Friday, October 20, 2006

Preschool Curriculum For Gifted Children Question Answered

Someone visited my blog yesterday asking seeking answers about a question about what preschool curriculum is for gifted preschool aged children.

I will quickly answer that if a preschool aged child is gifted, what that usually means is that they are precocious, meaning they seem to be learning things earlier than some experts say they are, you don't need a special curriculum with a label for gifted children nor does your child need something with a label of 'preschool' on it.

It is pretty simple, what you do is teach them at their level. If they want to learn to read you use the same materials that you would use to teach a regular child to read at age 5 or 6. If they are unable to learn to read, they are not ready.

I am not aware of any one program that is labeled as a product to teach gifted preschool aged children. I will give you lots of information and resources for you to custom design your own curriculum that you can match to your child’s interests and abilities which gives your child a custom developed homeschooling curriculum. I ask, what could be better than a custom designed curriculum? My answer is ‘nothing’.

Below is my long response about ideas on what and how you can homeschool your gifted preschool aged child.

Teaching Reading
I am starting with this topic as this is usually one of the first things parents want to know about and it actually is a good segue to a more broad introduction.

There are a lot of sources of information about the ways to tell if a child has ‘reading readiness’. This information is in books, on websites, and sometimes is in the reading curriculum materials that you purchase. I advise you to read these ‘reading readiness’ factors and to be aware of them. Note some lists are very short, look for the longer lists.

Please, please, please do not force your child to read at a younger than typical age if the child is unable to learn the concepts of reading as that means they are not ready (even if many or all of the ‘reading readiness’ signs are present).

Teaching Academic Material to Preschool Aged Children
Also in general I would like to plead that you not force early academics on a young child out of wanting your child to be gifted or YOU wanting them to be ahead of their peers. That is dangerous and is not good for the child. If you would like to read more information, read the mainstream secular book “Miseducation Preschoolers At Risk” by David Elkind.

Letting Children Be Children Is Important
If you need more information about letting children be children and protecting their innocence, read “Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence” by Michael Medved and Diane Medved PhD.

Grade Labels on Curriculum
If you are homeschooling your child and are teaching them math, use a math curriculum for Kindergarten aged children, and once that is finished, move up to the next level or grade.

Labeling The Child
Oh and please, I am begging you, do not tell your child they are advanced or gifted or precocious or superior to other children their age. Every child is unique and no child is what ‘the experts’ say is an ‘average child’. Every child may be more advanced in one area and behind in another or right in the middle on yet another thing. Please do not give your child a superiority complex and a horrible arrogant ego. I saw a Dr. Phil show on this topic once and it was brilliant. There was footage of a boy who was seven, I believe going around stating his superiority to his peers. He was a social misfit who had no friends as he had bragged to everyone at school about how much smarter he was than them. The parents were going through a terrible time with him and if you ask me he was socially developmentally arrested. To boot the parents were not happy with the school as they thought he was not getting a rigorous enough education there. The hilarious thing was that multiple tests administered by experts showed the boy was not gifted at all, he was just average. But the parents had it in their head that he was some kind of genius.

Back to Academics…

Reading Aloud To Your Children, Fiction, Science, History and the Unit Study Approach
There are many wonderful regular books for children which can and should be read aloud to children, both fiction and non-fiction.

By reading picture books on topics such as nature, science, world history, US History, and other topics, they will learn and absorb that information. These readings can be done in a very relaxed manner, literally just reading the books to your child. Do not make every reading into a ‘school lesson’ and do not grill them about the content. With a child of preschool age the best thing is to ask their interests and then read those topics. The other thing that works well is FIRST visiting a museum or a special place then following up with a little reading about that topic.

If your child really has an interest in that material you can take off and do an in-depth or longer time study of that topic. (My children went through a full six-month phase of reading, watching, and listening to “The Phantom of the Opera”, including analysis of the differences between different movie versions and what they heard on the full length audio recording of the Broadway show and memorizing numerous songs and dialogues from the play.)

The other approach is for you to choose to study a topic then you can study that topic (parent driven topics). I find often that if I use great books to introduce a topic my children take off with interest to learn about that topic and it turns more into a learner-driven process.

Literature Based Unit Studies
I can't recommend the "Before Five in a Row" and "Five in a Row" (FIAR) literature based unit studies highly enough. For detailed information about these, see the FIAR website, which also has free message boards for parents have discussions on.

