When they’re born, they’re so small and innocent – unscathed by the world around them. Although I know that he’ll grow up too quickly, it’s still hard to believe that this little 10 lb bundle of joy swinging beside me will eventually go to college, move out, and start his own family. The physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth that will occur on this journey is incredible. Just a few days ago, he couldn’t touch his toes. He’s now foot obsessed during diaper changes. A week ago, he couldn’t reach the toys dangling from his bouncer. Now, he can’t get enough of that spinning monkey. A month ago, he could hardly stay awake for storytime. Now, he stares with wide eyes, giggles, and waves his arms as the librarian reads and leads us in song for 45 minutes. And although he’ll always be a part of me, only two months ago, he was literally part of me.
In two months, he’s learned how to breathe on his own, to lift his head, to smile, to laugh, to roll over (sometimes), to manage his milk intake so he doesn’t choke (most of the time), to worm his way across his playgym, to hit the bell rattle hanging above him, to move his rattle from one side of him to the other, to splash in the water during tubby time, and more. In the next eighteen years or so, he’ll learn so much more, and I’m almost too aware that what I do – or don’t – teach him in the early years can and will have a tremendous impact on his opportunities later in life.
I don’t plan to send Noah to public school – or private school for that matter. I plan to homeschool him. But, for those parents of the 49.4 million parents sending their children to public schools in the United States, decisions from birth can impact a child’s options for high school and beyond.
Decisions that are made before a child even begins school plays a significant role in whether or not a child has the opportunity to participate in accelerated academic programs. Naturally, students who read or are read at home have higher literacy rates. Children who are exposed to reading during the first years of life are far more likely to read on time and to reach reading benchmarks than children who are not(Noble, 2019). Academic success is correlated with the amount of talk a child hears from birth to 3 years of age(Noble, 2019) A positive attitude towards math can boost the brain’s memory center and predict math performance later in life (Digitale, 2018). Quality childcare has a long-term impact on a child’s cognitive development. Children who have access to quality early childhood learning programs, statistically, will continue to outperform their peers in literacy and numeracy(Weiland, 2013). Children who are ready for Kindergarten have an 85% chance of mastering basic skills by 11. By comparison, only 45% of those children who are not ready for Kindergarten will do the same(Weiland, 2013).
Eligibility for Advanced Placement (AP classes) in the high school are often reliant upon a child’s participation in accelerated academic programs, namely accelerated math, earlier in school. Moreover, admission into competitive private high schools and/or magnet high school programs often require that students successfully completed accelerated academic programs in the lower grades and/or the highest level academic program their elementary and middle schools had to offer. Unfortunately, these programs rely far more heavily on achievement than they do ability. As such, the best and brightest don’t necessarily make it into these top tier programs.
Ensuring that your child has the opportunity to participate in high level academic programs in high school requires planning ahead. It requires planning ahead far further in advance than anyone should need to, but nonetheless, this is the reality.
Because it is the things that are taught at home, before a child even begins formal schooling, that are the biggest predictors of a child’s ability to keep up in school, it is also the things that are taught at home, before a child begins school, and in addition to the school curriculum, that are the biggest predictors of the level of academic success that a child will reach.
Making reading a part of the daily routine, introducing numeracy in the early years, and providing your child with opportunities to develop gross and fine motor skills contribute to a child’s overall Kindergarten readiness. By the start of kindergarten, children should be able to identify their letters and their sounds, the numbers 1 through 10, and how to recognize their own name. They should be able to take turns while speaking, to follow basic directions, and speak in complete sentences. In other words, the more that you speak with (not at!) your child, read to them, and sing with them, the better prepared they will be! At this stage, it’s especially important that learning is fun, and don’t forget that attitude towards reading and math are strong predictors of academic success.
A child who loves to read will read. A child who loves math is more likely to do well in math. A child who enjoys school is likely to do well in school.
Unfortunately, students who enjoy school in the beginning do not always continue to enjoy school. This is especially true for gifted students who may find school boring due to the seemingly slow pace that the class moves through the curriculum. For these students, it’s important to provide opportunities to learn, even if that means going outside of school. Providing students with mentally stimulating academic opportunities not only leads to academic success but provides children with the opportunity to develop grit and executive functioning skills, to find friends of similar interests, and to explore topics that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.
Gifted and talented students can find this in enrichment and/or academic acceleration with enrichment focusing on other topics not normally covered in school and acceleration focusing on moving forward through the core subjects at a faster pace. Enrichment programs do not necessarily need to be isolated to gifted students; anyone can enjoy a nature hike to learn about edible plants, a pottery class to make a vase, a beginner’s karate class, a cooking class, etc. There are endless opportunities for kids to expand their horizons from virtual classes and in-person classes to mentorship programs, independent studies, and more.
Accelerated academic programs focus on moving through core subjects at a faster pace than school provides. These opportunities are great for students who want to ensure placement into AP classes, have a keen early interest in careers such as medical sciences or technology and want to attend a competitive career-specific high school program, or simply yearn to learn more or to go beyond what school has to offer in math, science, language arts, etc. HoagiesGifted keeps a pretty extensive list of places offering enrichment and/or accelerated programs here.
Unfortunately, the opportunities for gifted and talented students to study advanced topics with kids similar in age are few and far between. Neither public nor private schools offer many opportunities for acceleration in the early grades, and opportunities such as accelerated math typically require that students demonstrate math skills beyond what the school itself has taught. In other words, for kids to gain admittance into accelerated math or language arts classes, they had to study advanced topics outside of school in the years prior to the evaluation. You can read more about this in Accelerated Math: What Every Parent Should Know.
Realizing that the academic and enrichment opportunities in standard public and private schools in the area were limited, I decided long ago that I would homeschool my future [current] children. But, I also wanted to ensure that my child would have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a classroom environment. As such, I decided to open HEROES Academy, a small school for gifted and talented students to provide the students with a challenging academic environment that would nurture not only their academic interests but their social and emotional growth too. And it is at HEROES that Noah will study the core subjects while at home, I will provide him with opportunities to learn and experience a plethora of other subjects and skills. And for now, I will work to ensure that he loves learning and that every day provides a new learning opportunity.
Digitale, E. (2018, January 24). Positive attitude toward math predicts math achievement in kids. Stanford Medicine News Center. Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/01/positive-attitude-toward-math-predicts-math-achievement-in-kids.html
Hart, B. (n.d.). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Brookes Publishing. Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://products.brookespublishing.com/Meaningful-Differences-in-the-Everyday-Experience-of-Young-American-Children-P14.aspx
Noble, C., Sala, G., Peter, M., Lingwood, J., Rowland, C., Gobet, F., & Pine, J. (2019, September 17). The impact of shared book reading on children’s language skills: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review. Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1747938X18305116
Weiland, Cristina, and Yoshikawa, Hirokazu “Impacts of a Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Mathematics, Language, Literacy, Executive Function, and Emotional Skills.” Child Development 84, no. 6 (November/December 2013): 2112-130. Available at: https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cdev.12099