Patrysha Korchinski of McLennan, Alberta, Canada, knew that her son was exceptional before he was even 2 years old.
"He knew all his letters (among other things)," says Korchinski. "My mother once accused me of pushing my son. How do you explain to someone who does not know that he picked it up all on his own?"
Korchinski learned that she needed to become her son's advocate right from the start. So when he was just 4 years old, and not quite old enough for kindergarten, she approached the school board to voice her concerns.
"I got the distinct impression from the superintendent that they thought I was an overzealous parent," says Korchinski. "Fortunately, my presentation to the school board did prove that my son was indeed able to read, write and do math at a grade one level. Unfortunately, all it meant was that he was admitted to kindergarten with very little attention given to his special needs, and he spent most of the year bored and unchallenged."
Motivating Children and Teachers
Ellen Winner, graduate program director in the department of psychology at Boston College, says a lot of parents are having their children tested on their own in order to convince the school that something needs to be done at an earlier age. In some states the children are not pulled out of a regular class setting and tested until the fourth grade.
"I think gifted programs in schools are wonderful," says Angela Smith, a teacher in Lawrenceville, Ga. "They definitely motivate students, and the students love it! They are surrounded by people who think like they do, and they don't have to wait for others to 'catch up.' They can work at their own pace, which is usually quicker than an average student."
At McKendree Elementary where Smith teaches, the gifted students spend one day a week in the gifted (FOCUS) class, which is separate from their regular classroom.
"I know at some schools they get to go for an hour every day, but I think ours is an ideal situation," says Smith. "They get to go for an entire day, so they have more time to complete projects in the gifted class. Also, they don't miss the same subject every day in the regular class."
Potential for Success
"There is evidence that gifted kids in ability-groups for the gifted or in accelerated classes for the gifted achieve somewhat higher scores on standardized tests than equally able kids not in such special classes (the work of Kulik and Kulik)," says Winner. "This still does not tell us about future success. What we need are experimental studies comparing equal ability kids who do and do not go to a strong gifted program, and we need to compare them 20 years later."
Children who are noticeably advanced in areas of academia need to be challenged. This can be done in a variety of ways, as some parents are finding out. Often, the school is just not large enough to accommodate special needs children so teachers and parents have to communicate on what can be done to meet the current needs of the gifted child.
"Our school is just too small to have a gifted program," says Korchinski. "In the school there were just over 100 students registered in grades kindergarten through ninth, and of those students, two were classified as gifted – one was my son."
"My son spends a few hours a week in first grade and has joined a group of children who read to the preschoolers," says Hannah Hayes, a mom in Chicago, Ill. "It has worked out well for him. He is emotionally still a kindergartner. When he finishes his work in class he has the freedom to pursue other things."
Hayes opted not to advance her child, but be persistent in helping the teacher find ways to challenge him within his own grade level. The teacher and the principal worked together to develop projects for her son to keep him from being bored.
Challenging a gifted child in the regular classroom setting can be difficult for teachers. Good communication among teacher, parent and child is necessary for success.
"I have children in my class whose math levels range from third grade to twelfth grade. Reading levels vary almost that much," says Smith. "I like to use the gifted children as teachers. I let them work with students who may need extra help. I also choose gifted students to be group leaders. I try to have a gifted student in every group at every table."
Smith explains that thought it might appear that this method only benefits the lower children, she truly feels that even the most gifted child can learn by explaining something. A student must have a good understanding of a topic in order to explain it to someone else – this is a challenge that a gifted child usually jumps at. They are always up for a challenge. It also helps to bring out the leader in them and helps with their social interaction.
The Tough Times
"One of the downfalls of being gifted is listening to a lesson about something you already know," says Smith. "The gifted children usually grasp things much quicker and can become bored with extended explanations and practice."
Smith points out that another downfall of being gifted is that a lot is expected from these children.
"I find that often gifted students have a lot of pressure on them," says Smith. "Because they are so bright, we forget that they are really only 10 years old. We expect them to act their mental age instead of their actual age. As far as behavior, they should be held to the same standards as other children."
Korchinski has found it difficult to get teachers to fully understand her child's needs. She feels it is important to remember that her son, who is just 5 years old, still "acts" like a typical kindergarten child in many ways. His behavior in class falls within the norm for kids his age.
"I have found that many people expect him to act older in all areas of development," says Korchinski. "They think he's immature in some areas when he's acting just as a 5-year-old should."
Korchinski enjoys chatting with her gifted son. "It has always been so rewarding to sit and hold intelligent conversations with my son and not have to worry that I was talking over his head or to worry about him understanding concepts."
"Gifted children often have heightened senses in different areas. Some are more emotional; others are more critical," says Smith. "I think it just depends on the child, but they are all special and different in their own way. They add excitement and adventure to every class!"
Being a gifted child has its ups and downs. Yes, they are different in many ways, but all children are unique in their own abilities. Whether they are superstars in sports or academics, kids are all unique! It is important for every child to embrace their differences and learn from others. Being unique is a wonderful thing!