With all three of my kids, it’s been clear from their early days that they are academically gifted little people. My oldest was reading at two, my second and third at three. They grasp concepts quickly, use vocabulary you don’t expect to hear from kids their age, etc. And it’s carried through as they’ve gotten older.
I have spent all my 10 years of motherhood being so proud of my kids and their achievements in all areas of life. But for me, it’s easier to talk about when I am proud of my kids for being kind or for doing great in a sport than it is to talk about when they are good at academics.
That’s because sometimes, it feels like people get judgy when I talk about my kids’ academic giftedness. Like I think I am better than them. (I don’t.) Or they think I’m comparing their kids to my kids. (I’m not.) Or they start comparing my kids to their kids (I wish they wouldn’t.) And when I have real concerns and challenges to deal with because of my kids’ academic giftedness, it can be hard to talk about that to anyone, because I don’t want to come off as humble bragging.
Yet, there are things that I have needed help with, and it’s hard to find people to ask for that help.
I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t talk about it, mostly because I’ve not found very many other parents to talk about it with, and I’m positive that I don’t have the only academically gifted children in the greater Iowa City area. So, in case you haven’t been able to find that other parent of a gifted kid to talk to about this stuff, I want to take a few minutes to share with you what I wish some other mom could have shared with me about what resources are available in our community and what you can do to advocate for your child.
1. Talk with your child.
As with everything to do with our kids, talking to them first is so important. Find out what their frustrations and joys in school are. Do they have one or more teachers that really get it and push them to work at the appropriate pace or level? Do they have classes where they are bored out of their minds and feel like it’s driving them crazy to go so slow? If they are already in the school’s gifted program, is it doing enough for them or are they still feeling that there is not enough challenge for them? Use that information to figure out if things are fine as they are or if you need to step in to advocate for your child.
2. Ask about gifted programs at your child’s school.
Our children’s school has a Talented and Gifted pull-out program, where once a week, each of our kids goes to a reading enrichment group or a math enrichment group. I believe there are similar programs at every school in our community. While I would love for it to be more than just an hour a week, this has been a great opportunity for the kids to work at the right pace for them, get to know other kids who share their academic abilities, and take on fun challenges.
In some years, we have had to ask for our kids to be considered for the program, while in others we simply received a letter saying they had been selected to participate. If you haven’t heard about a program like this at your child’s school, or if your child was in a program like this before but then you didn’t hear about it the next year, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask their teacher about it, what the criteria for joining it are, and whether your child is eligible.
3. Talk to your child’s teachers.
Sometimes, this is all it takes. My daughter’s kindergarten and 2nd grade teachers were delighted to tailor learning to my daughter’s level, to make more advanced books available in the classroom, and set up new challenges for her when she had already mastered what the rest of the class was working toward. Some of my son’s teachers were just as wonderful, but others were not so obliging. That’s when I recommend the next step.
4. Get testing.
In my experience, we were not taken seriously by some school teachers or administrators until we had the test scores to back up our claims of giftedness. Locally here in Iowa City, Iowa Assessments given every fall are a good start. I recommend that you keep your child’s scores in a file from year to year so you have multiple years of information to draw from and support your requests to your child’s teachers or school administrators. You can show teachers and administrators that your child didn’t have one fluke year of high test scores, they are on a trajectory that shows their learning is consistently at an above-average pace.
University of Iowa’s Belin Blank Center offers further testing for academic giftedness. If your child is testing in the 95th percentile or above in any area on the Iowa Assessments, which seems to be a benchmark for giftedness, you may want to consider Belin-Blank’s I-Excel or BESTS test, which can be given at your child’s school by your request or at the Belin Blank Center. It is “above level testing,” which means your child is tested on subject material that is typically taught in grades above your child’s current level to assess how advanced they currently are in their understanding of core subjects.
I liked seeing the I-Excel test results because it gave us a good overview of our son’s academic picture, and it gives suggestions for the kinds of accommodations that might be appropriate for your child in each subject area. Whether it’s out-of-school enrichment opportunities, single-subject grade advancement, skipping a whole grade, or shoring up skills in one area to keep pace with the very advanced skills in another area, the results you are given show suggestions for each academic area tested.
5. Talk to the school’s administration.
Once you’ve talked to your child and their teachers and had testing done to get recommendations for what your child needs, if you feel your child needs more than is currently being offered, you need to work with the school administrators to make a plan. Think about what you want, and go prepared to ask specifically for what you want. But also go ready to listen. Administrators and teachers may have ideas you’ve never thought of or resources you don’t know about yet.
My own experiences with school administrators have been both wonderful and horrible, depending on the occasion. A few years ago, an assistant principal pretty much refused to do anything for my son until after he asked what my husband and I do for a living. He took us a lot more seriously after my husband said he was a neuroscience professor. As one of my friends said, it shouldn’t have mattered whether his parents were professors or janitors. Every child deserves to get the education that is right for them. The next year, I bypassed that assistant principal (who thankfully is no longer at my children’s school) and went straight to the principal.
Every child deserves to get the education that is right for them.
For our meeting with the principal, we brought years’ worth of test scores–and to my delight, so had she! We also prepared in advance, thinking about the types of accommodations that we wanted from the school. In particular, we were hoping for my son to be able to skip ahead in math and start pre-algebra in the 5th grade. We worked with the principal to create a plan for him to test into the more advanced class over the summer between 4th and 5th grade. Then we continued to work with the administration to get a schedule worked out for him that would allow for him to be in the upper level math class at the start of the new school year.
I don’t think it was easy for the school administrators to do all of this for us, and I understood that we were significantly complicating things for them, especially as far as scheduling. But, it was what was right for our child, so I never felt bad picking up the phone or sending an email when I felt like they might be forgetting about firming up our plan.
6. Use local resources.
Here in Iowa City, we are very lucky to have the Belin Blank Institute at the University of Iowa with lots of great enrichment opportunities for kids who are academically gifted. Here are a couple of the programs that they have to offer, which our oldest child has loved and we look forward to doing with our younger children.
- WINGS (Weekend Institute for Gifted Students) – Half day enrichment programs on the weekends here in Iowa City.
- BLAST: Summer Camp for elementary students starting in second grade
There are lots more great programs available at Belin-Blank for gifted kids of all ages. With my oldest being only 10, I can’t speak from experience for the programs for older kids, but based on the quality of the programs we do have experience with, I suspect they are amazing!
7. Repeat. Every year.
In my years of working with my children’s school to help get my kids the education that is just right for them, one thing has become clear: every school year is a whole new ball game. There are new teachers who don’t know your child or their abilities. This last year, we met with the principal in the beginning of summer and followed up at the end of summer right before the school year began, and that seemed to be excellent timing for ensuring that our son’s academic needs could be met right from the start of the school year.
For our daughter who is only in second grade, I started about a month into the school year by asking her how things were going. Then I talked with her teacher about her reading level and math abilities, asking what could be done in the classroom to help her feel more challenged.
8. Don’t forget to say thank you when your child’s school does an awesome job!
When teachers and school administrators are going out of their way to make the learning experience awesome for your kids, I think we should all remember to say thank you. It’s not easy to work out schedules that accommodate kids who need to take classes with the grades above them, and it’s not easy to teach kids at widely varying levels of ability all in one classroom. When administrators and teachers make it work well, they are rock stars. We should remember to let them know we are grateful for all the amazing work they do!