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Challenging and Stimulating a Potentially Gifted Preschooler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is 5 and has been reading since he was 3 years old. He currently reads at a 3rd grade level, can add double digits and is starting his multiplication tables. The Montessori school that he is attending ignores his academic needs in the classroom. He is not challenged with the work and spends time doing the simpler things. The teacher claims that the reason why he is not driven to do the work, especially the reading section, is because he is not "developmentally mature" to engage in the material. Therefore, the teacher is not offering anything challenging assignments because she thinks that he won't be able to finish or focus on the assignment on his own. As a result, he is being kept in the kinder class again with incoming 3 year olds who may not know their letters.

What do you think I should do to prevent him from getting bored next year? I don't want him to lose interest in school and the possible challenges it has to offer. There is a horrible phenomenon occurring in the United States regarding delaying a child's entry into school regardless of his or her qualifications.

A: Being able to read at 3 would have certainly put him at an advantage compared to others. He is indeed an early reader and at 5, reading at 3rd grade level would expose him to a new world of information, much ahead of his peers.

His school certainly looks into his development, but most preschools (especially the Montessori's) are concerned about whole development rather than academic achievement alone. However, your concerns are genuine and it appears as if the teachers have quite different views about his development. You really need to speak to the principal to make sure that the reason for holding him back is practical. You may request for an exception for your son and perhaps suggest a probation period for him at a higher level to see if he is able to cope. It is also true that he needs to be developmentally matured to be able to perform at a higher level; otherwise, there is a possibility for him to lose interest and eventually get even more bored.

The reason some States delay a child's entry into school is mainly because there have been many cases of acceleration that led to socio-emotional and behavioral issues which is rather difficult to deal with. Therefore, requests for early entrance into schools must be backed up with professional testing results, and the child must be matured enough.

Somehow, I feel that there is no need to rush a child into formal schooling and to allow a child to enjoy his/her preschool. In your son's case, he needs a preschool that allows him to read at his own pace (even if it's above everyone else's), that encourages word-play and writing-play for learning (instead of only unstructured free play as probably practiced in his school). Fine motor skills should also be encouraged (e.g., crayon and pencil fun, mazes, dot-to-dot books, scissor activities, etc) as it often found that early readers tend to neglect writing which would be hard to catch on once they are in formal schooling.

On the home front, he should be provided with lots of books. In fact, rather than at school, the majority of his actual reading fluency will progress at home under your guidance. Therefore, you need to make sure that his school is not discouraging his efforts to move on. If you find that his school is impeding his efforts, you may seriously need to locate a better school that understands and is able to cater for his needs. Best of luck!


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