Should I put my reading three-year-old in a (pre)school for bright kids?
July 31, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Should I put my reading three-year-old in a (pre)school for bright kids? Should I move in with my partner in order to do so?

My son will be four in October and is reading those level 1 readers in addition to all the street signs. His preschool teacher is concerned that he will be bored and recommended that I have him intelligence tested. When I spoke to the director, she didn't agree that he should be tested (she thinks he's too young, and frankly, I agree) but she did say that I should start looking into where I will put him in school. I was bored as a kid in regular school and it led to all kinds of problems. I don't want that for my son.

The Good:

I found a school for gifted kids in the area. It's an awesome place. They emphasize normalcy and fun while still giving the kids plenty of challenging material to work with at their own levels. Class size is small, and there are many opportunities for the kids to pursue what interests them. The older kids I saw seemed happy and relaxed as they worked on video game programming, robotics, statistics, etc. The younger kids were having a great time in groups as they worked on creative projects.

The Bad:

There is no funding for any kind of gifted program in the public schools where I live.

The school is a 45 minute drive from my house, one-way, in traffic.

It is expensive, so expensive that I cannot afford it at my current rent.

The Questions:

I've been in a great relationship for a little over a year. I could mitigate these issues somewhat by moving in with my partner, who lives about a 30 minute drive from the school, and whose rent is considerably lower than mine. If my son and I move in, I could (barely) afford to send my son to this great school.

Do you have any experience with schools for gifted kids, or gifted kids in general? Do/did you think it is/was worth it to send your bright kid to a more challenging school?


Should I move in with my awesome partner for financial reasons? (He offered.) We were already talking about moving in together, but this is happening a bit faster than either of us anticipated.
posted by woodvine to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At 3 years old kids normally work on socialization in school. When you child gets to an age when they do school work I think they might get bored.
I would think playing with blocks and with playdoh, etc is really appropriate for any child. Imaginative play is important for any child, especially at that age.

I'm concerned that the teacher thinks your child would be bored at her school. Maybe look for a more play-based/hands on preschool?
posted by beccaj at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I would wait a year and then follow the plan you laid out above if things are still good with the relationship. I think a year is a little soon to be moving a kid in.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:41 PM on July 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

As a former "gifted child" I would encourage you to not put too much weight on the academic side of this. A 3 year old needs to learn some pretty fundamental stuff about being human. Any good preschool will have many opportunities for open ended unstructured creative play where he will not be bored.
posted by steinwald at 1:41 PM on July 31, 2014 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I would say that this is way too costly -- in addition to the substantial financial cost, you are adding 30 hours a month of commuting plus re-arranging your relationship with your partner. That seems like a lot.

The short-term benefit is that your 3-year-old will be less bored at school. The long-term benefit is... he may develop his reading skills a little bit faster? What about his social skills? I thought that was the main benefit of preschool and you don't need to be in a preschool class with Richard Feynman and John von Neumann to develop those.

I think this is too early.

I was a "gifted" kid. In retrospect I can identify substantial parts of my childhood where I could have been developing much more rapidly -- I think I was spinning my wheels between 2nd grade and 6th grade -- but the only thing I regret is not being in a better environment for emotional development. I think that cost me a lot.
posted by leopard at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2014 [17 favorites]

I have many relatives who went through gifted programs. From my experience, early education (ages 3 to 6) is extremely important -- more significant than elementary school or middle school.

However, it doesn't have to be via an expensive gifted school. Can you take the 1 to 1.5 hours that you would've spent commuting to the school, and spend it tutoring your kid yourself?
posted by vienna at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Young minds benefit from play and unstructured time. Spending 90 minutes a day in the car feels very contrary to the stimulation that benefits young minds. Add to that the stresses and exhaustion of long commutes for caregivers - when will you shop for groceries? No more doing that on the way home!

I would toss out an option that required such a young child to spend hours each week in the car.
posted by 26.2 at 1:49 PM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your child should be intelligence tested by age 7. Kids with very high IQs cannot be accurately assessed after that. Early reading is a good indication that early testing is appropriate.

