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Enrichment programs for the Gifted

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Our now 7 year old son (1st grade) was given certain subtests of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (basic reading, spelling, and reading comprehension) when he was 5 because he had been reading since he was 3 and we wanted to assess his reading level before he started kindergarten. His performance placed him at a level better than 99.9% of his group peers. He also completed 2 of the intelligence subtests (vocabulary and block design). His scores on those tests placed him in the very superior range. What does "very superior" mean? Does this equate to an IQ number? Does it indicate he may be gifted?

We certainly feel that he's pretty smart (we're his parents!) and he does well in school, always exceeding the grade level expectations. We live in a somewhat affluent suburb of Boston and the schools are good but recent budget cuts are definitely making things worse - larger classes, special programs cut, etc.

He is very happy and loves school and learning. However, we sometimes think that he could be challenged more. Should we let him be or should we be looking into private schools and/or outside enrichment programs? Thank you.

A: I assume that he was not given the full test (probably as he was quite young, test age starts from 4 years old onwards) and you mentioned only certain subtests; therefore, it is hard to determine his IQ range. Having said that, a 99.9 percentile definitely places him in the superior level for the items he was tested upon. Again, since this is not a full test, it is not possible to equate an IQ score or determine giftedness based on current identification processes.

The best thing to do here is not to focus too much on whether he may be gifted or not, but instead find programs that would best help him feel at ease with his talents as of now and to encourage him to foster his talents. If you feel that he is above average, you need to nurture that potential to greater heights regardless of whether the school is catering for his needs.

If he is happy at school, this is a positive sign. Challenge him, but be wary not to over-schedule him with too many activities thinking that he needs them. He would probably do what you expect of him, but in the process, he may burn out. Free time to allow children to explore and grow on their own is essential, especially for gifted children.

If you can afford a private school that you feel may benefit him, especially if his current school seems to be lacking in the educational attention he deserves, by all means, go for it. Do your homework really well as private schools may not necessarily be better that where he is in currently, though the probably have smaller groups of students. Especially, if he does not want to change schools and is comfortable with his environment, you may need to evaluate the pros and cons. It would be a good idea to speak to the school authorities on plans to cater needs for such students and if you feel that it is not very appropriate, only then consider other options, as in private schools.

If he remains in the current school, enrichment activities outside school hours can be very beneficial. Enrichment usually entails adding breadth and depth. Be sure to speak with him on what he enjoys and what interests him so that you can be sure of not over-challenging him with activities that he may not enjoy very much. Best wishes to you!


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