How to support a gifted(?) preschooler?
March 27, 2021 2:18 PM   Subscribe

My 5 year old is starting school next year (2022) and we are at a crossroads at what to do about his education. He is currently in preschool and both his teachers have approached me over the last year about him being possibly gifted. I'd realised my kid was smart (doesn't every parent think this?), but his teachers are trained educators with decades of experience so I trust their opinions. Most recently they were concerned that his preschool does not have the resources to support him and that we should look for outside resources.

Now it is time to start planning where my child goes to school next year. I'd always assumed he'd go to the designated public school, but now I am not so sure about this. I am considering maybe a private school, where there would be more resources and individual attention for students. Plus supporting him with any extra curriculars that he shows an interest in. From reading experiences of grown gifted children on Metafilter, I feel like a gifted program might hurt him socially or personality-wise.

In the meantime, I have been trying to support my child by encouraging whatever interests he has. We read a lot of books, lots of free play with lego, he has lots of activity books, art supplies, letters and numbers he can play with. I wanted to put him in music classes but that's not possible right now. Before COVID, he was in an extra language class offered by the preschool, and he is being raised bilingually at home.

My personal experience as a child is that while I was clever, I was probably not gifted. But I skated through public school doing the absolute minimum possible, and resisted pressure from my parents to excel academically. As an adult, I'm doing okay professionally, although I probably had the potential to do a lot more. I've jumped around with lots of different jobs and careers, not really advancing too far in anything, and switching things up when things became too boring or difficult.

What else should I be considering when choosing a school for my kid? Even if we don't test and confirm that he is "gifted", I am pretty sure he will be bored in regular school. And what can I do in the meantime to make sure I am supporting my kid without pressuring him?
posted by exquisite_deluxe to Education (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi there. I was reading on a college level in US 1st grade. My youngest kid is similarly gifted. A couple thoughts:

Socialization is so, so important. Our youngest attended Montessori school for ages 3-5, but we then placed her for 1st grade in a more traditional program. We knew she would be a little bored academically sometimes, but we also knew that she was incredibly shy and inwardly focused. The individualistic approach at Montessori felt like it was just going to put her in even more of a bubble. If you have a school option that feels warm and inviting socially, and the academics are decent but not earth-shattering, give it some thought. You can always supplement for educational content. In fact it's easier to do that now than at any time in recent memory.

Our gifted daughter is about to graduate high school this spring. She flourished at this school. We had our occasional struggles. The biggest one was that her school wanted to differentiate honors courses with more homework, as opposed to more challenging concepts. Be on the lookout for that. You don't need to grind your kid to dust.

I myself went through 12 years of Catholic school. Like you, I could sail through on minimal effort. It wasn't the best use of my time. I was bored out of my mind starting in 1st grade. Fortunately I went on to a college program that was chock full of hard-working geniuses in a crazy broad array of disciplines. It was a relief to feel like I wasn't the smartest person in the room when I got there. While my primary and secondary schooling was a bit of a bust, college was an incredible experience.

Even in Catholic school, though, I had some great moments. A retired man from our community would come in and teach advanced math to a handful of us in 7th and 8th grade. He was wonderful. In high school, I edited the newspaper and competed on the debate team. If I'd been working harder on my classes, I wouldn't have had as much time for those activities, both of which were a real joy for me.

It could have been different for me with a higher quality school experience, perhaps. But even then I think it only would have mattered very much at the high school level. I'm pretty happy now. I work on interesting things. I've found some great friends by seeking out people who did humanities PhDs - those folks can read at my level, and our conversations are always enriching.

Don't be afraid to advocate for your kid at school, no matter where you end up. Teachers and administrators are wary of helicopter parents, but there are legitimate issues sometimes. As an example, we had a math department head tell us that it was "impossible" for our oldest to accelerate his math studies in high school so that he would be in AP Calc BC by senior year. She claimed their brains can't handle advanced math at the pace required.

Okay, we said. So why do you offer Calc BC? And who is in that class? How did they get there?


