Why? Why? Why?

Why? Why? Why? Gar’s incessant questions on why drives me nuts sometimes. He would ask a series of questions starting with ‘why’, turn the answers into questions and then repeat the questions again.

I cannot remember the exact questions he asks, but they go something like this. Why is it dark? Why is it night time? Why does the sun go down? Why do people go home? Why do people sleep?

Moments later, he will repeat the same set of questions. A few times. He also asks questions about where his grandparents live. Sometimes, I throw the questions back to him and ask him why. That stops him from asking me more questions for a moment, and I get a brief respite. He also answers his ‘why’ questions with ‘because’.

We are watching a show about a crocodile on the loose. So big! Why crocodile drop? (It was falling from the roof.) Why crocodile run away?

He is not using his pronouns and articles properly yet. He mixes them up. It doesn’t help that other people use ungrammatical structures while speaking to him. I decided that I need to find out more.

After doing some research on why questions, I discovered that this is part of a developmental age. Children usually ask these questions when they are between three to four. Children ask the same questions over and over again when they do not have explanatory answers.

But didn’t I just try to answer? I dug deeper. Children are just curious and want to talk about something. According to Dr Green, she says,

“I’ve found that, when I try to answer children at this stage of development with the reason for something, they are left cold. After conversing with thousands of children, I’ve decided that what they really mean is, “That’s interesting to me. Let’s talk about that together. Tell me more, please?” When I’ve connected with children and begun to spin a tale to answer this question, they’ve sat enthralled. There was no need to mention because, or therefore, or cause, or effect. They don’t need to know why, all they need is animated attention and me saying whatever came to mind about that subject.”

Right after typing this, Gar came into the room and went to the toilet bowl.

He saw me working on my lap top and asked, “Why mummy working?” I decided to try out her theory, about not answering the question directly about cause and effect, but just to engage him in conversation.

Gar: Why mummy working?

Me: Are you interested in mummy working?

Gar: Yes. Mummy is working. I want to paint.

Me: Oh, you want to paint.

Gar: Yes, yellow.

Me: That is your favourite colour.

Gar: Yes, yellow. Red and blue make yellow.

Me: Red and blue make purple. Red and yellow make orange. Do you like yellow and red?

Gar: Yes, I like yellow and red. Blue also.

Me: What do you want to paint?

Gar: I want to paint yellow, red and blue.

Me: What do you want to paint? Do you want to paint dinosaurs?

Gar: Yes, I want to paint yellow T-Rex.

When he was done, he came over and told me to open the Paint programme, and asked me to draw T-Rex, in yellow, blue and purple. He wanted a huge T-Rex. I zoomed in.

Gar: I want Mummy to draw Pteranodon.

Me: Pteranodon?

Gar: Yes, Tiny Pteranodon. (referring to a character on Dinosaur Train).

I drew it for him.

Gar: I want Don.

I drew Don, a pteranodon that has a severe underbite. t rex and pteranodon With a simple insight, I actually managed to stop him from asking ‘why’ countlessly, and in turn engage him in a conversation and then spend a short but quality time with him about colours and dinosaurs. This is way different than if I had tried answering why mummy is working. Really cool. Why not give this a try when you are confronted with countless whys?

Speed Bumps To Gifted Acceleration

Imagine you are travelling on a straight road, but the speed limit is low. You wish to go faster, but there are several speed cameras that do not allow you to go above that speed. You may slow down, but you cannot go any faster.

speed bumps and limits 1

If that makes you frustrated out of your mind, imagine being in that situation for weeks, months and years in school. If your child has already learnt how to read paragraphs, yet his teacher is still teaching high frequency words such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘one’, ‘we’ and ‘come’, he is going to be bored out of his mind. That is only in kindergarten.

I would always ask my son what he had learnt in school. Nothing. That was what he said. I would press on, and he would say he had forgotten what they did in school. It was only when I looked at his work then I realised that he did not learn much.

I thought I would just let him learn his things from iPad and from library books, and supplement his education with enrichment activities. However, recently he kept saying he was bored, and he was so bored that his head hurt. With his recent Stanford Binet 5 assessment results, I realised that I really needed to challenge him. There must be something I could do for him.

Previously, I had not considered acceleration. I thought he could just ace through the first three grades, and then sit for a national screening examination, have the chance to get into the gifted programme (GEP) in Singapore, and then finally get challenged. Only about 500 children are selected each year. He would be 10 years old then.

