On Giftedness

For many of us (including me) who have no clue about “giftedness,” parenting a gifted child becomes more complicated than it is. As one of the gifted moms put it, “they’re like eggs, ready to crack at any minute.”

E was diagnosed to be highly gifted at age 5 by Dr. David Palmer, a  Licensed Educational Psychologist at his office in Laguna Beach, California. Using the WISC IV, his full IQ score is 145. He is an early talker yet he didn’t start walking until 13 months. It was difficult raising him because he has severe eczema and multiple allergies – soy, wheat, seafood, fish, nuts and what have you!  Constant visits to his allergist instead of his pediatrician is nothing but normal to us.  Introducing baby foods early on was also a challenge because he broke out in hives, triggered his eczema and started the scratch-itch cycle. I remember swaddling  him to sleep up to 1 year and using mittens or he’ll wake up with a bloody bed sheet.   We are always worried about his daily use of topical steroids, various skin creams and anti-histamines, yet they are what we call the “necessary evil”. We tried a lot of natural products under the sun  but nothing really work except Hydrocortisone and plain old Vaseline. But E was a big, happy baby.  He is easy to please and loves constant activities and stimulation.

When he was 2, we enrolled him in Montessori school so I can work full time.  He had a hard time adjusting at first but eventually love going to school everyday.  It was there that the Directress noticed something special about him and during our Parent Teacher meeting, told us that E was showing early signs of giftedness. She cited examples like fixation with animals, ability to remember facts and figures and long attention span. At age 3,   he was putting three letter words and knows the solar system and dinosaurs. He thrived in that school and was academically challenged.  Unfortunately, we were faced with financial difficulty so we had no choice but  to take him out,  did part homeschooling and going to a much cheaper Developmental preschool. There, he developed  creativity and free thinking, although his social skills need more refinement. Because of his shyness and fall birthday, we decided to enroll him in junior K to give him the gift of time, although he was already a confident reader that summer at 4.6 years old. Two weeks into junior K, the teacher recommended that we should pull him out and enroll in Kindergarten.  She feels that he should be in a class where he is challenged and engaged.  So we had to start looking for another school that month when most parents and kids are already starting to settle in with their new school.  This is when Mike and I decided to also look for Educational psychologist and do IQ testing so we can do a better educational planning for him. We are also worried about his hyperactivity and one question that always haunts us is … what if he has ADHD?

When we got the IQ test result, we were surprised that he is considered to be highly gifted. At the same same, we were relieved to know that he doesn’t have ADHD or any learning difficulties.  Dr. Palmer wrote an educational plan and recommended a list of activities and organizations E can get involved in.  He also gave us a copy of his book called, Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education, (the only book written specifically for parents who need to understand gifted testing and gifted programming so that they can make informed decisions for their children, http://www.parentguidebooks.com). He has given us answers to questions that we have always wondered but are afraid to ask. This is the beginning of our journey to parenting a gifted child, a very complicated process, but knowing these facts help us to be more patient, creative and flexible. Now we know why he’s wired differently, why he needs constant mental stimulation both in and outside the classroom, why he has emotional outbursts, perfectionist, impatient and easily gets bored,  why at age 4 sat down in the dining table and memorized the 44 presidents  in 15 minutes, why he is passionate about animals, why he talks about death and has vivid imagination about what happened in the past, why he loves the company of older kids, so many whys to answer… But one thing for sure, we are dealing with a boy who has different needs than most kids we know.

When I read articles about giftedness, I can’t help but smile when parents share experiences about their gifted kids.  When faced with overwhelming responsibility on how to advocate for him, it is good to know that there are also parents out there who are walking in our shoes.  We are not alone.  We don’t know what the future holds, but right now, he needs our unconditional love, he needs to be busy, to be engaged in activities that he is passionate for, to have opportunity to develop his interests and abilities, to be with his mental mates.  Because thats where he thrived — and boredom is the enemy!

Kumon

Since February, I enrolled E in Kumon for Math and reading so he can continue where he left off a year ago.  Since we are not doing Abacus Math anymore, we decided that this is a better alternative as he is aready familiar with the method.  So I went to the closest Kumon (Niog, Bacoor) and have him assessed.  Initially, they wanted him to start at 4A for both subjects but I told them to give him an assessment test for 3A as he was already doing 3A a year ago and they agreed.  He passed both tests so he started at 3A.  The first 3 weeks were difficult, he struggled to do his homework — he would cry or whine saying that it is difficult, etc.  There were times when I was ready to give up and cancel Kumon but I kept thinking if we stop again it will be a waste of time.  Had we continued last year, I can’t imagine how advance he is now in Math and Reading.  So I persisted, did the Nanny 911 reward system for good behavior 🙂  I also spoke to his teachers and asked them to continue encouraging him and lessen his worksheets from 5 to 3 pages a day.  Somehow, it worked.  Last night he came home after a long day, tired and sleepy, yet he wanted to finish at least his reading without me telling him.  So we did.  He said he wanted to do the Math when he wakes up in the morning before school. Wow! this is unheard of 2 months ago!

