Teaching My Baby To Read

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Gifted Children Deserve Compassion and Empathy

Almost a year ago, when my son Bruce was still in regular-ed Kindergarten, I was at my wits end.  I knew in my heart that there was something extremely different about Bruce, and that he was most likely highly gifted, but my husband and I were still waiting for the results of his evaluations.  In the meantime, it seemed like each new day presented new opportunities for us all to be miserable, in ways that often resulted in high anxiety, huge explosions, and public humiliation. 

By contrast, my daughter Jenna who was a toddler at the time, spouted please and thank you without prompting, and gave out spontaneous hugs.  Our problems with Bruce were not related to bad parenting, even though from the outside looking in, other people might have been quick to blame my husband and me.

Bruce’s Kindergarten teacher (a really nice, and hard-working lady), kept telling me “I’ve only ever seen one other student like Bruce before in my twelve years of teaching.”  My mother-in-law said, “Your husband had already calmed down by this age.”  My own mother said “You only threw two tantrums in your whole life!” And Bruce?  With his words he told me, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school anymore,” and with his actions he told me that he was freakin’ miserable.  All of his shirt collars were chewed up and his fingers were raw.  There was such a mismatch between what his intellect was capable of doing, and what his five year-old-maturity level was capable of expressing, that he was in deep sorrow.

Out of true desperation I thought of the smartest, wildest, craziest boy I knew growing up in the San Diego School District’s Seminar Program for highly gifted youth.  Then, I emailed his mother, “Help me Mrs. G.  Please help me, because I am failing my child.  There is nobody I can talk to who understands the situation like you would.  What should I do?”

Mrs. G immediately emailed me back and gave me phone numbers of people I could talk to, including people who worked with SENG.  She also told me that I was going to be an advocate for Gifted Education, and that I was going to speak up for children like our sons.

The phone numbers and links to SENG were great, but become an advocate for Gifted Education?  What the heck!  Maybe I could have done that when I was a teacher, or a summer school principal, but now I was *just* a stay at home mom.  I had given up my voice, so that I could be there for my children…or had I?

About a month later I started Teaching My Baby to Read Blog with the intention of helping parents ensure that their children are academically advantaged regardless of age, ability or socioeconomic level.  As an added bonus, blogging has also allowed me to speak up on behalf of the importance of Gifted Education.

Those of you are regular readers of my blog know that my son Bruce is a happy, well-adjusted first grader in a Gifted Education program today.  He has amazing teachers who understand him, friends who are just as intense as he is, and Bruce no longer feels the need to chews up his shirts.  My husband and I have a lot more support now, because we have other parents to talk to, both in-person and online.  The SENG website and conference we attended last year have also been amazing resources for our entire family, grandparents included.

Recently I read a very nasty attack of gifted families on BabyCenter.com.  Let this blog post serve as my retort.


7 Comments

  1. Claire H. says:

    Well, after reading the BabyCenter post, I have to say that I hate those kind of parents, too. The ironic thing is that most of the obnoxious parents I have run into don’t actually have kids who are particularly gifted. Their kids are brighter-than-average but nothing all that unusual. By contrast, the families I know with kids who are highly or profoundly gifted tend to be pretty circumspect about their kids’ unusual abilities. They will make vague statements about their child loving to read or do math, but not get into the specifics about precisely what reading/math the child is doing.

    • Jean says:

      That’s my experience too, so it’s too bad that the blogger was so nasty. As a librarian, I’ve often been accosted by parents who are very careful to proclaim about their 3rd grader that “he reads at a 4th grade level” (I don’t care). They are invariably parents who are unwilling to let the kid check out a pile of books of his own choosing–they’re looking for one book, preferably “Treasure Island” or something that will make good copy, and it has to be on the AR-approved list so it will get points. That isn’t the way to get a happy reading kid, so I always feel bad and want to slip him a copy of “How to Eat Fried Worms” or something.

      Obnoxious, competitive parents are not the same thing as parents of gifted children–but it always makes me sad to see how many of the competitive parents want to force their kid to be gifted, as though it’s like getting a blue ribbon in life.

      Also, I don’t like AR. Grr.

      • jenbrdsly says:

        And being “gifted” is NOT a blue ribbon in life! Rather, it’s a description of a long a difficult set of social and academic challenges that can lie in front of a child.

  2. jengod says:

    Asynchronous development can be brutal, can’t it?

    So glad Bruce (and you!) are in a good place now, and I love your giftedness posts!

    Be sure to look into EPGY and above all CTY when the time comes. I think Bruce will love it. (I also hear good things about the Davidson programs.)

    XOXOOXOXOXOXO!!

  3. Edwin Rutsch says:

    May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

  4. E. Zuniga says:

    My daughter (7) was just officially assigned a gifted label after being tested in January. I’ve known since she was a baby that there was something very special/advanced about her and now that she has this label that will follow her throughout her schooling, I find myself scrambling for what to do with her next year. She does not like school and it breaks my heart because she is great at everything she does, but she would prefer to read, draw and create endless projects. This does not happen at her current school, and due to CA budget cuts there is really no program at all. Advice? Should I try to get her a scholarship to a private school? Should I homeschool? Any advice would be appreciated.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      😦 The way gifted children are handled in CA schools varies so wildly that it is really sad. I’m lucky that I grew up in San Diego.

      I have two ideas for you. The first is request a SST meeting. SST stands for Student Success Team. I’m not sure if that is still the current lingo, but the school principal should know what you mean. SST meetings are usually held for kids experience academic or behavioral difficulties, but they can also be used for kids who are gifted. These are the people you need to politely and nicely request be present at the SST meeting, or else it is not really worth everyone’s tie: the principal, the classroom teacher, a classroom teacher from a grade or two above, and if you can swing it, somebody from the district office like a gifted ed person, a special ed person, or a counselor. The SST team needs to come up with a super-duper plan for your daughter to make sure that her academic and social emotional learning needs are being met. They need to brainstorm together to find a solution. I would not personally consider homeschooling, until you had at least given the school district a chance to present you with an alternative plan.

      The second idea for you is to use the words “differentiated instruction”. Those are magic teacher-speak words that should hopefully help. The classroom teacher needs to be able to show you beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is differentiating instruction in order to meet the needs of all of the learners in her classroom. That might mean sending your daughter up to fourth grade for a guided reading literature circle, but it should not mean your daughter sitting in the corner doing a packet of worksheets by herself.

      As for private school, my husband both went to Stanford so we are thinking big picture (and big expense). We would rather live in the tiniest shack in the best school district possible, then have to pay for our kids to go to private school. That’s because we would rather save for college.

      Good luck and best wishes!

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