28 August, 2014

Gifted children

I haven´t been able to write any new posts lately, due to an intense period of work, stressful life and lack of energy after
1. long hours in the office, plus
2.super demanding offspring the minute I cross the door at home
…so let´s say lots of things have happened in the last months, like the kids growing up at light speed, and honestly I haven´t had the time to sit and think so even fewer chances to sit and write...

One thing that we are very concerned about lately is facing the possibility of our older kid being a gifted individual. I think writing about it is a great way to put thoughts in order and mull things over a bit.
I guess there have always been some signs here and there but I have repeatedly discarded this possibility, based on the idea that all parents think that their kids are supergifted children in one way or the other (e.g. “look how well he destroys all the plates of the cupboard, he is such an artist!”)… I guess I have always thought that I was being just one of this type.
The truth is that during the last year/year and a half there have been some objective facts that according to articles and books on the matter would classify our little intrepid knight as a gifted child (no idea at what level or in what specific area, but apparently they could be considered as evidence).

We must say that it´s obviously not our objective for our kid to be a gifted one, but a happy one. We don´t pursue to brag about it or show him in the town square like a freak boy. We are truly concerned about the difficulties that he might face in school or socializing with peers as he might feel he doesn´t fit in the group, and if this is the case we´d like to learn how we can be of any help to make sure he grows up happy and he has also the opportunity to develop his abilities and work on unbalanced skills.
As children´s development is very flexible I think 4 years old is still very soon to state definitely such a “diagnosis”. As a summary, here are the facts that lead us to think he might have some special abilities. If there´s an expert on the issue or a parent with expertise on the field, please leave a comment! Any guidance will be much appreciated:

Memory: He´s always been very good at memorizing things. He used to recognize names very early. Here´s the boy at 13 months old giving me the animals I asked him, and he knew many others in both English and Spanish.

The same happened with numbers and also early or at least I think so, as I don´t have many references. As soon as he started speaking clearly, about 2 years old, he showed interest in numbers, so I taught him how to count to 10. He learned things so quickly and showed also interest in languages so I taught him how to count in as many languages I know counting (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), and we realized he needed only 1 or 2 repetitions to retain it all, even after weeks of not using them. So far so good, “the boy is just savvy” we thought… He was about 2,5 years old.

The freaky-scary thing came one day at 3 years old. We were in the car listening to a cd-story tale (The Tin Soldier). At some point I turned it off and I realized he was reciting the following words, not only a few, but he could finish the story by heart starting from any point, saying the exact words. Then I moved the 13 minutes story to different points, back and forth and every time I stopped it he could continue like he was reading it mentally. Not a single mistake. Alright so I definitely couldn´t do that and it freaked me out so badly. Then I tried the same thing with other bedtime stories and he had memorized some of them with 10 to 15 pages, word after word, and the funny thing is he was kind of surprised that I couldn´t do the same thing, like it was the most natural thing for everyone.

Reasoning: We have the feeling that his mind doesn´t stop working. Every single moment he is awake he is just turning things over in his head. We notice that the most brain-active moments are when he is tired, before going to bed or just walking home. He gets hiper-talkative and strats firing questions related, and not related to the issues being discussed. 

Extreme curiosity: Kids always ask “why”, and that´s normal curiosity in children we assume, but in his case it´s a constant, extreme and exhausting patern. We have had the chance to compare our conversations with others of same aged kids, and the other kids ask “why” too, but not even close to the million times he does. He asks why for absolutely everything around him. The other day he asked (after staying quiet for a while, which is the sign that he is into something…) “why are we always ALWAYS swallowing saliva? and what does it do inside our stomach?” or “how do viruses and bacteria work?”, “how can roosters yawn with their beaks”, “where were the 3 giants while Fearless John was eating their dinner, and what were they doing, and why?” It didn´t make any sense for him that dinner was ready, hot soup on the table and they were not there... hmm suspicious. Some of these questions are mainly related to the conversations we are having when something calls his attention, but others come out of the blue after he´s been thinking for a while.

Awareness: He shows a very active awareness about transcendent issues. Recently he was being disciplined by mom for treating his sister too roughly, and he replied “I don´t care, cause my sister is going to die, we are all going to die. She is going to grow up and have babies in her belly and then she´ll get old and die, so nothing really matters!!”… Alright so you just turned 4, right?

