Do you feel like your child is a quick learner, maybe ahead of the curve in relation to her peers? Did she walk sooner, talk earlier, do a cartwheel at 2, or recognize a picture of the President of the United States at 3? What do you do?
First, recognize that every child is remarkable in some way. There is something incredibly special in every little girl and boy. Even when I’ve taught a student who has pushed my buttons and disrupted the class, I have found something wonderful inside that child. Teachers and parents succeed when we are able to draw that goodness out, and help the child further develop those traits.
If your child stands out because she is able to pass regular milestones ahead of her peers, regard this great fortune with caution. In many cases, parents approach their teachers to point out this remarkable ability and ask what the teachers can do to nurture it. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, I know this, because I was that parent. It is with hindsight that I can share a personal story about the importance of perspective when you believe your child is truly gifted.
My youngest son had a very strong math mind at three years old. We discovered this strength when he used to play math games with his grandfather while riding in the car. Grandpa began asking him what one plus one equaled and then gradually made the problems more difficult. It got to the point where at three years old, he could add nine and eight in his head. When he moved on to the four year old program in preschool, my husband and I pointed this skill out to his teachers and asked what they could do to enhance his math abilities.
The teachers were very patient with us. They told us about the graphing and sequencing the class did to help all of the children learn pre-math skills. Then, they suggested that while our son was surely gifted in math, at four years old, their job was to help him succeed in many areas. Academics were important, but so were his speech skills, socialization, and other areas of development. They agreed that we should foster his interest in math, but felt that he might be better served working on that with us at home.
Their advice was right on target. Once he got into elementary school, there were opportunities for him to enhance his math skills. The enrichment teacher spent time with him each week, which kept him excited about the subject and allowed him to grow his skills. Now, in high school, he is still a strong math student, as are many other kids in his class.
The lesson I learned is that we want our children to be well rounded. Certainly, if they demonstrate excellence in a particular subject, we should allow and encourage them to continue to grow in that area. But, at four years old, there are so many other skills they need to learn and develop, that it is short sighted to spend too much time on just one.