February 15, 2011

Little Geniuses

At my daughters' Valentine's Day party, the topic among the moms turned to which school our preschoolers will attend for kindergarten. One mom began telling us what a "genius" her little one is. She has her testing to enroll in a charter school for gifted children. One of her reasons is that her daughter is reading and she doesn't want her held back in kindergarten by kids who aren't as advanced as her daughter.
Ugh. It's kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten is a crucial time for children. It will, in my opinion, make or break their love of learning. But I don't think a lax year of kindergarten will prohibit a child from attending a good college. When I was mulling over where to send my girls for kindergarten (the nearby charter school? the closest elementary school? the current elementary school where they attend preschool?) a teacher in my neighborhood said "It's just kindergarten. They'll be fine regardless of the experience."
After the conversation at school yesterday, I just wonder: why do we put so much pressure on little kids to be "advanced" and "gifted"? Let me tell you something about the "Talented and Gifted Program" when I was growing up. There were no tests involved, at least none that I can remember. Your parents filled out a form saying they wanted you in the program and boom! you were in. Were some of these kids smart? Sure. Were they all? Well, I'll just say not all of them went on to have stellar high school grades or achieve a higher education.
Do I think there's a place for "gifted" programs? Absolutely. Children learn at all levels. There are going to be kids who are learning beyond their grade level and ignoring their needs can set them up for failure. But kindergarten is about so much more than academics. It's about learning to follow rules. It's about learning social skills. It's about progressing beyond preschool and learning how to, well, learn. 
After hearing this mom, I spent a few minutes questioning my own decision. Should I really be putting my daughters in public school? Should I be looking into to these "advanced" charter schools that I've never heard of? Then I realized something: I have the smartest children on the planet. I mean don't all parents feel the same way about their children? My girls will be just fine.


Stephanie Barr said...

My daughter is brilliant. She routinely outargues me and that takes some doing. She was speaking in complete sentences before she was two years old. I could reason with her from the first day (though, now, as a teenager, that's a thing of the past, but I digress).

When she went to kindergarten, none of realized she'd made the cut off to go that year until, like, the week before. She hadn't been in her daycare's preschool program and she'd just been diagnosed with severe myopia and astigmatism, so she was getting use to new glasses. Her father and I also divorced that year.

Needless to say, it was a tough year for her. She struggled to read, having never done that before and the teacher was constantly sending home complaints about her progress, but praise on how helpful she was. When her class became overcrowded, the teacher wanted to switch her around so she was there all day - in a different class during the time she had been going and a new class the other half of the day. She knew no one.

My daughter came home in tears. "I never get to play." Well, I made sure that changed back. The teacher seemed to consider the difficulties my ex and I were going through (and I feel he was really a pain) my daughter's fault and seemed to take them out on her. At the end of the year, they had an awards ceremony and she was the ONLY CHILD IN THE CLASS who didn't get an award. I still can barely think about it without crying.

My daughter moved to a different school and is largely in AP classes in high school, but it took years for her to stop considering herself an idiot, years before she recovered and began to do well. I think her love of learning is still hampered as a result. My daughter is still convinced she can't take tests (her grades are almost always mishmashes of A's and F's).

Can it do harm? Hell yes. Kids come loving to learn. I can't think of anything less healthy than a kindergarten that kills that.

MaryAnne said...

I think your approach is very healthy. There was definitely testing for the G&T program when I was a kid; I know because I didn't make the cut. Didn't hurt me later in life, though. =)

Kim said...

Sometimes putting a kid into G&T Program is more about parent validation.

As far as early reading and all that, the other kids will catch up at around 4th grade, so I guess the proud mom should enjoy her daughter's domination for the short while it lasts.

Viva la helicopter mom!

Anonymous said...

My daughters were all brilliant. They went to gifted classes at our neighborhood schools. I found that some parents wore their child's giftedness like a badge. We knew one child who knew the latin names for all the animals in the zoo. In my opinion, that was fine if it was her idea. It wasn't fine if her parents wanted her to do it so they could brag.

I'd say go with your gut. Put your brilliant children (all mother's children are brilliant) in the school you think is best and monitor their happiness. If they can't wait to go to school most days you've got them in the right class.

Quadmama said...

You hit the nail on the head. For those who are followers, you likely remember when I posted at the beginning of the school year my apprehensions about our current teacher. She's a bit, um, airheaded to put it politely. But my girls still enjoy school and look forward to going each day. I do think they are each advanced in certain areas, but I don't know that it's something I'll bring up in the next "Mommy huddle."

Holly Ann said...

I think you've got a great attitude going in to this! As a mom, I am thoughtful about where my children will attend school, but I like to think reasonable and realistic as well. As a teacher, I remember the key piece of advice I tell all of my students' parents: "YOU are your child's first and greatest teacher." No other teacher will ever change that. Your girls already have an amazing teacher in you!!

reanbean said...

Yes, they will be just fine. And, yes, I also think that kindergarten is about learning how to learn. There is a lot of pressure put on kids to learn more and be huge successes at a very young age. Of course, I want my kids to learn and feel good about their skills and progress, but I also want them to be able to enjoy being kids. I mean, childhood doesn't last forever, right?
There was I sign up in the kindergarten wing where I use to teach that said "Childhood is a journey, not a race." So true.

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