Head start for the advanced learner
April 4, 2013 6:19 AM   Subscribe

My almost 3 y.o. has been accepted into the head start program in the summer. Will they be able to work with him as an advanced learner?

I'm concerned that he'll have to spend his time re-learning things he has a strong knowledge of and will dislike school.

I can't afford preschool and I'd love the free time to spend with his baby brother.

For frame of reference, he knows his shapes, colors, letters, letter sounds, sounding out simple words, and counting pretty well.
posted by kristymcj to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I understand your concern about this. In my experience, toddlers who are ahead of the curve intellectually benefit most from the social learning of preschool. Even if he isn't challenged as much academically as a child with less advanced skills, remember that he will be experiencing newness with many other aspects of being in preschool: he will be learn how to share, interact, wait his turn, meet many kinds of children, perhaps be put to work helping others learn colors, etc., and these social things will most likely provide stimulation as well. These social skills turn out to be even more important over the long run as the many of the other kids, shortly, will catch up with his intellectual skills. Sitting in a circle doing letter sounds wasn't just about the letter sounds, it turned out. Many years ago my then 5 year old asked why she had to go to kindergarten since she could already read. I told her "some kids are learning how to read at school, some kids are learning how to sit on the rug." Your child will keep advancing quickly intellectually if that is his nature and your home is intellectually stimulating, whether or not he's pushed hard in pre school. I know you're more concerned that he'll be bored repeating lessons he already knows, but perhaps you could observe the class and see how much of the day is really spent doing lessons that way with preschool age children; you could also ask the teachers if they would give him individual activities that challenge him if they are working on something like colors. I would just make sure you get the vibe that he will be praised and made to feel proud of himself for having these advanced capacities, and that his skills will be celebrated and made use of in the classroom, and that no one is likely to make him feel that he has to dumb it down to keep things level or easier as a group.
posted by third rail at 6:41 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

It appears that at least some head start programs (like Rutland County in Vermont) use something called the Teaching Strategies GOLD system, which includes paying attention to the needs of advanced learners.

I'm not sure you need to worry about his disliking school based on whether or not they serve his advanced learner needs, because he won't see it as "relearning" if they review the basics. He's just as likely to see it as "school is EASY! I LOVE IT! I'm AWESOME at this."
posted by vitabellosi at 6:42 AM on April 4, 2013

Although Head Start does have a curriculum, perhaps this is a great opportunity for your son to play with kids his own age, rather than have to re-master things he already knows. Kids are so play oriented at this age that hopefully that will be the fun for him. You can always bolster academic knowledge at home, but for him, it sounds like Head Start will be a great place for him to develop some friendships. Preschool is also where most kids learn the classroom readiness skills they'll need to be successful in Kindergarten and beyond. That is, the curriculum goes beyond letters, shapes, and colors; it is pragmatic and social in nature as well (a.k.a. the "hidden curriculum".)

You should ask the teachers how they would address the needs of a student who already knows the things you list... they should have a good answer (the teachers I've known in inner-city Head Starts were well prepared to have this conversation with me, I hope you find the same.)

And if it doesn't work out, you can always pull him if you feel that's what best for him.

On Preview: What was said above!
posted by absquatulate at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2013

A lot of what's important in school (even past preschool!) is unstructured stuff -- how to deal with Big Emotions, how to negotiate the rules for shared play/games (even more important than actually playing them out!), how to be kind to smaller kids and stand up to bigger kids, how to explain what you're doing to yourself, peers, teachers. There will be plenty of "work" for him to do there every day.
posted by acm at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Head Start will also focus on feelings and health in addition to the pre-academic skills that are emerging in your son. I agree strongly that navigating a social environment and learning new routines will probably be the best challenge.
posted by coolsara at 7:06 AM on April 4, 2013

When I taught a similar program to 4 year olds, we assessed dozens of different skills, and the ones you mentioned made up a very small percentage of what we looked for. We spent maybe 30 minutes per 7 hour day on them. The rest of the time we worked on the types of things mentioned in other answers, from "can open own food containers" to "can hold a conversation with 3 or more back and forth exchanges."

My own priorities were teaching #1 social/life/school skills, #2 interesting content, and then #3 academic skills. From what I know of Head Start, it follows this same pattern, with the goal of getting at-risk kids caught up with their peers by kindergarten.

I did have an advanced kid, and it was easy to challenge him. Granted, this was Spanish immersion so he was still a beginner in some ways, but when others practiced writing letters he practiced words. When others were counting, he was adding. Any good preschool teacher can easily accommodate an advanced learner.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was an advanced kid and I was held out of kindergarten for a year because I was born in December. I entered kindergarten at the age of 5 and 9 months, I already knew how to read, count, etc. What I loved about school was the social stuff. I loved all the other kids, playing with new toys, learning new games, and interacting with kids who weren't my baby sister.

The actual lessons dragged a bit for me, so I figured out ways to entertain myself while everyone else caught up. (This has worked out for a lifetime, as it stands right now, I'm in a training class and I'm still waiting for others to catch up.)

Even as I got older, sitting in reading groups waiting to read my sentence, bored out of my skull, reading ahead, etc. It's just a fact of life. Throughout school your gifted child will either be waiting for other to catch up, or having to wade through 95% of known content for the 5% of content that is unknown.

He won't hate school though. I promise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on April 4, 2013

3 years old is pretty early to be getting tagged as an "advanced learner". Let your kid be a kid and learn how to be one with the other little ones in school.
posted by RajahKing at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

I've spent some time in pre-schools and a lot of what takes place is circle time, calendar time, singing songs, water table, art and other hands on learning things where it won't really occur to him to compare himself to his peers.
posted by mermily at 8:12 AM on April 4, 2013

Preschool through second grade isn't all that focused on academics. A lot of bright kids do fine up through second grade and don't run into real friction until third. If it is only a summer program, I seriously would not worry about it. If it is a nine month program, it might go sour after a few months or it might not.
posted by Michele in California at 8:14 AM on April 4, 2013

My daughter is currently in a headstart program and at that age(and up until grade 1) most (if not all) programs are going to be using a 'learning though play' model.
Pre-k and K programs are important in that the kids learn routine, social skills, get comfortable being away from primary caregivers and are being exposed to new things and people. There is not a lot of academics going on at that point.
Trust me, your child will not be bored! They will be too busy making friends and having fun.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:15 AM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: Once again, Metafilter proves more useful than a gaggle of sisters. Thank you all.
posted by kristymcj at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2013

« Older City bikes: "Hybrid" vs "Dutch/upright"   |   Going to the Big Dance this weekend. For the music... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.