What if Your Child is Too Smart for School?

I bought Gavin the Grolier Logico Piccolo series a year ago and we have been working on it on and off. Although the recommendation is to do two cards from one topic a day, I usually let him choose what he wants to do and how much he wants to do. If he doesn’t want to do it, I don’t force the issue. I have noticed that the best time to get him interested to do it is when we’re out and there are no other options, because children who are bored would rather do something than nothing.

Lately, Gavin’s been very focussed and he has been completing one folder (16 cards) per sitting. He takes it as a challenge because he wants a new folder and I find that I’m the one telling him it’s time to stop while he insists he just wants to do one more. If he keeps this up, we’ll need to get the Maximo series soon.

When I mentioned it to hubby, he raised a concern I am sure other parents would have. If our child is too advanced, will he be bored at school? This has been one of the arguments against early childhood education – if you teach your child too much too early, he will be bored at school. Personally, I think this is the most ridiculous argument ever – to hold your child back from reaching his full potential because you are scared he will be bored at school.

Our children’s learning potential will never be as great as it is now in their earliest years of life. To squander these years just because we’re afraid they will be bored at school simply addresses society’s fears, not the problem. Not utilising these years would be like not giving our babies colostrum in the first three to five days after delivery because we think the breast milk to come will be adequate. Sure breast milk is good, but colostrum is even better. Likewise, learning later in life is good, but early learning is even better.

Yes, I think it is a problem when your child is bored at school because the material being taught does not stimulate him sufficiently. But the answer is clearly not to stop teaching him at home especially when he is the driving force for his learning. As a parent, it is our duty to help our children reach their potential, not to cut them down because society deems it necessary in order for our children to conform.

This is one of the arguments for homeschooling – you can follow your child’s pace and you are not restricted by a set curriculum. So whether your child is ahead or behind his peers, it doesn’t matter because your curriculum is tailored specifically for your child.

What happens if you aren’t going to homeschool your child? What can you do to ensure that your children’s needs are met in the school environment? The problem with the school environment is that it only reaches the children who fall in the middle band. This is where the choice of school becomes important. Parents need to communicate regularly with teachers to monitor their child’s progress at school. If your child is ahead, what is being done to make sure he remains engaged? If your child is behind, what is being done to reconnect with your child?

In the latter case, I believe the problem lies not with the child but with the environment. Children are individuals who approach learning differently. Just as some individuals are audio learners and some are visual learners, some children, for example, need tactile stimulation to learn. The children who do not approach learning in the “conventional” manner will be the ones who are viewed as less intelligent when this may not be the case.

Sir Ken Robinson wrote about Gillian Lynne who was performing so poorly at school that her mother took her to see a doctor to enquire about her daughter’s constant fidgeting and lack of focus. After hearing her case and observing her reaction during a “test”, the doctor explained to Gillian’s mother than Gillian was a dancer. Gillian’s mother sent her to dance school and after that, all her subjects at school began to improve.

We have heard that movement is important for brain development. For some children, especially, movement is essential for learning. Without movement, they can’t learn – as in Gillian’s case. It wasn’t that she needed to move in class to learn, but she needed an outlet for movement – a place to go where she was given the freedom to move, such as dance school. This highlights the importance of exposing our children to a variety of subjects, not just the ones we deem important for life.

Sir Ken Robinson highlighted in his book that many schools have been phasing out the “less important” subjects. Subjects like art and music have taken a back seat to academic subjects and it is affecting our children’s overall development, particularly, their creativity. He talked about the subject hierarchy of importance. Not only are music and art lower down on the ladder, but there are hierarchies within these subjects. For example, learning an instrument is higher up on the ladder compared to dance and theatre.

In summary, I think it is important to ensure that our children are exposed to a variety of subjects at school – even the “unimportant” ones. It is also essential that we communicate regularly with our children’s teachers to monitor our children’s development at school. And if our children’s teachers are disinterested and/or our children’s needs are still not being met, then perhaps it is time to speak to the principal or to find a new school.

If you have any other suggestions on what can be done to address this issue, please share them in the comments section.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

14 thoughts on “What if Your Child is Too Smart for School?

  1. Being focused on an activity is very good! 🙂

    It’s common that very smart or advanced students would be bored during lessons if they already know the stuff.

    When I did relief teaching on Math for a semester, I’d a group of foreign students who were 2 years older than the class. They already knew the stuff in their home language, so a few of them would doze off in class. I gave them permission to do self-study advanced Math topics during lesson time.

    During my parents’ generation, jumping grades / levels was allowed. Then subsequently curbed. I find it inflexible. Very advanced students should be allowed to progress without being limited by their age. Apparently, it seems that prodigies would only find their haven in college, where the entry age isn’t commonly limited.

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    1. MieVee – I think with more awareness on early childhood education, there will be more and more students who will be “too smart for school”. Many parents are already beginning to realise the potential that their children have. Let’s hope that the schools catch up, too. I am waiting to see how things go for Gavin when he starts at his new school. Let’s hope they are flexible enough to accommodate him.

