Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just Let Him Be a Kid!

"Just let him be a kid."

Astonishingly enough, this is one of the first things I hear from pretty much anyone when Monkey's activities are mentioned. I heard it all the time when he was a teeny toddler - he knew his letters, shapes and colors, and we were always on the lookout for things to do with him and for games for him to play. Then, just after his third birthday, Monkey asked me to teach him to read.

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a big deal. Monkey already knew his letters and their sounds, so really, it was just a matter of putting them together. I turned out to our local homeschooling group to try to get some advice and see what and where I could start. I knew I wanted to homeschool, that was something I'd planned ages and ages ago. But suddenly, there it was: "Why don't you just let him be a kid?"

I shook it off. These were strangers, some of whom followed a very different philosophy than any I ascribed to. No big deal. I planned a course of study, I figured we'd just make it work on our own. After all, we weren't the first people to ever homeschool a kid. So, out we went. I found the resources, and we started learning to read. We spent a whopping 20 minutes four days a week working on reading. He was reading CVC words before Christmas, and reading them independently before the new year. I figured that we probably ought to start a full homeschool year at that point.

See, where we live, four year olds go into Junior Kindergarten. This past academic year, our local school moved to full day kindergarten. Monkey simply wasn't ready for this. There was absolutely no way he would thrive in a full day kindergarten setting. He wasn't able to sit still, keeping quiet was a non-starter, and trying to get him to sit in a desk would be like herding cats. So, in everyone's best interest, I started up a full kindergarten program for him. We did reading and math every day. Then, we also put in science, history, logic, and French, though we eventually pulled French in favor of Handwriting. Our school days were a whopping hour and a half long, and on Tuesdays we went to the local pool to go swimming. I was really pleased with it, and everything was going well.

Naturally, that's the time that people I know and love make casual comments. Most people I know live in areas where formal schooling doesn't start until the age of 5. So we were "early" by their standards, but out came the "Why not just let him be a kid?"

Why not just let him be a kid? The answer is very simple: he's not an ordinary kid. The problem, however, is more complex. If you say "I can't, he's dragging me along by the hair!" the first thing that happens is that people try to "decode" what you mean. Instead of taking it at face value, they assume you're hothousing your preschooler. If you prove that false, then they assume you're just outright lying - after all, everyone wants to have a smart kid, so that's probably all it is.

But they're wrong. These kids are just different from other kids. While other kids would be happy playing with magnetic letters and making play-doh cutouts, these kids want to spell with the letters. They want to read, write, they want to play with clocks, chemistry, and if you'll let them, they'll explain the water cycle after watching that one episode of The Magic School Bus - once. Letting them be kids means supporting them when they want to do something new - whether it's sitting around watching My Little Pony, reading, memorizing the periodic table, or building sand castles.

People are going to make a lot of bad assumptions about these kids. Whether it's that they're not actually gifted because they can't (insert task here), that they're older than they are (thus altering expectations), or even expectations about your parenting - that you're somehow forcing your child to learn things, keeping them from actually being a kid, damaging them somehow. Depressingly, all you can do is let it roll. People aren't going to understand. Your kid is one of the top 5% of the bell curve, so the other 95% of the population isn't going to have a clue what life is like for your child. Not a clue. They aren't going to understand that you don't have "the perfect child" and that parenting them must be so easy because they're so smart they must just be compliant as well. People are going to think a lot of really odd, even nasty, things about you, about your kid, and about how you all must live.

The bonus to all this, though, is that when you talk to people who really understand? People who are also raising gifted children, or who were once gifted children?  Those people will get it. They will listen, offer support, and give good advice. It can take some time to find those people, but once you do, hold onto them tightly - they're a lifeline, and they're people who will understand when you say "Good grief - my neighbor just asked me why I can't just let him be a kid!"

Until you find those people locally, though, there are a few places to look for support - people who understand that you are letting your kid be a kid, and they are the ones driving this insanity, not you!  Here are some of my favorite resources:

  • Texas Association for Gifted and Talented hosts #gtchat on Twitter every Friday night at 7ET/6CT. This is an informal gathering of parents, teachers, and other professionals who work with gifted kids.
  • Gifted Homeschoolers Forum hosts a yahoo group for parents homeschooling their gifted children.
  • Hoagies Gifted, Supporting Gifted Learners, and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum all have great Facebook pages, where I've met a number of great parents of gifted kids.
  • Coming soon from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum; a parent support group! An informal gathering of parents of gifted children, no matter the ages, that will provide a chance to talk, vent to, help, and generally support other parents of these intense children. This one's my baby, so forgive me if I gush a little.