It may matter very little what you do with regards to school right now, especially if preschool is half-day (as many are). My younger son viewed K-2 grades as "friends, more toys, parties." He did his academic work in short order and focused on the stuff that mattered to him: Playing with other people and with things he didn't have at home. His giftedness did not become an issue until 3rd grade, when the focus shifts more to academics and was well below his ability. At that point, I pulled him out to homeschool.

Preschool was extremely valuable to my older son who is gifted and also severely learning disabled. It forced him to start talking in sentences and served a number of therapeutic ends for him. A gifted kid who is not also seriously handicapped in some way often just needs to be kept constructively occupied. This can often by done largely for free via resources available at your local library.

However, since it sounds like you are a single parent, I am wondering at the role preschool is playing in terms of daycare while you work? You didn't explicitly indicate whether or not you work but if this is a case of "I need to work and preschool is part of daycare" that might be a good reason to go for the better school. If the kid has to be somewhere anyway during the day, you don't want a bright kid dying on the vine, basically.
posted by Michele in California at 1:50 PM on July 31, 2014

I went to a 'regular' preschool and tested into gifted classes when I was in 2nd grade. I don't know if going to gifted classes a few years earlier would have changed anything or not, but I don't think I was damaged by it or anything.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2014

I think I was reading at that level at that age. I was definitely reading really early. I went to a normal preschool because preschool is mostly about socialization. I thought most of the "school" stuff was dumb and easy, but I needed to learn social skills. I was also really, really un-athletic and having to run around with other kids helped improv my coordination.

I was super duper bored in school from 3rd through 8th grade. Before that, I was just stoked to have friends and a place to go every day. My parents are both super smart and gave me as much extra brain stimulation as I needed.

And in the long run, none of this really matters. A lot of the fixation on "gifted" kids is counter-productive, IMO.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you thought about a Montessori school? Here's an overview of the types of things he'd learn at that age. They also have mixed-age classes so he could pick up activities of the older kids, if interested (or, alternatively, teach/help the younger kids).

I, and a number of other "gifted child" friends, went to a Montessori school for at least a period of 2 years between ages 2 and 10. We all have much more of an "independent learner"/curiosity vibe than our traditionally-schooled, gifted peers. [Obviously this is a small sample size]
posted by melissasaurus at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If it makes sense for you (in your relationship and financially), and this is where life is taking you and your child, then this could be a good opportunity. A "gifted" preschool sounds like it might have the best of both worlds, where your child could have the necessary socialization with peers, but also be engaged at an academic level.

If I were in your shoes, however, the important thing would be to realize is that I could be setting myself up for a sequence of future private gifted schools (read: expensive) and/or future socialization issues with skipping one or more grades.

If he ends up getting a 1st grade education (or greater) at this gifted school, what happens when he hits elementary school age? Rehashing the same material again will add to his boredom, possibly alienate him from peers, and potentially irritate some teachers. (I speak from my own experience, YMMV.)

So... then you're in the predicament of continuing in a private school environment, looking for a public school with space in their gifted program, or having him skip grades. I only skipped one grade, but my sister skipped 3 grades and suffered greatly from it emotionally and socially. All throughout elementary and JHS, she was referred to as a baby. After JHS, even though she went to HS at Stuyvesant (a "gifted" public school in NYC), she was an 11-year old freshman, and had extreme difficulty in making friends for the entirety of her scholastic career.

It's a tough call to make, we all want to do what is best for our children, and this seems like a situation where no matter what I do I would have a fear of doing the wrong thing. If you have time to make a decision, perhaps it's better to not immediately act on his teacher's fear that "he will become bored" and make a decision if he actually does become bored and starts "dying on the vine" as noted above.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: I was a gifted kid, was kept in regular schools (parents didn't want to pay for private), and was miserable until I got to college. My schools had gifted programs, but I was still bored. I was sent to 6th grade English classes in 3rd grade bcs my reading skills were off the charts, and I was bored. I was in advanced math, and was bored. I took tons of AP classes in high school, signed up for every writing contest, math competition, science fair, and spelling bee, and was too busy to be bored but still couldn't wait until I got the hell out of that crappy school.

