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Meeting Children At Their Level = Success

Jenna* is a child in my pre-k class.  She is your typical just-turned-5-year-old – curious, sweet, full of energy.  Jenna comes from a strong family unit with a brother who probably tests off the IQ scale, a dad who is a high school math teacher, and a mom who is a nurse.  Jenna is in crisis.

Jenna’s family, without realizing what they are doing, are putting Jenna into a tailspin before she even gets to kindergarten.  Jenna’s mom and dad are doing what many parents do at this stage: they are encouraging beginning reading skills, such as sounding out letters and words, modeling good writing skills and having Jenna do the same, and living in the “teachable moment”.

Jenna, however, isn’t ready for this.

Jenna is now exhibiting classic symptoms of a child who is being “pushed” academically.  She is having nightmares at home, is reluctant to come to school, bursts into tears at any given moment, is terrified of her parents finding out about things she does at school, and spends most nights in tears when her mom reads out loud to her.

Pre-kindergarteners are highly sensitive to change, and this specific time in their lives is chock full of change.  My preschool class is very aware of the approaching end of school and upcoming summer break.  They are also keenly aware of the “scattering” of friends that will occur as each moves on to a different school next year.  While it is an exciting time for them, it is also a time full of uncertainty, and children can become “stressed out” over such change.

What Jenna’s parents (and I on occasion) are witnessing is an outward show of emotion from Jenna.  She is scared she isn’t like her big brother, the genius, and she will tell you that her daddy teaches at the big school, and she is NOT going there – EVER. 

What Jenna needs is acceptance for who she is – a young, five year-old little girl who likes ribbons and horses, drawing rainbows and hugs.  She knows her letters and numbers, but developmentally, she isn’t ready to start reading or writing.  Jenna needs for her parents to read to her every day in a fun and non-threatening way, to learn to enjoy the printed word and relish in stories, and in her own time, she will learn to tell and read on her own.  By stepping back from the “teachable moment” and allowing Jenna to flourish at her own level of success, they will, in turn, make her a successful student.

*The name of the student has been changed.

Academic Giftedness

At my son’s school, we have a special program called the “Challenge” program.  It is for students that are supposedly academically “gifted”.  The class is a pull-out program, so children that qualify for this service are pulled out of their academic classes for additional instruction.  Children qualify for this program based on two screening instruments (“tests”), a teacher profile and a parent profile.

My child is in this program.  Do I think my child is academically gifted?  I don’t know.  He is an extremely bright boy, and he has many gifts, but I don’t believe that we can truly measure his intelligence (or potential) yet, not even at 8 and in 2nd grade. 

When Travis first entered public school in first grade, they tested him immediately.  The problem was that it was two weeks into the new school year, and he was in major shell-shock.  Adjusting to the environment and routine had put a small strain on his structured life, and he completely freaked at the test because he couldn’t complete it – it became too difficult, too long, too tiresome.  He shut down.

Fast forward 7 months and they retested him.  And this time, he passed. 

I think, at least for my son, that it was a comfort/familiarity issue for him.  That, and he’s a perfectionist.  If he gets to a question and can’t figure out the answer, it will bug him and bug him until he can’t do anything else. 

All that being said, I’m getting the opportunity to see Special Education at work.  Because gifted programs ARE Special Education programs.  Unfortunately, many districts look at truly gifted children and put their needs on the back burner, so to speak.  Many people feel that gifted individuals are independent and self-motivated learners when in fact, gifted children often fail and are hit with many social and academic issues because of the way their brains work.  Schools are responsible for meeting their needs, just as they are responsible for every other child in that building.  Our program at our school is not ideal; my child misses out on regular classroom instruction and has to independently make up the work he misses three times a week.  However, our pull out program is indeed focused on alternative means of solving problems, stretching the thought processes, and tapping into each child’s strength.  His instructor works very closely with the classroom teacher and myself to ensure that we are meeting my son’s needs.

Before you can even get to this point, though, you have to stop and ask, what are indicators that a child might have tendencies towards academic giftedness?  There are several signs that might be apparent at different ages to signal if a child might be functioning at a higher level than his or her peers.  Let’s look at 5 – 8 year olds (children at earlier ages are developing and changing at such varied paces that labeling a two year old as “gifted” is extremely difficult)…Here are some indicators that he or she might need the extra help and attention of gifted instruction:

  • understand higher order mathematics and language
  • enjoy discussing ethical, moral or religious issues
  • can perform mathematical computations in his or her head, even before they are taught in school
  • uses a large vocabulary, tends to talk ‘above’ peers
  • leads others in games, activities, assignments
  • is confident in his or her thoughts and ideas
  • loves school and does well in school (though not always – this can be a hazy issue for gifted individuals)
  • loves to make up stories, enjoys drawing and illustrating
  • likes to make up his or her own songs
  • “gets” humor
  • enjoys spending time with adults and older individuals
  • can accomplish academic assignments two years above his or her age level
  • may be highly sensitive
  • can memorize quickly and easily and has excellent recall
  • IQ testing around 130

IQ testing in children over the age of 5 has been proven to show very little fluctuation in numbers as the child grows, as long as the testing environment is ideal and the participant participates fully.  “Normal intelligence” is usually noted in the range of an IQ score of 85 – 115.  However, please understand that IQ testing is only one tool used to measure a child’s intelligence.  Other factors should also be used, such as anecdotal records of teachers and parents, observations of the child  by the evaluator in a variety of situations, and even personality and academic records. 

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