I enroll him in enrichment classes rather than worry about his classroom time, it aggravates me.
Since my kid has appeared talented at academic subjects, I get periodic questions for advice. What should I do? How should I approach the school? How do I choose a school? I’m not an education expert, just a mom with a bright kid, sharing my learning experiences.
Avoid pressuring your child. It’s tempting when your child shows a talent to want to groom him. Why not make him the Best Ben He Can Be? There’s no bigger way to squash a child’s intellectual curiosity than pressuring him to do more. Remember when you were a child and automatically hated whatever your parents wanted you to do? Telling them they were sucking the fun out of everything?
Avoid labels. Depending on your child’s age, it might be too soon to assess “giftedness”. Teachers hear from almost every parent of a certain socioeconomic status that their children are gifted, and become immune to the label. Instead, focus on what specifically your child is doing, especially if done without parental involvement. Further, Jordan Ellenberg in the article The Wrong Way to Treat Child Geniuses writes that child “geniuses” can think that work should come easy to them, and moderately gifted children can think that they aren’t smart enough to try, when all bright people can contribute to society, whether “genius” or merely “smart”.
Keep it fun. Leave workbooks to your school. Instead, try these fun ideas (Creative Writing for Kids: How Do I Encourage My Kids to Write? or Math Is Everywhere: How to Instill Love of Math in Your Children). For instance, if you have a child talented at language arts, suggest that he turn his dream into a play. Ask him to write down who the characters are, and offer to use the family to act out his screenplay. Or you have a child great at math? Ask for help doubling your recipe, or eat a piece of his orange and ask how much is left.
Maintain intellectual challenge. Carol Dweck (http://mindsetonline.com) found that children need to think they need to work to grow their brains. If they rely on their “giftedness”, then they will not have as large of a capacity to learn, nor the same resilience as someone who thinks they have to work hard. This theory convinced me that my son needed either in class or after school work that was hard enough for him to make mistakes. Lots of families in our district supplement math with online programs, which are typically self paced so will automatically adjust to your child’s performance until he makes mistakes. My son takes this online class for math http://giftedandtalented.com/course-detail/-/course/epgy-mathematics-68, which I paid for, and loves this reading comprehension program http://www.raz-kids.com/main/Login, which our school set up.
Foster empathy. Teach your child not to expect other children to be at the same level. No one loves a smarty pants who shows off his reading and writing of chapter books when the other child is struggling to read a picture book. Yet, to a gifted child, they assume everyone can do what they consider easy.
Partner with your teacher. Ask your teacher for advice on how to engage your child. Teachers see your child in class every day and might have better ideas than you’ve thought of. For instance, a reading specialist we met at the beach this summer suggested that I work with the teacher to reduce how many times my son would need to do a type of problem before moving on to the next challenge. Her son became upset when his teacher asked for twenty repetitions, and said that he did it once, so why do it again once he learned how to solve the problem. Her compromise: five times.
Ask the teacher about your child’s weaknesses. If you feel that the teacher isn’t meeting your child’s needs, ask questions to understand why and where your child can focus. For instance, San Francisco public schools assess each child’s reading level at the beginning of school and choose books based on that level. If the books selected are below what your child reads at home, perhaps his fluency is higher than his comprehension, which you could work on with your child. Or in math, my son taught himself a lot of arithmetic, but didn’t know how to tell time until this year. Everybody has a weakness, and listening shows the teacher that you respect them.
Choose non-academic activities. While you might feel pulled towards academic enrichment, it’s important to look at the whole child. While my child is unlikely to be a major athlete, exercise is important for his health, so he takes soccer and swimming. After years of my son begging to take the violin, I finally agreed. Violin is a fun challenge for him – the combination of fine motor skills, math skills (quarter notes vs. full notes are fractions!) and reading a whole new language. If you choose a musical instrument, remember to budget time and incentive to practice each day.
As the parent of twins that are ahead of the curve I like your summary. I would suggest that you add a section on advocating for GATE ( Gifted and Talented Education) in public schools. Especially here in San Francisco where a high percentage of the population is probably G&T and the school board does not support them.
What I have found so far:
California Association for Gifted http://www.cagifted.org
National Association of Gifted Children
Go to your local school board meetings and let your needs be know.
We agree that sfusd needs a strong plan to engage those children who are academically advanced. Many sfusd elementary schools are doing an excellent job, but middle schools have been told to drop honors without a plan to replace the academic rigor. The sfusd math department presented the common core and admitted that they have no plan.
We like this article, By Not Challenging Gifted Kids, What Do We Risk Losing? – http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/what-do-we-risk-losing-by-not-challenging-gifted-kids/.