These are manuals which take a fictional picture book and use it as a jumping off point for small unit studies. The author, Jane Lambert has broken out topics that apply to that book/story and the parent chooses which topics to discuss or do with their children. For example a book may discuss that place (Italy), a moral issue, a moment in history, the artwork used in the book, the words uses, and many more topics. Some of them also have arts, crafts and recipes to do that go along with the story. You choose which books to read to your child and you choose which things to do, it is very much up to you. Once you are familiar with this way of using a children’s picture book to do a small unit study you will feel at ease using other books that you own or find in a library to do the same thing (but you make up everything to go along with it). (There is one Before Five in a Row manual for children aged 2-4 which is very simple, and there are three volumes of “Five in a Row” for children aged 4-8, which are more in-depth. There is also a “Beyond Five in a Row” manual for children aged 8-11.)

Teaching Science
If you would like a similar unit study approach using children's picture books as the jumping off point I would recommend "Science Through Children's Literature" and the sequel to that book, “More Science Through Children’s Literature” by Carol Butzow.

Teaching History (Not “Social Studies”)
If you want to teach world history I can't recommend Susan Wise Bauer's four year world history program "Story of the World", starting with volume one, highly enough. This is a narrative (story format) telling of world history. The first volume was written with the intention of being read aloud to a first grader. The second volume is for second grade, and so on.

The story book, volume one:

Be sure to buy the "activity book" companion to go along with it and to use and do the activities and supplemental readings from that inexpensive resource. I know families who began using this with their four year old children. This is your choice, it is an option for you.

The activity book, volume one:

Read Aloud’s: Fiction
I would add in fun read aloud's of fiction and literature, chapter books and classics which are age-appropriate. My favorite book list book for preschool aged children is "Honey For A Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt.

You can read aloud poetry to your child. There are many volumes of poetry written just for children. I advise to use library books or to buy one large volume of children’s poetry and work your way through it. One complaint I have is when poetry is dumbed down or speaks only to supposed child-like topics. Perhaps you can read some regular poetry to your child which is appropriate for young children but is generally considered to be written for all ages or even for adults.

Making Art
Lastly be sure to keep doing lots of "it's the process not the product" type of arts and crafts projects. A great resource for theory as well as activity ideas and even lesson plans is "Young At Art" by Susan Striker.

Exploring The Real World
I would also beg you to do lots of fun things such as visit museums, play at children’s museums and to visit historical places. One of my complaints about five day per week preschool programs is that it binds stay at home mothers to a tight schedule which can prevent weekday visits to museums and other great places. I feel that visiting state parks, doing nature hikes, observing nature, going to museums et cetera is much more educational and enriching than a few hours of a preschool class. If your child is in a preschool program I plead with you to take some days off to go do those other fun things. Yes, those things are also open on weekends but they tend to be much busier and sometimes too jammed for young children to enjoy the displays or the experience. It is no fun for a child to visit an aquarium if they cannot get close enough to the tank to look at it, or if some other child is pushing them out of the way, or if you have to rush your child on to the next display so that some other child can have their turn. Visit those places on weekdays when they are much more deserted and take your time!

Have Fun With Your Child
The absolute most important thing is that you and your child have fun together. The preschool years are not a time for high pressure academics. Enjoy the unique phases of a preschooler’s life and make sure you are spending a lot of ‘quality time’ together.

Some Great Foundation Material About Teaching
I recommend to all parents and also all homeschoolers to read the little series of three booklets written by Ruth Beechick. The three pack bundle is titled “The Three R’s” and costs less than $10 on Amazon. Each booklet is 28 pages and is a quick, easy read. One booklet is on teaching reading, one on teaching language arts, and the other is about math. These books contain tons of information in a boiled-down format that explain how a child’s brain works, what type of teaching is best for children from birth through the end of third grade, what is common for their ages and stages of the learning processes. The booklets also tell how you can use the information to make up your own homemade curriculum for pennies but even if you end up choosing some other program (i.e. Math-U-See or Alpha Phonics, or Spelling Power, as I did) there is still a lot of background information that I have been unable to find in any other publication. Please read those booklets as it will be better for you and your child if you know this information.

Some Other Materials I Used Instead of Making Homemade Materials

Math U See(sold through distributors only, via Internet or at homeschooling conferences see website), start at the beginning and move forward, if you are 'ahead' it does not matter!

Alpha Phonics, easily adapted to the child's level, not a graded program

Spelling Power, they learn words they don't know, grade level/label is irrelevant

Information About Gifted Children In General
Unfortunately most books about gifted children which are on the market deal with schools and the issue of the child not fitting in at school (having social issues due to being different than the other children), or the school not providing enough of an intellectual challenge for the child and is written for the parent to act as an advocate to get the child certain programs at school. Other books are written to help parents deal with emotional scars that the child developed from negative interactions at school.