My point in all this is that the key to success in getting things done for his activities (like piano and Mandarin) is consistency. Yes, I listened to his arguments and empathize when he said its hard, give him a hug when he’s tired or ask him how can I make it better, etc …. yet I have to be firm and explain that there are things in life that are important and need to get done because in the long run, it will help him. As much as possible, I want to be consistent in what I want them to do because if you aren’t you send them mixed messages and confuse them. My best friend jokes that I am sort of a “Tiger Mom,” well, maybe to a lesser extent, I am.   But aren’t we all?  Aside from the fact that we want them to grow up happy and well-adjusted kids,  we also want them to succeed in life.  So what do we do?  We  guide them and give them the opportunity to discover their strengths and work on their weaknesses, expose them to different activities to help them develop their talents and eventually prepare them to live in this very competitive world. Parenting styles are different but I believe that our biggest role is to advocate for them.  It is fun, tiring, expensive, but at the end of the day, it’s all worth it! Last Tuesday, when his Kumon teacher told me E is moving up to the next level (A), I feel that all the hard work for the past 2 months he and I did paid off.  He went home happy knowing that he accomplished something and is very proud of himself 🙂

Summer Exploration

Just when I was up to my wit’s end due to a very hot summer here and the kids being home most of the day (which drive everyone crazy), a relief came — Summer school program!  Starting last Monday, kids were enrolled in their school for a 2 hour readiness program for math, reading and Filipino.  They were so excited to be back in school after 3 weeks of vacation and see their favorite teachers and friends.  Of course, parents (and yayas) are also ecstatic to have a break from these charming little devils 🙂

With the overhaul of Philippine education system and implementation of K-12 program starting this school year (2012-2013), I can’t help but starting to worry with regards to Ethan’s appropriate grade level.  Back in the states (California), he should be starting first grade this school year; however, here in the Philippines he has to complete a preparatory level (or K2 in some schools) because of the age cut off.  He has to turn 6 by June this year to qualify for grade 1, even if he has already completed Kindergarten and is currently doing grade 1 work in Math and reading.  So I wrote an email to the school Directress to address the issue and hopefully find a solution.  I was happy to receive a positive response from her about acceleration to grade 1 if he completes a first grade readiness summer package and pass the test to be given at the end of the summer. 

Three days into the program, we were so elated that kids love to go to school and are excited to do homework … yes, homework!  My 3 year old won’t sleep at night without completing her assigned reading.  Mike can’t believe that 4 months ago she doesn’t even know how to write her name and refused to be taught.  Now she is writing not just the alphabet but also identifying beginning sounds, medial sounds, counting and writing up to 20 in Math.  In her Geography class last quarter, she told me about the Leaning tower of Pisa which is found  in Italy and that Tasmanian Devils live in Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Huh?

E on the other hand came home yesterday proudly showing off his work.  “Mom, we learned about noun today and the articles “a” and “an”. We also did oral reading in the class and I read about Mr. Mole, the robot.”  Today, when he came home from school he showed me his Filipino textbook and asked me if  I can help him do his homework.  I excitedly opened to the assigned page and asked him to read in Filipino.  He did it! I am amazed how his reading improve in 3 months and athough he still needs help with difficult/longer words, he is able to read the paragraph and undertand enough to complete his homework.  Nowadays, he is comfortable speaking Filipino, and  surprisingly sounds like a native — the same observation shared by mommies of his playgroup yesterday. I really think that his exposure to different languages early on help him achieve that near-native accent. I can’t wait for his progress in Filipino at the end of the school year 🙂  That will be monumental … and will be worth the trip to this country.  In the meantime, we have to endure the heat, the traffic, the pollution, etc. All this is an integral part of their language and cultural immersion experience 🙂

Yo hablo español

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watching the movie, ” Despicable me” in Spanish 🙂

Yesterday, while we were looking for arts and crafts to do, something fell out of the box, Aya, my 3 year old girl screamed, “Mama, mi corazon!”  I looked at the direction she was pointing at and saw a red heart, a project we did during Valentines Day. I was pleasantly surprised that she still speaks Spanish … or some of it.