And socialization was extremely difficult for me. I didn't have much in common with the other kids. I was a nerd, and was teased mercilessly bcs of it. I had trouble connecting to other kids bcs I wasn't into movies and parties and what-not. (I'm also naturally socially awkward, even around other nerds, but whatever.)

So, your son might benefit enormously, both academically and socially, from being in an advanced school. That said, it might be best to wait a year or two to see if he really is bored (and/or has trouble socializing) at "normal" schools before you subject your life to this upheaval. And by then you'll have a better idea of where your relationship is going, and whether you really want to move in with your SO.
posted by phoenix_rising at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

From personal experience, a few unstructured thoughts:

1. I think you should not have your son tested, and you should not emphasize the idea that he is gifted. Hard work is much (much) more important than talent. I related to this article, both in my own life and in the lived experience of some of my extraordinarily gifted peers who went on to ... complicated lives.

2. Play, creativity, and personal development are much more important at age 4 than any kind of academic work. Kids should get to play.

3. If you have the option, replacing 90 minutes of commuting (or even 60) to/from a good school with 30 minutes of quality, focused, 100% engaged parent time is a totally worthwhile trade.

4. If a teacher is concerned that your child might be "bored" at age 4, that seems like a problematic school. But waiting a year to move in with your partner and closer to the better school is probably the better idea?

Honestly, I'd much rather have an involved and stimulating parent than intelligence tests and a "good school".
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:43 PM on July 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

As a former "gifted" and sensitive child, I would say that some kind of alternative school, like Montessori, would be great. But if it will be a tenuous situation, choose whatever you could sustain for him even if it isn't the best. Stability is way more important.

I was lucky that my mother could just afford to send me to an alternative pre-school and kindergarten. But then we moved (because her new boyfriend lived several hundred miles away) and I had to go to a public school and I had a very hard time. Then we moved back and I went back to the alt school but was then age placed in the class behind my previous group. Doing first grade twice was very traumatic for me and set me up for academic boredom and difficulty. It would have been easier on me in the long term if I'd just started and continued in public school and had supplemental activities. Or started public school after kindergarten.

Don't push your relationship with your boyfriend to try to do "better" for your son. Keep them separate. Kids are forever.

After we moved back, we moved in with one of my mom's previous boyfriends. A good man, but not good with kids. They got married. And a few years later she left him, in great part because of me. She felt like she couldn't be the mother she needed to be for me. We had to do one more repeat of that (sans marriage) before she realized that her romantic life was bad for me. She decided that I came first, and that is the only reason why I am only somewhat screwed up.

On the other hand, I'm telling you this as a cautionary tale. This boyfriend might be wonderful and love your son like his own and you could get married and be happy for all the years.

Might not seem all that relevant, but as I learned in my wonderful alternative school, everything is related and you should think about as much of the problem as you can before jumping to any conclusions.
posted by monopas at 3:01 PM on July 31, 2014

Do you have any experience with schools for gifted kids, or gifted kids in general? Do/did you think it is/was worth it to send your bright kid to a more challenging school?

I was a gifted kid and I sorta think that being bumped up to classes with older kids didn't do me many favors socially. Yeah, it was more challenging, but... There are lots of ways to challenge a kid.

Also, I think 90mins a day in car is too much for a kid. I think its too much for an adult.

I'd keep him in the closer school. And you know - there isn't anything that preschool is going to teach that you can't do yourself. Some of my earliest memories is the french and arithmetic lessons my mom worked on me with.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:02 PM on July 31, 2014

I was a so-called gifted kid reading at 3 or 4; I went to a regular preschool and then public school after that, and did just fine (I got on to the gifted track early, but didn't skip any grades). The skills a 3-year-old naturally learns from play -- imagination, problem-solving, cooperation, etc. -- are far more important than academic concerns, IMO.
posted by scody at 3:06 PM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: Ok, your profile says you live in Jamaica Plain, which would be served by Boston Public Schools. I definitely wouldn't send him to BPS, but there are tons of public schools in your surrounding communities that have fantastic public schools with and without gifted programs. Brookline, for instance, is one of them. Why not consider moving to a nearby community with a great school system? The difference in rent will be much less than the cost of sending him to a special school for gifted kids his entire life.