There's such a temptation to agonize over these choices as a parent, and to second guess what you're doing. Forgive the trite advice, but: Love your kid. Be deeply attuned to their needs, and do your best to address those needs, whether in school or not. Gifted kids tend to be aware of their differences from other kids, a la Little Man Tate, and they need extra love and support regardless of what direction you take with their schooling. I've also learned that other people take out their insecurities on me in various settings like work and school. Schools promote competition, which makes everyone anxious. In hindsight, I really had a lot of people around me as a child who supported, or at least indulged, my tendency to be a weird little bird. I'm grateful for that.

I wish you happiness and peace with your choice. (Thanks for bearing with me on the wordy reply!)
posted by sockshaveholes at 3:35 PM on March 27, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I am neither a parent nor any sort of educator, and I can't advise you on school choice or supportive activities. As an adult who was once labeled "gifted," I do have one piece of advice, which is to approach the concept of giftedness with healthy skepticism. There is a phenomenon of speaking about "gifted" people as if they are a distinct, special group, but that is just not the reality. "Gifted" is just a term of educational jargon, and its definition is pretty arbitrary. Many different forms of intelligence are important in life, after all. Schools of course do have a responsibility to support the development of all their students, and that includes those who could use an extra challenge. However, a mountain is frequently made of this molehill.

You could consider reading a little about "giftedness" as it intersects with various forms of diversity. White kids are much more likely to be labeled as gifted than Black kids. What does that imply about what it means to be "gifted" (talking about the U.S. here)? In my observation, it is tempting and easy for some parents to end up having a lot of emotional investment in the idea of their kids being gifted. They believe they are simply being supportive parents (and there is truth to that), but to a significant extent their enthusiasm is more about collecting cultural capital through their children. Be careful about forming strong expectations about your child's future career based on their early academic talents. Aside from the fact that a whole lot can change between early childhood and adulthood, work isn't primarily about fulfillment and is only one aspect of life.

I think what you're doing for your kid now is great! Make sure he's happy, healthy, and learning in a well-rounded way, and he'll be fine. I'm not sure why you assume he would be bored in the public school, unless it's a particularly small or low-resource school. He has at least one thoughtful, engaged parent with the resources to support his development. That's so much more important than a particular school or program. You can always make adjustments as needed, especially in the early years.
posted by Comet Bug at 3:50 PM on March 27, 2021 [55 favorites]

Best answer: I went to a regular, but immersion, public school until grade 6 and then I was accepted into a really hard to get into private (at the time lower-cost) school for academically gifted, academically/competition driven kids. I say academically gifted because it was a very specific set of criteria, which eliminated a lot of other super smart and talented kids.

I appreciated my high school education a lot, partly because of my peer group - still very connected. I was bullied in elementary school, related a bit to my asynchronous learning and a lot to other things in my life. I was a bit bored. But this was pre-Internet, pre-tutoring, etc. I read a lot and I consider that was a great use of my time.

In high school, we were all pretty weird and kind of adored each other's weirdness, like I still remember who was obsessed with the Russian Revolution and who blew up the Chemistry lab.

Almost all of us struggled in our first few jobs and many of us have bounced around in careers. Learning to work in the real world was tough, to put this...almost all of us had taken in that identity of Gifted Child(tm) and it comes with a lot of baggage.

One, maybe the brightest of us, committed suicide very publicly during a very successful academic, kinda-field-famous, career.

I am not a gifted adult; I'm a reasonably competent and reasonably happy one. Sometimes I think this is my greatest achievement, an ordinary life without the baggage of being the Hope For The Future, alongside learning to shut up which is NOT something my school for nerdy ppl taught.

I would suggest that the best thing to do for your child is to address his needs as they come up. What specifically are you worried about for this September? Is it boredom? Boredom for 12 years or even 8 months as a kid is not great. But is it worth losing out on the connection to community that public school brings? I don't know. But if you're making this change based on his preschool...I'd hold off. There's time.

Once you have a sense of his interests, then if you have the funds and the drive, you can select schools or programs that specialize in those whether it's a STEM-focused school or an arts-oriented curriculum or a skateboarding coach on the side. Because then you're meeting his specific needs, not setting up an ill-defined criteria by which he will judge himself.

