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Child Caring

Third grader is breezing through school work

Our son is just recently 9 and in 3rd grade. He is the oldest of 3. Our trouble is that everything comes naturally to him and he does not need to try. Nor does he feel the need to try to exceed his own capabilities. He is a natural student and athlete - gets 100s on every spelling and math fact quiz. We check his homework but he does the work himself in no time. All of his classwork comes home with elaborate drawings because he finished early and had extra time. We try to insist he should use the extra time to check his work and we when we ask did he do that, he says he forgot - but still gets everything right, so really what's the point of checking? In sports, he does not push himself, just hangs by the net and scores the goal.

We are glad he is happy and does well but life will not always be so easy and we are concerned he is not learning the skills to problem solve and stay motivated when things are tough. We don't know how to motivate him or even what motivates him. We have tried a variety of reward systems since kindergarten and at first he is interested and then just doesn't care anymore. It is driving us crazy - we are concerned that when he does hit a roadblock he won't be equipped to figure it out. We have spoken to his teacher and she agrees with our assessment and said she will talk to other teachers to get ideas - but so far nothing. Do you have any ideas?

From: Goldie, Everett, MA

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Dear Goldie,

Don't wait for the teacher to get back to you. You've gone through the channels and haven't gotten help, so now it's time to make some noise. Go to the principal or the school psychologist. Here's your starting question: How can you and they work together to do right by your son? Being bored at school is not healthy. What's more, while I agree with the concerns you list, ie., not developing learning strategies, I would also add that you don't want him to feel that being smart is a negative.

You're not asking whether he's gifted -- and I'm certainly not in a position to say that he is or isn't -- but your email prompted me to call Barbara Swicord, executive director of the National Society for the Gifted & Talented which runs summer programs all over the country for kids, Summer Institute for the Gifted. What should parents do, I asked her, when they think their child is performing above grade level?

She said, "School systems are accountable, morally if not legally, for students to work at their level of ability. Sometimes that means accelerating a student."

If the system isn't able or willing to pay for testing, there are other ways to access his abilities. Educated observations (including your own) can be enough of a clue.The National Association of Gifted Children is another good resource, with a list of behaviors to look for as well as parenting advice.

Other ideas: Have you asked the teacher for extra work or for different work for him? Have you considered searching for an accelerated after-school learning program? What about finding a librarian who could turn him on to books at his level and then you read with him every night? What about an accelerated summer program? Swicord's summer programs have many ways other than testing for a child to show eligibility and the SIG does offer financial assistance.

Dear Readers:
Please note that I am speaking March 6 in Needham, MA. The talk is open to the public and the topic is, "Raising Children in a Changing, Complicated and Sometimes Scary World." Click here for more info.