Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How To Handle The Playground?

Small talk with other parents is one of the great minefields of raising gifted children. Over time, gifted children may learn various social norms of blending in (we can argue whether that's a good thing or not, though they often do). But when they are little, there's no such self-consciousness. Which can make the parent feel self-conscious in her place.

I have no idea about Jasper's IQ. We are leaving NYC so we won't be finding out as part of the pre-K testing for admission to the city's gifted programs. But either way, he's a bright and curious little boy who just turned four, and has the usual interest in dinosaurs, animals and, in his particular case, writing and spelling various words.

This creates some interesting situations. The other night on the playground, Jasper worked up the courage to ask another little boy and his mom to borrow their sidewalk chalk. This was the part of the whole sequence of events I was most proud of; we've been stressing that he doesn't need my help to join another group of kids playing, or ask to share a toy or join a game. Anyway, he was drawing various things, and the mom casually asked him what he'd drawn. "A mouse!" he said. Another mother glanced over. "How nice! Oh! HE WROTE MOUSE."

And he had. I guess it could have been worse. He could have drawn and labeled a parasaurolophus. I wasn't paying much attention since I was trying to keep my 20-month-old from killing himself on the playground climbing equipment. But I was summoned over to answer how old my son was, was he in preschool, how we were getting him to sit still and write and to make matters even worse, one of the mothers started comparing Jasper to her own 4-year-old. I tried to just tried to bat it all off, primarily because Jasper can not only write, he can hear. And I don't want him to think there's anything weird about writing words with sidewalk chalk, and I don't want him comparing himself with other children.

I am curious how readers of this blog handle such situations. How do you be polite and friendly on the playground, and let your child be himself?


Jo in OKC said...

Disclaimer: Mine's in high school now, so I'm pretty removed from this.

I'm in favor of the matter-of-fact treatment, though. "Yes, he can write. He's been fascinated with letters. We don't really try to get him to sit still to write; it's just one of the things he likes."

I think you don't want to brush it off too much in his hearing, but it is hard to strike the balance.

At some point, I might use that antsy 20 month old as an excuse to end the conversation.

Bostonian said...

On the playground my son had a habit of announcing his age and his grade in quick succession when introducing himself, which effectively announced that he had skipped a grade (actually he entered KG at 4). We advised him only to mention what grade he was in and not to mention his age unless asked.

Laura S. said...

When people see my five-year-old daughter reading 200-page novels, they often ask how old she is and are amazed. Since my daughter is usually right there, my typical approach is to tell the people that she really likes to read. In that way, I try to focus on my daughter's enjoyment of reading rather than on her advanced reading level. I do this especially because I want to encourage my daughter to see herself as someone who enjoys reading rather than just as someone who is good at reading.

InTheFastLane said...

My 5 year old is also a huge a reader, but was also an early talker, walker, climber, artist...

And I have always just emphasized that it is something that he likes to do. We don't "make" him do academic work (I think there are still many parents doing flash cards out there with their babies, trying to get super kids)....and then, I lie a little and say something about the fact that he has an older brother and sister that he is always trying to keep up with. Well, he does have older siblings, but they did these things early also...but still not as early as my 5 year old.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. By saying, oh, he loves reading and he's just been obsessed with letters lately, or, he's always had a thing for numbers, you're saying something that is 1. True, 2. Not that bad for little ears to hear about themselves, and 3. Acknowledges for the other parent that you know it's odd behavior, but you're just as gobsmacked as to how it happened as they are. (Even if that part isn't totally true.)

And it will get slightly better over time. At some point it's harder for people to guess a child's age by looking and it's not as weird for a 5 or 6 year old to be reading, so it draws less attention. Although you'll still have it sometimes, it seems to be comments more along the lines of, You must be very smart, rather than, how did you get them to do that? Which, to me, is immeasurably easier to accept.

Anonymous said...

If it is very uncomfortable, I leave the playground early, avoid the popular playground unless at 'off' times, and frequent the playground that is less used in our town. That is not ideal, but it is very difficult to hide my child's giftedness and, sometimes, you don't want to talk about it. You just want your child to be able to use the playground equipment. Laura, congratulations on the new addition to your family! Enjoy your new baby! :)

childEngineer said...

We were at a playdate and the kids were playing with chalk. One four year old boy was drawing monsters and my 4 year old was writing numbers 0 - 20-something. A couple of moms commented on how well he wrote his numbers. I just said he's always liked numbers, which is true. In these situations I tend to feel self-conscious and want to point out that I didn't push him to learn his numbers or how to write. He is oblivious to the fact that the other kids were drawing pictures. He was just focused on his numbers.

At least now I know he's doing things other 4 year olds don't do. When he was 2 and knew all his letters and other parents with slightly older kids marveled at this, I thought maybe they didn't read books to their kids. He is my first child and it just seemed so natural that he knew all his letters or could figure out what letter a word ended in from listening to it. I probably unintentionally insulted a few parents with my surprise that their kids didn't know the things he knew.

I do worry because he hears other parents say "He's so smart." and I don't want that to go to his head.