Gifted isn't a single parameter. It isn't a destiny. It's a short hand for kids who kind of teach themselves in leaps and bounds at times (and lie about in a mud pool at others). It's not a great one.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:24 PM on March 27, 2021 [22 favorites]

Speaking as a former "Gifted" child, be very careful about using that terminology around your child. "Gifted" is something you are, something you can't really control, and the message it sends to kids is that they should find intellectual pursuits easier in general, and doesn't teach them how to deal with failure. I feel like some of the above answers address this better than I can, but I really want to make sure you give serious consideration to how this label would affect your child. Challenge them, encourage them, but allow them to fail and learn from their failures, and support them through them.
posted by Aleyn at 5:30 PM on March 27, 2021 [14 favorites]

"Gifted" is borderline meaningless. Tests will not "confirm he's gifted." They'll confirm he's good at those tests.

I'm not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt, but speaking as an adult who used to be the smart kid nobody knew what to do with: don't get overly invested in the label, and don't think his access to "resources" (in the sense of money, yours or the school's) will set the course of his life. Much better to be adaptable and responsive. I hated school except for the two years I was in a full-time "gifted" program (worlds apart from having specific GT classes, which I had all through my schooling and mostly disdained). But I also probably would have hated private school—I just would have hated it MUCH more expensively. I certainly hated many of my magnet program classes, and in fact bounced around from magnet to magnet. Going to nerd camp in the summers was big for me; so was going on flex time in high school so I could do an internship and an extracurricular program instead. Having parental support to do that, and to switch schools often trying to find a better fit, was also big. ("Support" here does mean money for camp, but mostly permission/advocacy.) Getting better mental health support/OT would have been bigger. Other smart kids respond well to magnet programs, or extracurriculars, or specialized training. I would strongly encourage you to think less in terms of "is he gifted?" and more in terms of what he likes, needs, is drawn to, responds well to, doesn't respond to. Emotional support, respect for them as an individual, flexibility, and especially permission to fail—often a struggle for labeled kids—are the best things you can offer a child who has an easier time with intellectual/academic stuff (which is all "gifted" really means).
posted by babelfish at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

I was a “gifted” child and tested into the gifted programs, but my parents made zero deal out of it. They never called me gifted, never worried if my school wasn’t challenging enough, never forced me. I went to regular public schools (my elementary was a very low-performing school for the area), and I always finished my assignments early and then spent the extra time helping the other kids in my class or doing art projects so I found ways to be busy and not bored, I did well in college and graduate school and have a PhD now and have a good career, so the path served me reasonably well.

I absolutely agree with Comet Bug. Read about what happens to adults who were labeled “gifted” as children and then feel like failures when they don’t feel they live up to the expectations as adults. This pressure is deeply damaging. Put no stock into the gifted label. Encourage your kid to learn and find ways to encourage them and their interests, but also encourage them to make friends and learn social skills. There’s so much more to life than being a “gifted” student, and a love of learning that is fostered naturally and an ability to get along with others are so much more important.
posted by umwhat at 5:51 PM on March 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry you're getting so many answers from the "I was a gifted kid" camp, but I do have one additional thought. As a grownup now, I am happy and quite fulfilled in my little life. However I recognize the easy wins of my school life meant I never really learned how to deal with failure, I rarely take risks, and honestly, I hate (and am ill-practiced at) hard work. This article explains a bit.

But you know, I'm really happy in life, which I entirely attribute to my parents loving me to the moon and back. You seem to care about your kid. I bet they'll do great wherever they go to school.
posted by unlapsing at 6:21 PM on March 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I was a "gifted" kid, and am now a teacher (I've taught at a gifted summer program, and in regular life I teach in a public school). I want to strongly second what all the other former "gifted" children here are telling you about being very, very careful with that label.

As far as school choices: look, I've worked with thousands of kids, many of them bright or clever or even brilliant. Still, I can count on one hand the kids I've known who were so out of line with their peers that they genuinely needed to be in a different environment in order to thrive. For almost all gifted kids, a regular public school is fine (or at least, it's not any less fine than an expensive private school). If there are opportunities for pull-out gifted programs, higher level reading/math groups, or extracurriculars that interest your child, that's even better. Like others here, I loved the gifted summer program I attended (that's why I taught there!); it was a good way to make me face some academic challenges. Your kid might be bored sometimes, but that's okay. Sometimes adults get bored, too. If they get really bored, you can always consider skipping a grade.

