Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to do with your gifted child

This is not a life or humour post, this is a question that gets asked a lot.  What do you do with a gifted child and what about grade skipping?  Yes, I opted to not only not skip a grade, I didn't even look into it as an option.  Even early entry to Kindergarten isn't allowed here in our state and skipping Kindergarten is not possible because there is an age cut off for 1st grade too.  So your only real option is to attend Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade at a private school that will allow your child to enter early and then transfer to a public school once you are not near the age cutoff or in a grade that requires it.  Some say that you can test your way out of Kindergarten if, during the school year, you can convince the teacher and school that your child really is not in need of it.  But, since academics are such a very small part of Kindergarten, that is much easier said than done.  Kindergarten is so much about socialization, independence, and transition.  Even if you could, I would not have a desire to yank my child mid year.

So why did I not even look into grade skipping?  For one I thought about the future.  Did I want my daughter among children older than her?  Yes at 4 she was already preferring to play with 6-8 year olds because 4 year olds were nowhere near where she was.  But at 8 did I want that trend to continue and her to play with 10-12 year olds?  OK, truthfully, the only part of her being with older kids that I thought of was, did I want her to be around kids who were driving and boys that were older.  Having a summer birthday she was already going to be entering high school at only just turned 14 and there would be kids who were 18 there.  When she hit middle school though, kids were already discussing and doing things I wasn't ready for, I knew then there was way more than driving and boys that I didn't want her having to deal with too soon.  Go ahead, call me overprotective.

Now, being in high school, the future seems to be right there.  She has taken the PSAT and SAT and by having that extra year she may have had some added advantage.  All too soon she will be going to college.  College are the years when you have to be independent.  There is even a good chance she may go away to college.  Now I am starting to see what all she would get a year or 2 sooner if I had chosen to skip her ahead.  When college ends what do you do?  You get a job and work.  Yep, I am pretty sure an extra year of work sounds just heavenly.

As my highly gifted older child started high school, her mini me started Kindergarten.  So I was faced with deciding if I had made the right decision or if I should have done something differently.  So I got to look back on the years of school my daughter had and how it went.  Kindergarten was a no brainer, Kindergarten was play time.  It was a time for her and I to adjust to her being at school.  Yes, she entered Kindergarten from having never once attended preschool.  She had no issues transitioning to Kindergarten at all.  It was a good chance to learn that she had to move at the same pace as everyone else though.  There was not always time to stop and investigate everything or even to dawdle about tying your shoes.  You have to ask, and sometimes even plan ahead, to use the restroom.  Sometimes patience is not a virtue, if you ever want to get a turn or get what you need you may have to speak up for yourself.  She learned to not only speak up for herself, she learned to speak up for and care about others.  That first year of school she saw a kid who needed a friend, a kid who needed a hand.  Yes, with inclusion students are taught acceptance and bullying is not tolerated.  That isn't the same as having someone to play with on the playground or help you out when you got stuck.  Here, my shy, soft spoken child who wouldn't even speak up for herself learned to protect someone else.  I wouldn't trade the time she spent in Kindergarten and 1st grade for anything.  No one suggested she help these kids, she saw a child in need and she took it upon herself.  I wish I could say that helps her deal with her own sister's special needs though.

Yes, my child was reading when she entered Kindergarten just as her sister is.  Yes, she was even more ahead when she entered first.  Maybe I don't see the big deal in that because she had a wonderful teacher.  Her teacher let her have extra or harder work if she wanted it.  If she finished her work early and was bored her teacher didn't get upset when she was reading or drawing in class.  I do think that there were years in elementary school that she got into the habit of being lazy because she could get by being lazy.  I do think she carried that with her through the years.  The fact that she can go away to a gifted college program in the summer with children older than her and still finish 1st in her class, shows that she can do the work that is needed though.  This shows me I shouldn't worry about this becoming a life habit.