Yet, when I thought about how mind-numbling it could be for the next three to five years, I decided I needed to do something about it. There must be a way to do some sort of acceleration. I had only heard of a friend going to primary one year ahead of others despite not being identified as gifted. That was more than two decades ago, although I must add he is definitely extremely intelligent.

In a parliamentary speech, it was mentioned that there were fewer than 20 students who managed to have some form of acceleration since 2000. These students had been identified as exceptionally gifted, and lots of checks had been done to check the socio-emotional aspects that they would be able to fit in.

I wonder why Singapore is so restrictive on this. They want the students to go to mainstream schools so that they could build the Singapore identity, but a very small but increasing number of parents are opting to homeschool their parents and hence bypassing that. Apparently, based on what my homeschooling parent-friend had told me, there is a group of parents who are homeschooling their gifted children.

There is also a local example of how a twice exceptional 11-year-old was kicked out of his school and the mother spent one year homeschooling him. He managed to complete 8 levels of work in one year and he qualified for university at 12. That would never happen if he continued to stay on.

Just in case you think that acceleration is done for the sole purpose of completing an education quickly, it is not. Acceleration is done, so that students who are way ahead of their peers need not be held back by years. It is a form of mental torture to repeat the same material that one has completed long ago.

To meet my son’s education needs, I started with Kumon workbooks. He could add and subtract double digits, but he made careless mistakes some times. I realised that it could be really boring when he keeps doing the same type of questions. I let him skip when I saw that he understood the concept, and move on to the next chapter. When he stumbled, then I would get him to practise more.

It was then suggested to me to let my son try online lessons from Stanford at Giftedandtalented.com. It is still early days, so I am not sure how it will turn out. I had put him at Grade 1, but it turned out to be too simple. They were adding 5 + 4. He enjoyed the first session, where he could play with the online manipulatives, but he made one mistake by typing space before his answer, and the system brought him to 2 + 2. He was stuck there for quite long.

Finally, I decided to spare him the torture, and asked the support to change his level. When I described what level he was at, the support staff suggested Grade 3 for him. I would see whether this is the right level. This is what I would call acceleration. If just sitting through the course for a few days was torture, imagine how he would feel when he goes to primary school as he has to sit through what he knows for the next couple of years?

I had signed him up for an English module too, and they started at level 2. I find it tough! We are teaching our secondary school students (Grade 7 to 10) topic sentences and main points, but they had introduced to students at Grade 2! They also introduced nouns.

There were a lot of technical issues in the beginning. When I used my laptop, somehow there was a problem with the cache, so it was not loading very well. I had seen students using the iPad to do their work, but I had problems too. I finally found the ways to solve them, and I went through the lessons with my son.

Some may tell me to stop doing this because I would be setting him up for boredom when he finally goes to school. They would also think I am hothousing him. Such lessons only take place for 15 minutes and just a few times a week. The rest of the time, he is playing with his toys, playing games and reading whatever he likes.

Would you make your baking students bake the same type of cookies over and over again even if they show that they have the talent to create extremely beautiful fondant cakes? A firm foundation is important, but not if the sole purpose is to stick to the syllabus.

Perhaps those in the music world would be more than willing to accelerate. I had to spend one year per grade in the early years. Even though I had scored a distinction at grade one, I did not skip any grades. I could not fathom how my friend in primary school had a grade eight certificate at a very young age. I had no idea that acceleration was possible.

That brings me to another point about acceleration. I was coasting through the lower levels. I did not need to practise that much, and the pieces were quite easy, so I never required the discipline to practise properly and overcome difficulties. When I finally reached a level where it was more difficult, I stumbled big time. I failed grade six. I had not learnt time management. Grade six was more demanding than grade five.

If my son manages to coast through the early levels, without acquiring relevant study skills and discipline, he will eventually face problems when he reaches the higher levels. That would be a major problem. That is why I believe that he should be working at the right level on a regular basis.

He is asynchronous in his learning. While he is ahead in English and mathematics, he is unfortunately way behind in Mandarin. This would make acceleration challenging, so perhaps subject-acceleration might be more suited for him.

However, all this is dependent on when the gifted branch would get back to me, and whether he would be one of the ‘fewer than 20 students’ who manage to get acceleration. I am not really banking on this. In the meantime, he is having a three weeks break from school, as the school is shifting its premises. Would this full time working mother be able to give homeschooling a shot? It would be a great opportunity to find out whether we could overcome some of the speed bumps to acceleration.

This post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Acceleration. Do check out other blog posts on acceleration.

gifted acceleration

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