The other day wandering scientist talked about the difficulties of keeping a gifted elementary schooler challenged. That inspired me to write this post and also to ask the Grumpy Nation for suggestions. These suggestions aren’t tailored to Wandering Scientist’s kid– they’re a bit more general given that there’s lots of individual differences in circumstances and interests.
The first suggestion is to ask the school for help. This will not always work– it is very school dependent. #2 and I grew up as tracking was going out of fashion and our parents had an extremely uphill battle trying to get the schools to make any accommodations. DH and I have not had as much trouble, although part of that stems from us so far avoiding working with the high SES K-4 schools that have refused to accommodate our friends’ children (we sent DC1 to private school and the dual language programs are not in the high SES zones). The private school we sent DC1 to tested and anticipated our needs and made suggestions to us for keeping DC1 engaged. The middle schools here have been very helpful when we’ve asked for help. One of the main suggestions when talking with schools is to avoid at all costs saying that your child is bored– instead say that the child needs more challenge.
What schools can do will vary on the district, the school, and sometimes even the teacher. We talk more about options with a few links to research and books in this post here.
Single-subject acceleration allows children to stay with their same peers but to spend part of the day, usually during Reading and/or Math in a classroom a year older. I did a lot of single-subject acceleration for math and/or reading when it was offered as a child (it varied by school and by year) and always enjoyed it. DC1 did single-subject acceleration in K, going to 1st for math and English and is currently doing single-subject acceleration for math, though because 30-40 other kids in his grade are doing it as well, there are only same-grade level kids in hir class.
Whole-grade acceleration, in which the child skips a full grade, is another option. DC1 has technically skipped two grades– zie entered K early, then did K and 1 at the same time, effectively skipping 1st grade.
Classroom differentiation is fantastic for students if teachers can pull it off. Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom (an update from Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom) is a great resource for teachers. Great teachers can give the same project assignments but have some kids dig deeper than others. They can also do things like set up stations for independent learning at various times. For teachers who aren’t as comfortable with differentiating, you can still talk with the teacher and come up with things that your child can do if zie finishes tasks early. This could be something as simple as allowing the child to read a book of his or her choosing, or could include more complicated work. Often teachers have various kinds of fun logic puzzle worksheets they can give out as a first pass and today’s schools often have purchased software that can be used for individual learning. We talk about some options for additional work below.
Gifted pull-out is better than nothing. We’ve been less than impressed with it and the research is kind of meh on it. I assume how it is done is important– I like to think my students got something out of it when I did pull-out math for fourth graders (especially the lesson on adding in different bases!), but who knows.
Outside of school
Enrichment outside of school doesn’t do anything about the “bored at school” problem, but it can help after school and on weekends.
After school activities will vary by what’s in your area. These were great for us in paradise because they were held at school and effectively extended the school day allowing us to get more work done before DC1 got home. Where we live now, they require chauffeuring which is a pretty big drain on our time. Still, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, doing a sport, art class, academic competition, and so on can allow a gifted child to experience challenges and growth that zie is lacking from school, especially if allowed to learn at hir own pace. Challenges are especially important for gifted kids so that when they hit an academic wall for the first time they don’t give up. Classes like robotics, drama, math circle, etc. can also be fun. Some tutoring programs will also have programs for gifted kids or on topics not taught at school.
At the #1 household, we are big fans of workbooks. My sister and I grew up doing workbooks and I learned a lot from them. DC1 has been doing them since zie was 3 (mostly on the weekends and holiday breaks) because zie desperately needed at least an hour of mental stimulation (along with at least an hour of exercise) or zie would be literally bouncing off walls.
There are a couple of directions you can go with workbooks. First, you can accelerate– introduce knowledge that won’t be introduced until later that year or in future years. Acceleration is especially useful (in my opinion) for mastering basic materials that are the building blocks of more complicated learning (phonics, addition, etc.) and for when you’re not sure that your student will be getting foundational material in school (because of grade skipping, school absences, poor teaching, or changing school districts).
For acceleration, we really like the Brain Quest series which cover K-6 and now also have special summer workbooks. DC1 worked through grades K-6, and DC2 is currently on their Grade 2 (also we’re concurrently doing the Summer between Grades 1 and 2 book). Scholastic also often has great workbooks available for sale, but their stock seems to vary a lot.
The second thing that you can do is go deeper and/or sideways.