As far as supporting your kid without pressuring him: you nurture gifted kids the same way you nurture every other kid, because they're all kids. Make sure they're safe and loved, first of all, and give them opportunities to explore their interests and passions when you can. It sounds like you're doing all that. You're doing great.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:28 PM on March 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I was also a “gifted” kid and my parents chose not to put me into the gifted program, because they thought that it would be overly competitive. They put me into a regular elementary school, where I was the second-quickest learner in my grade for 7 consecutive years, and the one kid who was quicker than me was a more sensitive, emotional kid who was bullied for being “a nerd”. (That kid is a neurosurgeon now!)

I very quickly learned not to try at all, or even to show off what I knew, because achieving any more than I already was while coasting would’ve been embarrassing and stigmatizing. I dumbed myself down for years as a result.

I think a gifted program would’ve been better for me, because being around peers who were achieving at a higher level would have de-stigmatized academic success and made me less likely to hold myself back. It’s healthier and more motivating to be in the middle tier of academic success, too, I think- being too near the upper end of one’s cohort can lead to laziness.

Now, I’m fairly well adjusted as an adult and I don’t act dumb any more.... but I’m TERRIBLE at failure. As a child, most things came hyper-quickly to me, especially in comparison to many of my peers, so I literally never had to try. Now, as an adult, anything that I don’t nail on the very first shot feels absolutely devastating. It’s really bad for my self esteem and my ability to stretch myself!

When I was 25, a coworker with severe dyslexia tried to teach me how to drive, which was extremely frustrating and stressful for me. After a failed lesson, his analysis was, “Wow, you totally don’t know how to learn! You panic the second you make a mistake or something doesn’t come to you instantly. I didn’t learn how to read until I was 12... so I firmly believe that if I practice and work hard, I can learn anything. But you’ve never had to practice to be good at things, so you don’t even know how to work hard, do you?!”

He was totally, 100% right. My version of working hard in school was occasionally to overachieve - maybe to write something longer or more complex than requested, or to read more source material than an assignment asked for, etc. But my version of learning never involved failing, feeling stupid, feeling vulnerable, and then dusting myself off and trying again anyway. I’m really grateful to that guy for that analysis. I think about it all the time, and years later it’s still something I’m working on.

Anyway I suggest you read some of Carol Dweck’s writing on how mindset affects learning, to figure out ways to nurture your child and teach them the value of failure and trying again - no matter what stream they wind up in.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:57 PM on March 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

As with many people above, I was diagnosed "gifted" as a kid. My experience in normal school programs was: they handed me a stack of books, shoved me into a corner and ignored me for most of three years. Because I was able to complete everything they gave me faster than everyone else, I was A Problem, and the solution was to keep me away from all the other kids. I am not the only kid I know who had that experience. So – if you are hoping that mainstreaming your child will help him socialize, you'll want to keep an eye on that.

My "gifted program" experiences were better. However, there was a healthy dose of "gifted kids are savants and can just DO things!" We weren't really taught to study, or to work through our mistakes. We were mostly taught that a mistake meant that you were a failure as a human being, because you were GIFTED and GIFTED people didn't make mistakes. And, like other people here, I was able to coast through most of it. The lesson from this is: if the school is not challenging your child, you need to find something they can do where they can learn that sticking to something and incremental practice will help them succeed, and that mistakes are a way of learning, and that people learn through work, not because they are special.

My best experiences were at nerd camp - Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in my case. The teachers all had significant expectations for me , we were given a disciplined schedule, my peers all challenged me, and I had to sweat to keep up. It was also exceptional for me socially. They've created a program for younger kids since I went, so you may want to look into that. Honestly, if I hadn't gone to CTY I don't know where I'd be.
posted by rednikki at 8:48 PM on March 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think goodbyewaffles makes a very good point that most children do not need to be put in a different environment in order to thrive. As a teacher, I’ve only worked with one child who genuinely needed the kind of specialist support we were unable to offer in our state, mainstream school.

The love and support you give your “gifted” child is the love and support you give your child; no more, no less. But I’ve noticed people have a strong tendency to think that not doing something in light of new information (your child is “gifted”) is somehow not taking action to support your child. It might be tempting to think, “now what?” in light of what your child’s teachers have told you. So for what it’s worth, I think you’re already supporting your child and doing a fab job.