As you can see most of that stuff does not apply to homeschooled children. There are two main issues with homeschooling a gifted child, in my opinion. One is finding their strengths and weaknesses academically and teaching them at the right level and the right content regardless of their age, and ignoring the stated grade level and the label on the materials. The second issue is the issue of the emotional life of a gifted child, dealing with their sensitivities, their perfectionism and their competitiveness and things like that. I have found the regular parenting books on parenting children in general sometimes are not as helpful because gifted children can sometimes exhibit extreme emotions or they can be affected more deeply by some things than the ‘experts’ who write parent books seems to acknowledge or to address. So, one last resource is a book about homeschooling gifted children which I found helpful, “Creative Homeschooling” by Lisa Rivero.

Talking About Giftedness With Others
One last plea, please be careful about discussing the fact that you think your child is gifted. Please don’t brag to your relatives or friends. Also if you have other children don’t talk about this in front of any of the children.

You can harm family relations by bragging and boasting. You can put down other relatives by just bragging about your child’s giftedness. You can drive away your friends as well. You may turn off fellow homeschoolers with boasting. You can harm your gifted child by giving them a superiority complex or wind up teaching them to be arrogant. Lastly if you have other children you can set up a situation where your other children feel inadequate or they may feel that you are favoring the gifted child.

So please keep your mouth as closed as possible. Seek support and information as necessary but tread lightly, whether you are discussing these things with local homeschool support groups or even with Internet discussion groups. Discuss these gifted issues privately with your spouse.

Teach your child well but don’t label them. You may be surprised to learn that if a child feels they are different than other children (even in what an adult thinks is a good way) it can harm them emotionally and can give them negative self-esteem. Love your whole child not just their intellectual capacity and if you have more than one child, love all of your children unconditionally.

Custom Designed vs. Boxed Programs
I really feel that a high quality program can be planned and used with the resources that I have provided to you. I feel that taking each component and using what that expert has recommended is best. I do not know of one packaged preschool curriculum program which can meet or exceed what doing all of these things can accomplish. As I said before there is no such thing as a program on the market for ‘gifted preschoolers’ and I hope there never is, because what is important is teaching a child on their unique ability, and that will mean they may be ahead of the learning curve in one subject, behind in another, and just average on yet another topic.

In Conclusion…
I hope this has answered some of your questions.

By the way, if you did everything that I have mentioned, it would provide years and years of learning, teaching, and education, so if you think what I have proposed for a plan is light, you are mistaken!

Is A Classical Education What You Seek?
Lastly if you have concerns about the way that public schools teach and you are interested in a more vigorous or more heavy academic content then a great book for you to read would be "The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education At Home" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

There are many websites and free online articles about homeschooling with the classical method if you are interested.

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Margaret said...

I am so glad that you added the paragraph about not boasting about a gifted child. I have been so frustrated with fellow homeschoolers, both irl and on message boards, etc., who continually talk about their gifted children. I'm sorry to say this has driven me away from many a classical education forum because it seems to be very prevalent among that group (generalizing, of course, and just relating my own experience).

Nina said...

Christine-thanks for writing this post. I searched google blog for preschool and homeschooling. I was delighted to see your entry. I bookmarked several of the books you suggested. I am not sure if my child is gifted but she is certainly precocious. She wouldn't learn anything new in a formal preschool setting. I am following her lead and not pushing. I often feel a bit uncertain about what to teach her. Just this week we read a Rookie Reader called Addition Annie. She can count with one to one correspondence so I introduced the concept of addition. She seemed to understand it.

I never boost about my daughter in public. It is so uncomfortable to have someone feel like their child is not smart. Besides, my child is usually having a meltdown. She doesn't do well in large group settings.

Well my little one is begging for me to read to her. Thanks again.

Nina said...

Christine-thanks for writing this post. I searched google blog for preschool and homeschooling. I was delighted to see your entry. I bookmarked several of the books you suggested. I am not sure if my child is gifted but she is certainly precocious. She wouldn't learn anything new in a formal preschool setting. I am following her lead and not pushing. I often feel a bit uncertain about what to teach her. Just this week we read a Rookie Reader called Addition Annie. She can count with one to one correspondence so I introduced the concept of addition. She seemed to understand it.

I never boost about my daughter in public. It is so uncomfortable to have someone feel like their child is not smart. Besides, my child is usually having a meltdown. She doesn't do well in large group settings.

Well my little one is begging for me to read to her. Thanks again.

Good for the Kids said...

Thanks for the information you have compiled here. I have a very strong feeling that my 3yo daughter is gifted because of her tendencies and behavior. I'll be looking into all of the resources you have here.

SEA Mama said...

Wow, what a great post! Your knowledge on child education is so incredibly apparent in these posts. I will be bookmarking this so I can assess whether Little A needs it here in a couple years. Thanks!