I strongly believe that learning math different ways is important. So we can cover the same basic material and will do it traditionally in school and in the Brainquest workbook, but will do it from another direction using the Singapore math books (Singapore math link not an affiliate link– they’re not really available on Amazon). If your school uses Singapore math, then you could instead supplement with more traditional US math. Again, DC1 went through K-8 in Singapore math and DC2 is currently on grade 2A. The material is the same for each grade, following essentially the common core, but the methods and what is emphasized in the two curricula are different. My children will be learning different ways to get the same answer and thus gaining a deeper understanding of how the number system works.
For more challenge, I cannot say enough good things about Glenn Ellison’s Hard Math for Elementary Students. It’s best if you get the textbook, workbook, and solutions (3 books). We’ve had DC1 go through the workbook twice over a 3 year period with a break in between. We’ve also done a few of the Zaccaro challenge books and they’re ok, but they’re not as good. We never finished going through the Flashkids Math for the Gifted Student books I got, so I can’t recommend them at all. Sometime next week we’ll start Hard Math for Middle School Students which finally has a workbook to go with the textbook (solutions without hints are in the back of the workbook, so there’s no separate solutions book).
For just plain deep and sideways math fun (without workbooks) get used copies of Martin Gardner’s Aha! and Gotcha! They’re even better than Math for Smarty Pants. Family Math is popular for younger kids (we have it but nobody really got into it, but lots of people recommend it).
I don’t have as many recommendations for workbooks outside of math, so I look forward to people’s suggestions. We are going through Spectrum Writing Grade 7, but that’s more of a remedial thing than acceleration or depth. We like it.
Just like with Workbooks, you can go accelerated vs. deep/sideways with online programs.
Khan Academy is the easiest way to accelerate (or review!). It is also a popular way for teachers to deal with kids who get their work done early. DC1 finished K-8 math in Paradise as a 5th grader (though they have since added some sections). I would say zie didn’t really master 7th and 8th grade math via Khan Academy, but it did help DC1 skip 6th grade math by passing the relevant exam when zie got back to where we normally live.
Some schools will also have access to a fun (but expensive) program called ST Math that lets kids go sideways or deep on math. I’m not sure it’s worth buying yourself for $200 for a one-year subscription (though there are discounts available online for home schoolers), but maybe.
Your school may have purchased other online programs that you can access from home– they’re worth checking out.
Less expensive and just as fun (though not as extensive) are Dragon Box products. We loved Dragon Box Algebra and Dragon Box Geometry (called Elements). Even DC2 (almost age 5) can do some of the earlier puzzles. These are well worth the $5-$8 they cost as apps. (I stayed up late one night finishing up Elements myself– it was pretty addicting.)
There are lots of great books for kids, fiction and non-fiction. Kids can also enjoy some books for grownups.
DCs this summer
This summer our 10 year old is doing:
2 weeks regular daycamp (canoeing, archery, etc.), playdates with friends, 1 week game design (got permission even though zie is younger than the limit), 1 week grammar and flow daycamp, 1 week electronics daycamp, 1 week orchestra camp, 2 weeks math daycamp. Some of these daycamps are half-day only, some are 9:30-3:30, give or take. Some weeks we signed up for before/after care, some weeks we didn’t. 1 30 min piano lesson each week, 1 30 min violin lesson each week.
Each day: 1 page hard math workbook, 1 page writing workbook, 15 min piano, 30 min violin (it had been 15 min violin, but his violin teacher insisted on upping it), typing (required class for middle school that can be taken over the summer, finished last weekend), Stata (finished the basics last weekend), 1 hour video games (optional), rest of the time is free unless zie is needed for household chores. On weekends there is unlimited video game time. Zie has been spending free time reading, creating games, modifying already existing games, playing games, and writing.
Our 4/5 year old is doing:
Preschool, 1 week of children’s museum daycamp (when the preschool was on break), 1 15 min piano lesson each week, 1 30 min swimming lesson each week.
Each day: 5 min piano practicing, on weekends and when zie requests it or is bouncing off the walls 1 page Singapore math and 2 pages Brainquest (1 math, 1 reading or science or social studies) either from the regular book or the summer book. Zie has been spending free time reading, playing with toys, doing The Magic School Bus science kit with DH, playing games, watching shows on amazon.
I was a bit surprised when I googled “how to keep a gifted kid challenged” how little concrete advice there was in the first couple of pages of results. The advice that is there seems to be pretty contradictory (praise vs. don’t praise, let them decide vs. remember you’re the grown-up, etc. etc. etc.). So, grumpy nation, I’m asking you, what concrete recommendations do you have for keeping a gifted kid challenged? Any specific programs, books, materials? What did you do as a kid? What do you do for your kids (if applicable)?