I adore my niece, who will be 6 in November, and am quite close to her mother -- my identical twin. She is a stay-at-home mom and gives her daughter and 3-year-old son special outings to the zoo and museums each week, almost daily visits to the playground and stories every night, plus art projects, nature walks, and more.
My niece, who is very bright, lively and imaginative, has a remarkable ability to concentrate on books and computer programs, is surprisingly analytical for her age, learns things the first time and has a good memory, too.
She can be very determined and bull-headed; she doesn't seem to hear you and won't make eye contact when she is punished. She still has a couple of tantrums a week but mostly she's pretty good. She prefers to play by herself but will play with other children in small doses and with her brother for a long time.
Her nursery school teacher says that she isn't ready for kindergarten. She said she would "flunk" it in public school and that she should go to a private school for children with behavioral problems.
My sister was mortified. She always thought her child was so smart, and others did, too, including researchers at the university where she and her daughter took part in a long child development study. They said the child was "delightful" and that the school was off-base.
The pediatrician suggested some diet changes but thought she was quite normal and a child psychologist watched her at school, thought her social skills were normal and found that her IQ was over 150.
The staff at the public school is very excited about her joining first grade in September and promises to give her special attention and enrichment. My sister is worn out by all the downs and ups and worried. The nursery school teacher has known her daughter for two years. How wrong can she be? Is skipping kindergarten a good idea? How can we improve her social skills? We want her to learn and to have friendships and fun, too.
Sometimes a teacher, like anyone else, can be wrong and this sounds like one of those times.
She may have been negative because your niece didn't obey her quickly or didn't look her in the eye when she was chastised, not realizing that a child may act that way if she's angry or ashamed and can't explain how she feels. Or the teacher may have expected more of your niece because she was so smart or been mad because she seemed to be brighter than the teacher -- or thought she was. Gifted children don't suffer foolish teachers gladly and their feelings can be pretty obvious. It's most unlikely that your niece is a problem child or needs a private school, however -- especially when other experts think she is doing so well -- but she probably should go into kindergarten in September instead of first grade.
According to "Your Child" (HarperCollins, $27.50), the definitive book produced by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and edited by David B. Pruitt, an intellectually gifted child is one whose mind grows faster than her body or her emotions, and in that case, her environment should suit her developmental age, rather than her mental age. Although your niece could keep up with the lessons in first grade, she would probably be the youngest, smallest and most immature child in the class, which would discourage friendships and fun and hurt her self-esteem.
Kindergarten would strengthen her social skills because they are stressed in this class more than anything else. By the end of the year, your niece should be able to pay attention; to play and work with other children and to accept orders from the teacher without having a tantrum. And if she's ready to learn, she will be reading, too.
A good kindergarten, and plenty of extra enrichment at home and at school, will help your niece in all ways, and a good book will help your sister. "What Really Happens in School" (Hyperion, $14.95), by Ann E. LaForge, gives parents a fine, comprehensive picture of kindergarten through fifth grade.
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