As an aside, I think learning how to deal with boredom is a gift and I worry that children nowadays don’t have enough of an opportunity to learn how to sit with their boredom because we are so concerned that children might get bored and distractions are readily available. It’s totally fine if your child gets bored in class sometimes. Honestly, all children do at some point, despite our best efforts.
posted by mkdirusername at 9:32 PM on March 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

Puzzles! All sorts.
posted by Grok Lobster at 9:47 PM on March 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I mean kind of adding to the choir here but as another "gifted" kid I am an average adult. Which is fine. My friends and I were all high achievers on tests and in myriad GT or AP classes but lots and lots of kids are and only a select few really need extraordinary measures, as mentioned above. I think the main thing to focus on is that your kid isn't bored and otherwise he will be fine.

Two more observations: I too never learned to work hard and then struggled to an extent in college, so I would recommend helping him learn how to (the one thing I always had to work at was my instrument). Also at least in my area, private schools were notoriously bad at catering to anyone outside of the average kid, whether they needed GT classes or extra help. So I wouldn't jump to private schooling without a careful look at what the school offers.
posted by clarinet at 11:03 PM on March 27, 2021

YA"gifted"kid here. At this age, school is 95% play and social-emotional learning for any kid, and a smart kid needs that all the more, because it does add a dose of social difficulty.

Be wary of anything accelerated. The only reason to introduce new material is to keep things interesting, not to get anywhere faster, because it doesn't make any damn bit of difference afterwards that I learned calculus at age X instead of Y. I don't regret learning it, because it was fun, but if I had played Nintendo and learned it later I'd be in the same place.

Frankly at preschool and kindergarten no child should being doing enough "academics" to get bored with it anyway, in my amateur pedagogical opinion as a human and parent.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:03 AM on March 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

Another gifted kid, CTY alumna, with an ultra premium private school pedigree and a complex!

What your kids needs is your stable and unconditional love, appropriate social peer relations, a wide-ranging home library and a lot of reassurance that process matters more than product (praise the behavior, not the kid).

I am by any measure extremely gifted but what I've needed in life was grit.
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:13 AM on March 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

What does your kid want?

I'm also in the "former gifted child" gang, and you've heard how fucked up we all are. But the one thing that really makes me angry is that I didn't get a choice. I wasn't allowed to be normal.

My parents decided that I had a gift and that therefore they had some sort of great duty to maximise my potential, that it would be a huge loss and a great failure if I just coasted along. But I just wanted to be like the rest of the kids, and I wasn't allowed to be.

Does your son like his school? Does he have friends there? Would he rather go somewhere else? Ask him.

Five isn't too young to have an opinion, and the earlier you get in the habit of asking him what he wants, the less likely he is to end up like the rest of us in this thread.
posted by automatronic at 7:22 AM on March 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

I grew up in the US. I was in a gifted program in elementary school. Then my parents bought a house just for the public school district, and those schools were so good that they didn't have a gifted program. The principal told my parents that every child there was gifted. I went to a high school that was top 100 in the US. I got a full score on the SAT, a college entrance exam that was designed to be a proxy for IQ (and fails to be because of structural bias). Went to one of the best universities in the world. Started a company in my 20s and it's growing fast. If I do this well with a big dose of luck and hard work, I'll be financially independent before I'm 35. Feels so egotistical to talk this way!

I come from another culture where intelligence isn't a state of being but a question of hard work. I never suffered from the atmosphere in the US around giftedness that the other posters mention. As an example, I took SAT practice tests until I could get full scores three times in a row. I don't think being labelled "gifted" always dooms children.

I'll tell you what I've been thinking about for my future family. Here is what I'd like for them:

An enjoyment of learning. I love to learn. School was never a burden for me. It was always fun. I still love it, and I fantasize about going back for a PhD. And this has been one of my biggest strengths in my career too, and one of the reasons I love to work. I know that every system is made up of rules that you can either follow or flout as you choose, and mastering those rules is the first step to success. I want my family to think for themselves and to crave it.

Schools that challenge. In college, I saw such a big gap. I met people who were so much smarter than me, so much better educated. The kids who went to those posh private schools really did get a head start. They were 5x more prepared for elite education than I was. And I had still gone to an incredible public school. I also knew so many people who hated their high schools and the culture there. So choose carefully!