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  2. I have got very little time but I just wanted to say “Bravo!” What a GREAT article and I like especially you linking early learning to giving colostrum or not – what a great idea!
    I am SO happy to have found your blog as I couldn´t do all the research (nor read all the books you do!) by myself. So “thank you Shen-Li!” and please keep up the good work altough you don´t always receive comments. Just remember there are busy moms on the other side of the screen

    Take care ISA

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  3. Hi Shen-Li & readers,

    Thanks for writing this article. I’ve encouraged friends to nurture their 0-3 age kids with right brain education but most gave excuses like they’ll be bored in school if too advanced or I’m too busy for these things. Sadly, time flies and these kids could have discovered ‘much more’ of their potential than ‘leaving them’ to ‘grow as it is’.

    Just based on some parents, kids who are right brain trained at home/centre are somewhat advanced in school. They enjoy school and do help out friends who can’t do some activities. School is not just about academic but learning about oneself & others. I agree that parent, teacher & child could consistently observe & talk. If school can’t meet the child’s need, change school-lah.

    cheers,
    chan

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    1. Thank you, Chan. That is exactly why I felt I had to write this article. A lot of parents have the misconception that it is a problem when children are “too smart for school” and this is their reason for not wanting to start early childhood development programs with their children.

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  4. Admittedly children who practice right brain activities are more advanced in terms of academic, supposed is undeniable, V is 5, she is reading teenage monster’s fiction sometimes, she is doing Maths ranging from primary 4 to 6 now, skip certain topics, that said, she is still nowhere to catch up with students in primary 4 to 6 in terms of maturity, physically and mentally as well as understanding of certain Maths concept, ( I know is unfair to do comparison in this manner), but as a parent I think it doesn’t really matter if she is too smart for school, I feel that what the smart child feels herself in the classroom environment, her comfort in school, her feeling good and confidence, her interaction with her peers within school society are what draw my concerned because academic excellency is only part of life, or perhaps one fine day she might do as what I do now that even though equipped with professional competency, yet still with all willingness to be a stay-at-home mom to contribute to the family by doing some other skilled job which was not taught at all in university, but picked up individually through interest, to live decently. So, early child education is only a better “preparation” for school, because so many things to embrace in life later on.

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    1. FZ – Another parent said the same thing – if the school is right, there will always be something new for your child to learn. If there isn’t, then there is clearly something wrong with the school already. That is the point I wanted to highlight – we shouldn’t let the fear that our children will be “bored” at school stop us from doing the best we can to prepare them for life because there will always be something to learn from school (and it doesn’t have to be academic).

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  5. Whenever I read new updates to your blog, Shen-Li, I always find something in tune to what is going on in my head at the moment. “The problem with the school environment is that it only reaches the children who fall in the middle band.” “The children who do not approach learning in the “conventional” manner will be the ones who are viewed as less intelligent when this may not be the case.”

    Exactly! So whoever fall in the “higher” or “lower” band are at a disadvantage. And it is even worse for those kids who do not fall in any of the three categories and who simply learn differently or have an uneven developmental profile. These are at a risk of being automatically swept into the “lower” category.

    An example would be my daughter who, despite her language disorder, is ahead of the average age in terms of reading (English and Russian), math, etc. When her nursery decided to start introducing letters, sounds, numbers and counting (something LM is way ahead of), which, by the way, is generally not introduced until “reception” in the UK (the year following the nursery year), she was put in the “lower” group as she was perceived as “struggling”.

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    1. LM’s Mum – That is exactly what I fear! A discerning teacher would realise that LM is bright despite her language disorder but most teachers miss it because they are too distracted by the other children to notice. Or worse, LM and other children like her may have a stigma attached because of her language disorder and her teachers assume she has difficulties learning.

      Are the teachers receptive when you talk to them about LM? I think that is the most important – whether or not you can get through to the teachers.

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  6. They are generally quite receptive to my requests, which I do appreciate. But, I guess, when I mentioned LM’s reading before they must have been sceptical about it.

    I had a chat with the teacher about LM’s progress at home and she suggested that LM would not have benefited in the “higher” group anyway, as they had not gone much further than letters and sounds. She gave me a list of sight words LM would be expected to learn in reception to look at at home. LM read them out then and there, again to the teacher’s surprise.

    The school year is over in a couple of weeks anyway, so I guess I will simply keep up with our reading at home and have another chat in September with LM’s new reception class teacher. As I understand, once in compulsory school, each student has an individualised “reading curriculum”, but I may be mistaken… I will also need to discuss a few other areas, such as math and music. I hope I will be able to get through!

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    1. That’s good to hear. I can imagine the surprise on LM’s teacher’s face. When I took Gavin for his entrance assessment for one of the schools here, the teacher who was assessing him was also surprised to see that he could read the instructions for the actvity he had to do without her having to tell him what to do.

      When I was working, my ex-boss kept telling me “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” – so I guess that’s what we need to do – keep talking to the teachers… :-p

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  7. I was labeled aspergers for studying geography but I won the state of New Jersey in 2004 in geography I was labeled ocd odd bipolar depressed for enforcing human rights humanitarian criminal refugee law

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