How did she socialize with children who were not as "smart" as she was?  Well now you are assuming she is the most gifted person in the world and no one is like her.  I know people like to think their child is like that but the truth is they are probably not.  Statistically, if your child's IQ is in the top 1% then yes there may only be 1 other person in the entire grade like them (assuming an average school size of 600).  They might have some trouble socializing with an average child which might be half their class.  There are kids in the top 5% there though too.  There is probably even 1 in their class and a couple in their grade, come recess time.  Gifted programs usually take about the top 10% or more so that is even more in your child's class.  A child that is that smart can also learn to adapt.  They can quickly learn to adjust the way they interact with people.  Even people of average intelligence will treat a 2 year old differently than they treat an adult.  Learning to adapt is a life skill.  In life she is not going to be able to chose who she works with.  At 25, making sure she works with older people is not going to guarantee she works with people as intelligent as she is.  Even if people are intelligent it does not mean they are dedicated or hard working.  She may have been bored in school at times but I do not think she was ever in agony over it.  I don't think this because she also knew how to entertain herself quietly.  She loves drawing and writing.  A love of reading can do wonders for a person.  You are never bored if you can appreciate a good book.  I was pretty sure she would make it through elementary school before she made it through every book in their library.

Do I think skipping ahead would have solved the laziness and boredom?  Absolutely not.  To understand this you have to understand the gifted child.  A gifted person is not a smarter person.  Believe it or not, a failing student could be gifted.  A person whose poor vocabulary and grammar makes them appear less intelligent, could still be gifted.  Most important, just because a person is gifted does NOT mean they have a lot of common sense, street smarts or social skills.  Gifted refers to a person's IQ.  IQ measures how quickly a person picks up something.  In other words how quickly they learn.  A gifted persons critical thinking skills are totally different.  If you want to learn more on this, look up Bloom's Taxonomy.  My point in all this is that an 8 yr old may "know" as much as a gifted 5 year old but when presented with a situation or new information they are going to process that in 2 totally different ways.  Socially they are still different.  Yes their maturity is different too so that will also play a role but you aren't even compensating for that by leveling the academic playing field.  Even a gifted child and non gifted child that are seemingly in the same academic place, given the same question and come up with the same answer, if asked how they came up with the answer you can see how very differently they think.  I will admit that I've had this conversation with her on how she solves a certain problem.  When she explained it to me I still didn't get it and I am of above average intelligence and 20 years older.  If you take a Kindergartner and put them in a 1st grade classroom they are still going to be ahead of their classmates because they are going to learn faster.  They may still end up bored.

She started in a gifted pull out program in 3rd grade.  It wasn't harder work or more work like some punishment for being gifted.  It was enhancing their critical thinking skills.  It was going into more depth on research skills, computer skills, and projects.  It was getting to practice these by doing fun extras like architecture and archeology.  In middle school this changed to optional honors classes.  The advantage to her more than the difference in work was that this was optional.  If people were goof offs they didn't need to take these classes.  So she really enjoyed not having to deal with as many troublemakers in her classes.   I say "as many" because there were still some and she still took regular electives.

Socially she was naturally drawn to other gifted kids and has had mostly gifted friends since 1st grade.  Even her friends who have skipped a grade were drawn to the other gifted kids because they still don't fit in with the "average" for the grade.  She has also had opportunities to do harder work and be herself, interacting with other gifted children when she does special summer programs for gifted children.

So as I do it again, I like the decision I made.  I feel the pros have far outnumbered the cons so I will do the same thing this time.  Now if there were more choices in our area, such as a gifted self contained classroom or a private school that catered more to gifted children I would consider it.  I would look closely into it to see if they actually cater to their different way of thinking or if they just give them harder work.  These are 2 very different things and I've been extremely happy that the gifted program in our area does the first.  I do wish the gifted program started in 2nd grade, not 1st.  2nd grade because I feel Kindergarten is a transition to school year and 1st is a transition to desks, book work, etc.

Do I think this decision works for everyone?  I don't believe in ever using "all" or "never".  The majority of kids that I think would be problematic, because they finish so quickly or are bored, probably are the ones that are more rambunctious.  The kids that can't sit still, sit quietly or entertain themselves when they finish quickly.  These kids need a very personalized education plan to help them cope.  A grade ahead is just going to have more expected of them not make them less talkative or bored.  There are ways to help these kids too.  I am sure there are some kids out there that should be reading Quantum Physics when they finish their work too.

No comments:

Post a Comment