One of the advantages of living in Southern California is the availability of Spanish-speaking nannies.  We were fortunate to find Laura, a sweet, Mexican girl when Ethan was around 10 months old.  She lived with us 5 days a week while we work.  Ethan adores her and at an early age, he was already speaking Spanish.  When Aya was born, she took care of her, too.  The kids bonded with her and Spanish was their secret language. They will play, sing, dance — everything in Spanish! Ethan used to say, “Daddy speaks English, Mama speaks Filipino and Laura speaks Spanish.”  Of course, Daddy wins because English is the dominant language in the house!  At a young age, kids were exposed to different languages and cultures … and they adapt easily.  So when Ethan had to go to a Montessori school at 2 and started playing with his monolingual friends, he started losing the grasp of the Spanish language, a common occurrence in English-speaking countries. Aya, on the other hand, stayed in the Philippines shortly  where she was able to strengthen her Filipino.  When kids are both in preschool, we decided to send them to a Spanish Immersion daycare .  They love Senora Evelyn, their teacher from Peru and soon  started re-discovering the Spanish language.  Everyday, they are excited to go to school to play and learn Spanish which is atypical for kids that age. However, 3 months into their school, we had to leave California and  go to Philippines for a long term language immersion in Filipino. When we left, Ethan was already reading in Spanish!

As Ezra Pound would say, “the sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is capable of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension.” As parents who are passionate about multilingualism, our goal is for the kids to continue learning Spanish (along with Filipino and Mandarin) and hope that they become polyglots someday. Nowadays, we are actively looking for a native speaker who can tutor them or maybe a language school that is geared for learning language specifically for children.  Either way, we are going to make sure that their Spanish is not going down the drain — even if it means me, the forty-something mom, enrolling in Spanish 101 🙂

Mandarin tutor

Since February, E (Ethan) has been tutored in Mandarin by this wonderful Chinese student, Kelsi, whom we found online.  She goes to school here in De la Salle – Dasma so the proximity to our area is perfect.  We are lucky to find her not only because she is a great teacher, but most importantly, she is a native speaker.  Two months into tutoring (she comes to the house 2x/week), E has developed a good ear and is able to adapt to the difficult tones of Mandarin.  He is now counting 1-10, knows his colors, body parts, favorite animals, action words, greetings and is able to understand simple conversation.  I still have to hear him respond in Chinese, but right now he is developing a good comprehension of the language.  Last Wednesday, he was excited to finally have a Chinese name — ” Yi Zheng” (义 yì – righteousness) and (正 zhèng – just; upright). She said its a strong name for a boy.  He gave her a big grin 🙂

On my part, I tried to enroll in the Mandarin class at a local language school and lasted 3 weeks!  Blame it on my dormant brain or pure laziness, I could not (for the life of me) motivate myself to go beyond the basic Chinese greetings 🙂 The only consolation I have is to be able to read pin-yin, so now he can’t get smart and trick me about the pronunciation.  Apart from that, I could not understand Chinese conversations!  So I told Mike, I will continue with my Spanish 101.  Maybe there’s hope for me in the romance language, maybe …. 🙂

Good Friday … where is the water?

Mike woke me up early morning, frantic, asking for water.  Huh? “We have no mineral water, yaya forgot to let us know yesterday that we run out and now the stores are closed!”  I went downstairs to check and yes, its empty. Called 2 stores but no one answers. Spoke to my sis and ask if we can borrow … but she is using her last bottle. I can see the worried look on my husband’s face. I said, “don’t worry, this is Philippines …  there’s always a way.” So i sent the yaya to another store and surprise, surprise, came back with a gallon of water. I asked her how did she manage to get one when it is closed?  She said that she knows the yaya of the store owner that’s why they opened the store only for her.  Talking about networking (and connections) … only in the Philippines 🙂

Holy Week (Semana Santa)

Holy week is considered a major holiday in the Philippines.  Most businesses declare half day starting Wednesday to observe the Lenten Season.  Malls are closed for 2 days starting Holy Thursday and open on Saturday afternoon. Yes, its like Memorial weekend to the nth degree. When I told Mike that malls are closed he starts to panic and rushed to SM (the superstore) to get loads of groceries and cash.  I told him that no one stacks up on food here during holy week, or when there’s typhoon, or even flood.  It’s like telling the cab driver to put on his seatbelt.  He gave me a weird look 🙂

As part of the catholic tradition, Filipinos spent the Holy week reading the “pasyon.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasyon or doing the “Visita Iglesia”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Churches_Visitation . It’s been a long time since I participated in this practice, having lived in the US for 14 years.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and who knows, i might be able to do the Visita Iglesia.  Right now, I have no desire to go outside — it is HOT!