Ahead of the Class

A child who is more advanced than his peers may need help fitting in socially.



Ahead of the Class

The Parent’s Story

Everything interests my 4-year-old son, Tim. When the workmen came to fix our furnace today, he stayed with them, watching and asking lots of questions. He couldn’t wait to tell his dad about the new motor the men put in and how they did it. Then my husband and Tim talked about the football game on TV. My son understands the game better than I do.

Tim gets along very well with grownups, but children don’t seem to like his sense of humor. This morning when I drove him and our 4-year-old neighbor, Jeff, to school, Tim told us both a story he had made up: “It was a cool fall day and Howard the Coward was hopping along in the grass. Howard heard a cow and her calf mooing . . . ”

Tim and I mooed at each other and laughed, while Jeff just yawned.

My son seems happier using his imagination or learning on his own than playing with other children. I wonder how that affects him in the classroom. Is he bored? Do other kids even approach him to play? Maybe he should spend more time in enrichment programs. Or should he do more structured activities? I wonder if his teacher will let him work at the Writing Center or at the computer while the others are at free play. I think I’ll ask her how to guide Tim.

The Teacher’s Story

I have had many bright children in my classroom in the past, but none like Tim. His knowledge about all kinds of subjects is amazing. He naturally likes to share his wealth of facts and details with the other 4-year-olds. Often, though, his words go right over their heads or confuse them.

“What animal jumps higher than a house?”

“Oh, no, not another one of your jokes,” a voice called out from the block corner.

“It’s a riddle,” Tim said. “C’mon, just guess.”

The other child did not respond, and Tim’s eager grin faded. “OK, I’ll have to tell you. No animal, ’cause a house can’t jump.”

As usual, I was the only one who chuckled at Tim’s cleverness.

After lunch, on the playground, Tim sat apart. While the other children chased each other around the trees behind the school, he called me over to share his discovery of an ant colony. “They each have their own job,” he told me, pointing to the busy ants. “My mom read me a book about them.”

Tim is so alert and eager to learn that I wonder if we’re offering him enough opportunities here. I know that he goes to the public library’s “Story Time,” but maybe he needs more enrichment activities outside of school. I also wonder whether I should try to integrate him more directly into the activities with the other children.

Dr. Brodkin’s Assessment

As both the teacher and parent know well, Tim is an unusually bright child, but his social growth seems to have lagged behind his splendid intellectual development. Some bright youngsters like Tim, who have developed unevenly, need some form of social skill training. Tim is not socially sensitive enough to understand that his wit goes “over the heads” of most of his peers. Spending time in free play with one or two of them who share his interests could begin to provide some of the experience that he is missing.

What Tim’s Parents Can Do

Some bright children crave organized activities like art workshops or gymnastics classes, but it doesn’t sound like Tim is one of them. He has a wonderful imagination and likes to explore what goes on around him independently. Instead of signing him up for formal programs, his mom might encourage him to invite friends over to play or to join their family’s outing to a local circus or puppet show.

Both the parent and teacher may help to improve Tim’s social skills by sensitizing him to the way others his age might think. “Jeff, what did you think about Tim’s joke?” could elicit a response like, “I didn’t get what was so funny.” Slowly, Tim may be encouraged to consider how others see and feel about things.

Still, Tim needs time and freedom to follow his fancy. We shouldn’t forget how much this accomplished youngster has already achieved by doing just that. The adults’ challenge is to acknowledge his accomplishments while enabling him to consider the perspective of others who are less precocious. The trick is to do that without resorting to judgments or labels about anyone being quicker or slower to catch on. If Tim can add sensitivity to others’ feelings and thoughts to his repertoire of skills, he is likely to feel more at home in his world.

What Tim’s Teacher Can Do

The teacher is wise to offer a lot of individual attention to this child. She should know, though, that for him, a greater risk than boredom is to be scorned by his peers and seen as the “teacher’s pet.” Rather than call a lot of attention to his achievements, she can quietly appreciate his gifts while trying to draw him closer to the group. For example, Tim might be invited to bring the ant book to school for his teacher to read aloud. They can discuss it in terms that make sense to other fours. Occasionally, the teacher could help him to put his advanced ideas into language or art projects that others his age are likely to enjoy.

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