Learning speedily outside of school. I've asked many of my friends how they got to where they were. One took math classes at MIT as a high school student. Another was lecturing PhD students in physics when he was in undergrad. They had parents who pushed them to learn as fast as they wanted from the very beginning (say preschool age), whether their parents taught their kids themselves or sent them to tutoring. Schools are designed around the average, and it's not enough.

A strong sense of self and values. I know so many outwardly successful people who struggle with mental illness and their family relationships. It's hard. Many of them push themselves because they think they are worthless otherwise, and their families imprinted that. I want to teach my children that there is so much advantage and pleasure to discipline and success, but that it's not who they are. I'd like to teach them something of Buddhism and Stoicism while they're little before they suffer. There is so much outside of our control.

My parents made me who I am. They were undoubtedly the largest influence on me. Even now, I catch myself recognizing little habits and modes of thought within myself that come from them. The second biggest influence was my education. More than anything else, I was so lucky to attend schools where adults in authority told you that you could achieve anything, literally anything. They told you about kids just like you saving the world and asked you what you would do. In so many communities, we show children how to limit themselves. That they can't do it, that they're stupid to dream, that they're full of themselves. We teach them to be afraid. The biggest barrier to success isn't capability but ambition.
posted by hotchocolate at 8:31 AM on March 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

PS Peak by Anders Ericsson is the best book I've read on how to raise high achieving children. What my parents did by stumbling, you can do with planning.
posted by hotchocolate at 8:37 AM on March 28, 2021

For the future, if you like --

Keep an eye out for if your child is neurodivergent (ADHD for example) in ways that create difficulties that they've able to mask. This is a classic "underachieving" combination that is a big mess to dig out of for people who identify it later in life.

Do you, the parents, see much of these in yourselves? Perfectionism,; tendency to see things on a linear scale; tendency to see that as a scale of value? These can interact particularly poorly with self-aware high intelligence. Good news, you don't have to get rid of them yourself -- practicing and modeling out loud how you counteract them is good.

This thread may sound doom-laden, but passion and ability are good! The trick is to avoid letting them get stuffed into the narrow channel of high achievement and successful performance. They're for so many more things. Understand the forms of the earth, watch the flow of money in capitalism, analyze conversational pragmatics, empathize with pillbugs.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:46 AM on March 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

This really depends on where you are what your options are.

"Gifted programs" in middle-class public schools and non-selective private primary schools are almost always ill-conceived and ill-managed parking lots for nerdy kids, and kids of nerdy parents who may or may not be nerds themselves. They socially isolate without cognitively enriching. Skip it - get your kid great books, music and sports training outside of class, and maybe a rigorous foreign language afterschool program.

Selective private schools and public schools whose catchments are mostly or entirely high income won't even have a "gifted program" for the most part. Instead, the curriculum is demanding for everyone. Over the course of years, it will gradually sort out the learning disabled, the not-so-bright, the regular IQ kids, the high IQ but low application kids, and the high IQ + high application kids. By middle school (to an extent) and high school (robustly) there will be multiple tracks with the highest tracks being wickedly challengingly. This system tends to work.

"Gifted programs" when they exist in high-poverty schools serve the purpose of providing well-educated parents the ability to have their kids in a neighborhood school, without paying tuition, while also not having to deal as much with the educational and social issues of poor kids. The education itself is not particularly accelerated or enriched. Even if you are ideologically comfortable with this, politicians increasingly are not, and they are being increasingly curtailed and abolished.
posted by MattD at 11:21 AM on March 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much to everyone for the detailed and thoughtful answers! I marked the best answers as the comments that resonated with me most, but all of the answers have given me lots to think about.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2021

Obviously there are a lot of traps in the whole “gifted” paradigm, but one thing to consider is whether you can find an environment where the teacher is able to treat your kid in a more individualized way. I went to a public elementary with multi-grade classrooms; there were four grades in my classroom, and we had kids with gifts and disabilities, and it was OK because the way the classroom was structured allowed for people to do things at the level that pertained to them. (Which is as relevant for “average” kids, who will be advanced in some areas and delayed in others, as it is for anyone else.)

Also, the truth is that if your kid’s development is really unusual (like the commenter who was reading at a college level in first grade) there is no perfect situation. Such a kid is naturally going to be bored silly by first grade reading lessons and is also obviously not ready for college.