I'm not sure if the Sage School is the one you are considering. Anecdotally, my friend's son went there for 4 years (k-3). They loved it, but found that it was prohibitively expensive and they preferred not to isolate him socially from his more typical peers. They ended up moving to Sharon and their son is thriving in their gifted program.

So, off the top of my head, communities close to you to check out that are still somewhat city-ish: Brookline, Newton, Arlington, Cambridge, Belmont (less city). Honestly, the list is huge in the Boston area.
posted by Sal and Richard at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2014

Let me edit that slightly to say:

If you want a number, your child should be intelligence tested by age 7. Kids with very high IQs cannot be accurately assessed after that. Early reading is a good indication that early testing is appropriate.

Also, while I am popping back in, let me add that you actually would need assessment, not testing per se (assuming you want such info). Tests are tools used by professionals with expertise who are qualified to make a judgment. Testing per se doesn't necessarily do much. Last time I checked, there was still a relatively short list of qualified people for appropriately assessing highly gifted youth.

Bright young kids often screw with adults of more average intelligence than themselves who are trying to test them and, also, people of more average intelligence don't know what to do when bright young kids answer questions like "Who discovered America: (multi guess answer, including Columbus)" with some long diatribe about how it wasn't actually called America until well after Columbus found it because it was Amerigo Vespucci who gave it that name some years later, Columbus actually thought he had found a new route to India, which is why Native Americans got called Indians for so long and blah blah blah and, um, what was the question?
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: Aside from the gifted child conversation - I would not make this change unless you can pay for it by yourself without having to move in with your partner. You shouldn't base your child's education on your relationship. If things should go south with your relationship, it would suck to have to withdraw your child from a school and community that he (will probably) really like because you can no longer afford it on your own.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:46 PM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Does the school you are considering offer scholarships or financial aid?
posted by yarntheory at 3:51 PM on July 31, 2014

Response by poster: You guys are definitely pointing out many of the same (but heretofore uncollected!) concerns I have, and Debaser626 hit the nail on the head--no matter what I do, I'm afraid of doing the wrong thing. I'm incredibly stressed about this decision, which has to be made within a few days, but I'm trying to convince myself that it will be okay no matter what, instead of that every way lies doom.

I'm also concerned about the idea that this will lead him to private-school-for-life, which I probably will not be able to afford, especially if I ever have more children.

(I am quick to praise him when he works hard, and we don't talk about being gifted. I also related to that article quite a bit.)

Partner is super great and loves my son and I do see a future for our relationship, which I have no desire to fuck up by pushing it.

Sal and Richard got the facts right. For locals, I can barely afford my tiny apartment on the JP/Roxbury line -- Brookline or Newton or Belmont are all out of the question right now. Partner has a three bedroom in (the nicer part of) Brockton for which he pays greatly reduced rent. If I moved, my expenses would drop by about $1000/month -- which would mostly be eaten up by the cost of school, though I could also start saving some money again instead of being flat broke every month. But I am relying on us staying together, as NoraCharles pointed out, which is really too soon to know, I suppose.

yarntheory, it does, but only for children in kindergarten and up. Preschool tuition is about half the cost of the other grades, and I'm been told a half-scholarship is the max available for the other grades.
posted by woodvine at 3:57 PM on July 31, 2014

This is an interesting article about early educational milestones and long-term results.

Based on what you've said, I really don't think you will lose anything by waiting a year (or more). I ended up in gifted classes in middle school but, honestly, they were saving me from a greatly sub-par education in the public schools in Mississippi.

I also read ahead in elementary and did language classes with an older group -- I think I went to 4th grade reading group when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. There was no social group that felt very comfortable in that situation -- I was smarter than my cohort in language but slower than the older group in socialization.

