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Parents Would Do Well To Encourage And Facilitate

My oldest son is nearing the end of his first year in kindergarten. I say first year because he will repeat kindergarten next year.

Although he turned 5 just a few days before last fall’s cutoff date, I never considered having him wait to start school.

When he was 3, he entered a preschool in Oregon. One morning before school began, he sat on his teacher’s lap eating a graham cracker while she scanned her newspaper. “My daddy take me to city dump,” he said.

“Mmm,” replied the teacher.

“I go to city dump.” He pointed at her newspaper. “My daddy take me.”

She realized her newspaper had a headline about the city dump, and the 3-year-old in her lap was reading it.

Together with the school principal, the teacher began quizzing him further on reading and math. The two of them determined he should spend some time in the kindergarten class, and they asked my permission.

My first reaction was to say yes. I was proud of my child. He was full of my genes. He could read the words “city dump.” Brilliant!

Then I looked at all the 6-year-olds in the kindergarten. They seemed huge next to my little boy, who was barely out of diapers. I decided my true reason for putting him in preschool in the first place was to do nothing more than get him used to the idea of school. Kindergarten at 3 would be more about my ego than his well-being.

When he did start kindergarten, last fall, I expected to see him excel. But his report card reflected a decidedly unexceptional performance. I immediately assumed he was bored.

His teacher thought otherwise. “Immature,” she said. He hasn’t tried to do the classroom activities because he is not yet grown up enough to care about them. He hasn’t gained an awareness of other people or of trying to be part of a team. He needs another year to gain some social skills.

But what about his brain? After two years of preschool and one of kindergarten, he may grow tired of hearing, “‘A’ is for apple.” He may become disruptive. Which is more important, working and playing well with others or exposure to new challenges?

Why isn’t there a school where my child can have his unique needs met and be with other children his own age? How does one keep a quick learner challenged? Is a gifted program the appropriate solution for a child like him?

The other day, I took my 9-month-old puppy to a training class. All the owners were told to gather in a circle, our dogs sitting beside us.

I tried to get my dog, an awkward mixture of Saint Bernard and border collie, to sit, but he ran circles around me, tangling me in his leash instead. The instructor came over to untangle me. I muttered something less than kind about my dog’s lack of intelligence.

“No!” the instructor exclaimed. She pulled my dog into a sitting position. “This is a smart dog,” she said. “Your dog can think of alternatives to behaving himself. The problem for you” she said with a smile, “is you have to put a lot more work into training him.”

Although training a dog is not comparable to bringing up a child, I believe the dog trainer has the right idea. The trainer provides me with basic guidelines for working with my pet, but individualizing the program to suit my pet is up to me. Shouldn’t I provide that much for my child, as well?

Of the world’s exceptional people, how many thank accelerated school programs for their achievements? Tiger Woods’ father took his son to the golf course and encouraged him. Tiger didn’t learn to play golf at school.

Steven Spielberg’s mother excused him from school periodically and helped him develop his interest in photography with an 8 millimeter movie camera. Steven didn’t learn about filmmaking at school.

I often hear the lament that we’ll lose this era’s Einsteins if our school districts don’t provide for them. But Albert Einstein didn’t do well in school. His basic knowledge of science was obtained from books provided at home.

Formal education was not the catalyst for these individuals. It was their parents’ indulgence of time and effort toward their interests that affected them most.

Granted, that takes work. Sometimes, my children’s interests leave me cold. Last fall, I had the opportunity to take my boys to New York City. One of the items on our agenda was a stop at the Children’s Library to see the original stuffed animals that inspired their favorite Winnie-the-Pooh books. As we walked up Fifth Avenue, my oldest kept asking me why so much steam was billowing from vents in the street.

“That’s just what it does,” was my repeated answer. After his third failed attempt to extract information from me, he said, discouraged, “That’s not the answer.”

So we stopped on the sidewalk and watched the steam for awhile, trying to guess where it came from. Then, cleverly using the brilliant genes I’d passed to my son, I remembered that we were, after all, on our way to the library. Maybe we could find a real answer.

We ended up spending nearly two hours in one of the world’s great cities looking at books about plumbing and steam. When we finally went upstairs to see Winnie-thePooh (which was in fact more my interest than theirs), neither boy particularly cared.

At times, their interests threaten to overtake my house. I have a plaster volcano spewing baking soda and vinegar in the backyard, a fleet of disintegrating paper Titanics in the kitchen sink, and a box of empty cardboard tubes in the family room being saved for “stuff.”

I expect things to be this way for awhile. Whether my sons are behind, ahead or in the middle of the learning curve, it’s up to me to help them bring out their best.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Mary Douthitt Contributing writer