Finally, I really want to underscore the stuff that nouvelle-persone said about “learning to learn” and learning to cope with failure and adversity while learning. It’s super important for all kids, but especially kids who usually find learning “easy.”
posted by hungrytiger at 4:00 PM on March 28, 2021

A third vote for the JHU CTY summer programs, the main one of which starts (I believe) when entering 9th grade. Some of the most wonderful and memorable summers in my life, with some truly incredible people. The other night I randomly googled some of them and came up with a number of doctors, professors, media personalities, and talented engineers. One person I did not need to look up was Mark, my roommate my final summer at CTY, who founded Facebook.

As far as the nearer-term stuff for the OP:

1) Please, please do not let your child know (even subtly - I'm sure you wouldn't say it straight out of course) that they are much smarter than the kids around them. It will make it hard not to be arrogant and immodest and will likely stunt what may be an already challenged social life.

2) Look for enrichment programs at local universities, there are often Saturday morning programs that are free or nominal cost. As an elementary school student I did one at a local private university that cost very little, in middle school I did a free Saturday morning math program at a state university, in high school I went to Columbia SHP (also free).

3) If your local public school is very strong, that is probably fine unless their brilliance is truly otherworldly. Other than a gifted program in 4th and 5th grade, I just went to my local (well-regarded) public schools and things went fine. When I went to college (a strong school where something like one-third of students had come from the same 20 ultra-elite prep and public schools) I felt slightly behind because of the courses offered in my high school, but it all washed out after a year or so.
posted by redondo77 at 5:06 PM on March 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

The gifted program for me was when I first learned how to look down on others who i was supposedly "better than" and thus cut myself off from any possibility of healthy relationships. The elitism was baked into the program from the beginning. I would dismantle the whole thing for this reason alone. Also, I don't think the education I received was that different from that of my peers. By the time we got to high school, most of us gifted kids were starting to struggle, crippled by perfectionism and high expectations and having not developed social or life skills. I think a lot of us are addicts now.

If I was parenting and my kid was bored in school, i would try to teach them that school is not life and yeah it's boring and arbitrary, and it's largely a waste of time, has no bearing on your worth, and you shouldn't take it too seriously. And encourage them to cultivate interests besides what they teach in school, like other people, hobbies, causes, etc.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:12 PM on March 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had the chance to put my kids in an alternative public school that emphasized the "whole child". The classroom philosophy emphasized supporting and challenging each kid in way that matched their abilities and learning style ("differentiated instruction is the buzz word for that, I believe). It was also a parent participation program - parents had to volunteer to help out in the classroom which allowed the teachers, especially in the younger grades, to have lots of small group and hands on learning activities since they had extra adults to help out. In early grades the teachers gave assessments but not letter or number grades.

Both of kids, who were very different learners, did better in this program than in a traditional classroom, although for different reasons. The gifted perfectionist was able to enjoy learning and feel challenged without focusing on getting perfect grades. The anxious, bright but not gifted child, was also able to (mostly) enjoy school without the negative labels and stress of being a B student in a community where there is a huge focus on being a straight A student

I think some of the Montessori schools have the similar culture of meeting students at their level and helping everyone learn to enjoy learning. I'm big believer in encouraging kids to be curious and learn cool stuff versus mastering the greatest number of facts.
posted by metahawk at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2021

So I was not considered "gifted" when growing up, whereas my wife was a one in a million prodigy (she has memories from before she was two years old and was reading and writing by three). We're both scientists, and she's a fair bit more successful then I am. That being said, I don't think either of us would attribute that to her being "smarter" than me, but rather due to an environment that facilitated her early success. In particular, she grew up in a hyper-intellectual environment where her talents were recognized and fostered, whereas neither of my parents finished college, and I had to foster my own interests, and ultimately learn how to interact with academic institutions.

A fact of living in modern society is that we all have to interact with large institutions, be they governments, companies, or universities, and doing so successfully requires a very particular set of skills (e.g. discipline, timeliness, etiquette, team-work, etcetera). My wife was taught these skills, whereas I had to learn them through trial-and-error, which has cost me in numerous ways. That being said, doing so taught me independence and how to manage failure. In contrast, (as many comments here attest to) "gifted" focus education can teach you many wrong lessons. I think it can teach you that you are "special", and that institutions will engage you on your own terms, whereas in reality, almost without exception, you have to learn to engage with institutions on their terms.