Honestly, at age 3, the stakes are low. I'd be more concerned about bringing my child into a relationship situation that isn't solid. The stakes are very high there. I'd look into Montessori and Waldforf teaching methods to come up with ways to extend your child's education in ways that are age-appropriate and may keep "boredom" at bay.
posted by amanda at 4:45 PM on July 31, 2014

As another anecdotal data point, I also started reading at 3 or 4 and I didn't start being bored until I was in first grade. My parents had doubts similar to yours, and they settled on keeping me in the same preschool but teaming up with the teacher.
posted by cobain_angel at 6:36 PM on July 31, 2014

Best answer: So my kid (just turned 5 this summer) is also an early reader. Not quite as early as yours, but early. And we have many of the same concerns and worries about doing the wrong thing as you, we also live in the Boston area and understand the cost of schools around here (sigh). With my kid, while he was reading early, and doing other things early, we only ever had a problem with him being "bored" and "acting out" when he was in a school that really screwed up the age grouping and put him in with all much younger kids. As long as he's with his age peers, he's been fine and happy to go to school and play and socialize and learn about sitting still with all his age group. The preschool age range is really about learning to play with others, to follow structure, as well as gross and fine motor and more standard stuff like reading and writing. I never felt like a gifted school was necessary for him, BUT I also didn't feel like just any school would work for him. Where he is now he has teachers that know of his abilities and do work to challenge him where appropriate. It is also a school that has lots of good activities and a good space for playing. It also has smaller class sizes than the previous school I pulled him out of.

All in all, I'd say that a "gifted" preschool, especially one that is expensive and far away (and trust me, mine just moved to be further away and it is a BEAR to get there and a lot of wasted time for my kids), is not necessary at this point, but that you may need to look for a regular school/daycare that does more than your current one does. I have a friend whose kids are in a Montessori school in JP that she loves if you are interested.

So my vote is to move in with your partner when you are ready, and look for a different school that has some of the benefits of the expensive school but is closer and more within your price range.
posted by katers890 at 6:51 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our tiny reader goes to a play-based school that agreed to mix her with older kids and add extra activities for her, and is thriving. It's not academic at all - she spent yesterday making a duct tape and Yakut bottle bridge and harvesting berries and painting leaves. Look for Reggio or play-based as key words, not Montessori which relies on progressive acquisition of skills.

You're going to need the time and cash for his academic school at 6+ when play-based will not be enough but right now he will benefit just as much from a good flexible and affordable play-based preschool and you get a buffer to save cash and spend weekends at your partner's.

We decided every six months to re-evaluate her school choice, to decide when to switch to academic school or homeschool. Our criteria is that she's generally enthusiastic about going to school, has friends and doesn't say she's bored. About two months ago, she starting resisting school and saying she was bored so we talked with her teachers who hadn't noticed a problem (gifted girls tend to be compliant and internally bored, gifted boys tend to act it out and frustrate teachers) but added more literacy activities and included her with some older kid activities, back to a very happy kid again.

It really sounds like the issue is your son's current preschool, not lack of academics.

Memail me if you want to chat, figuring out school for kids who don't fit the mainstream is often a challenge!
posted by viggorlijah at 7:08 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a four year old who sounds very similar to your guy. We addressed it by finding a Montessori school where he is in a mixed age class with 3, 4, and 5 year olds. Since the school goes up through elementary school he has access to the educational materials from higher grades. He's been very happy there and has learned a lot and still loves learning.
posted by bq at 8:01 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a former gifted kid who started elementary school a year in advance and then skipped third grade.

I don't think being challenged academically by the preschool is especially important. Your kid will challenge himself, too, and he has you. Right now he needs to socialize, sozialize, socialize.

I found the the biggest issue with giftedness was the feeling of being different. When still with my same age peers, I felt out of place because I had different interests from the rest of the class. Then after skipping grades, I felt out of place because... I still had different interests from the rest of the class. I only found "my tribe" in university.

I think a special school for gifted kids would be great when he's older. In a few years, he might start feeling restless at school, not necessarily because the classes will be boring (though that might be the case) but because he might not find enough in common with the other kids. It helps to be interested in sports, too (I was not).

So, I guess what I'm saying, a school for gifted kids might be a better fit some time down the road. As long as he's happy with his current preschool, I wouldn't uproot my life for it. You can challenge a three year old on your own turf.
posted by M. at 12:08 AM on August 3, 2014

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