I'm not an educator, but I have studied cognitive science extensively (I also have two kids). To be honest I'm surprised teachers would still use the language of "giftedness". To say that intelligence is multifaceted is an understatement. As long as children are curious and engaged, they will develop various kinds of intelligence in various ways. I think our job as parents is to facilitate their curiosity and engagement... oh yah, and love them unconditionally.

For all my wife's prodigious talents, she did not go to a gifted program, because as far as I can tell, this is not really a thing in Germany where she grew up. Her "gifts" were fostered by her family, as well as teachers, just like everyone else. So if you think the teachers who approached you will connect you with resources that help your child flourish, then you should of course take advantage of these resources. However, if your teachers are (inadvertently) encouraging your child to participate in a culturally malformed program that will isolate them from their peers, and hide them from the realities of adult life, then a "gifted" education may do more harm than good.
posted by Alex404 at 10:02 PM on March 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

Finding the discourse here on "giftedness" (crap label, real thing) a little disappointing. Just to be clear, this kind of learning style is a form of neurodivergence.

There are studies that show tangible differences in brain structure through MRI in gifted learners
. There are studies that discuss the hereditability of this kind of learning style, and more.

Obviously, there were huge problems with the way gifted learners were historically identified, leading to racist and socially biased outcomes (IQ is super flawed). And it sounds like a lot of now-adults were given a damaging narrative about their learning style when they were kids (like, you're smarter than others, you're a genius, you are under pressure to succeed... all of that is terrible for any child.)

However, none of this obviates the fact that there are still many people with this kind of learning style, and that style brings with it asynchronous development, and social and psychological challenges. Being "gifted" doesn't just mean you're smart and will succeed. It can also mean that you get frustrated, depressed and feel isolated from neurotypical peers. It can mean you get so bored in your normal classes you start blowing things up. It can mean you friends in kindergarten make fun of you for using big words. It can mean school is easy for you. It can mean school is much harder for you. All that depends.

I'd encourage you as a parent to read up on giftedness (The Rainforest Mind book/blog is a pretty accessible entry point, about adults), and keep in mind — there can be real harm in keeping a gifted learner in a slower environment.

It can be easier for a kid to experience healthy social-emotional learning with other kids who actually understand what they're talking about and can read the same books, and enjoy the same subjects.
posted by yearly at 7:33 AM on March 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

My local public school (I have elementary aged children) doesn't even assign 'gifted' until like 3rd grade, and even then it's 45 minutes a week of different learning. Earlier, the 'gifted kids' (ie: kids that can read slightly above their level) read slightly harder books.

I also wouldn't put too much stock into anyone declaring a pre-k kid to be 'gifted'. In my district, kids are expected to be able to read relatively well during the kindergarten year and 85% accomplish that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:42 AM on March 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

A bit late to this party. I don’t think teachers have this conversation lightly, and I think you should take it seriously.

My opinion is a bit skew to the others here. I think gifted education is important mostly because of the SEL stuff. As an aunt of mine who used to be an assistant principal once told me, these kids can be weird and have pretty special emotional needs, and not all schools handle these needs very well. Not everything that says “gifted” on the tin is going to be useful to you. When you find a school, whatever sort of school, show up in every room you’re invited into, and listen carefully to what the people in it say.

Some kids melt down in a variety of ugly and annoying ways when their intellectual needs aren’t met. If you’ve got one of those, and your kindergarten isn’t great by this measure, I suspect you’ll probably discover it with a nasty shock of some kind in about two to three months. On the other hand, some kids just internalize the stress. You won’t hear about that from the teacher, but it’s something to keep in mind if your child seems withdrawn and sad or anxious.

Most of these kids benefit in a lot of ways by spending substantial time, at some point in their lives, around other kids who are like them intellectually. I mean, I think everybody needs this. It’s just harder for some kids to find because of their difference. I don’t think this difference is made up. And you may find you actually need to talk about it explicitly, because your kid will probably notice at some point. We did, with Little eirias. You don’t have to make it some kind of creepy smart people supremacy thing. You can just say, people are good at different things, and this is one of your strengths and something that makes you different, and it’s okay to be different.

It’s not about Harvard or career success. It’s about happiness now and later. I hope you have found a nurturing place for your kindergartener.
posted by eirias at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2021

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