Self-consciousness: He showed a high level of self-consciousness at an early age. At 2,5 years old he wouldn´t take off his long sleeve T-shirt on a hot day because he didn´t want people to see the  little scratches he had in his arms, after some fight he had with a schoolmate. Now at 4 he is extremely shy when it comes to showing his body naked or the possibility of being shown up in any kind of situation. I´d say he is more close to a teenager than a toddler on this. 

Reading: He started reading spontaneously at 3 years old (in Spanish). I mean nobody gave him formal instruction. He was good with numbers so he liked reading license plates when we were in the car. When he got to the letters, he didn´t know how to read them and that seemed to bother him a lot, so he would start asking what letters were those and how to pronounce them. We focused only in one language (Spanish), as reading/writing is phonetic and therefore less confusing. After we explained him the letters he´d ask for some examples like in “C as in CASA (house)” so he got the use of the letters with examples. We didn´t realized but he was storing all the information in his database. In some weeks he got all the letters down pat and started reading words, although without recognizing the meaning at the end. After some weeks he started reading complete words in a meaningful way. We never pushed him to practice because we want him to read as a pleasant game. We only try to explain him that reading is the way to discover things that we don´t know. He hasn´t practiced much mainly because of the next topic.

Frustration: He is very perfectionist and he gets extremely frustrated when he doesn´t perform a task in an outstanding way. He is lately more interested in reading but he sometimes says that he doesn´t want to read because he doesn´t want to make mistakes. For him making mistakes is just not acceptable. We try to work on it an talk to him about making mistakes, and how everybody (we, everyone) makes them and you just have to assume it and move on, but he has an issue with this.

School is boring: He is refusing to go to school lately. At the end of last school year he started to say that his mates were repeating the same letter/color/shape all the time, and that he wants to know (literally) “how planes work”, “how microwaves heat up food” and stuff like that. We try to explain things to him the best we can but we have to admit that we can´t expect that the school pays such a personalized attention only to him. As a result he gets bored. 
     Regarding explanations, if there´s something we don´t know, or we don´t know how to explain it in an easy way, he says “don´t worry, you may look for it in the internet and then tell me about it after my siesta”. Of course we know the first thing he is going to ask after his nap is if you had the opportunity to look for the info about (let´s say) why certain mushrooms are poisonous and things of the like. He does the same thing when I don´t know a word or expresion in English. Now the classes are starting in 10 days after summer holidays, we are worried because he has already said that he doesn´t want to go back to school.

Bossy: He is very bossy with adults. He questions and rebels against authority very frequently, trying to negotiate and demanding a reasonable explanation for every rule. He also talks to adults pretending he knows all and trying to explain to others what he just learned like he were an adult and he knew it all since long ago. I thing he sees himself as an equal when he talks to an adult and he doesn´t want to admit that as a kid he is just discovering everything.

Social difficulties: We perceive that he has trouble sometimes when he initiates conversations or tries to initiate a game with other kids, like he feels threatened. He always sends preventive attacks and tries to tease others from the beginning. We try to explain him that being nice to people in advance is a good way to make friends but he doesn´t seem to see it that way.
    Motor skills: He lags clearly behind his peers in terms of motor skills. He runs slower and in an uncoordinated way and he falls, trips over and stumbles, more than the other kids. We believe it´s a matter of time that he reaches this milestone but he is very aware of his limitations and gets very frustrated when these differences arise when playing with others.

We think all this facts show that his skills are unbalanced, as some are very developed and others are behind the average. We fear that we might fall short at guiding and helping him develop due to the challenges that this (being really a gifted little man) may imply for him, his sister and the whole family in the end. Gifted or not (who cares) as all parents I guess we just count on good intentions, daily efforts and the hope that it´ll somehow work just fine in the end...

Update: Some years after, at the age of 6 he passed a formal IQ test, and results were he´s been a quite precocious kid, getting more balanced along the years. He has in fact really high capacities, althogh not reaching the pure definition of "gifted", that would imply getting him in a special program or changing school to really adapt. As we said who cares about labels, the important thing is he es growing happy and he is well integrated in his class which is what matters the most.

26 April, 2014

Girls just wanna have fun

It is said that babIy girls are more likely to start showing abbilities (talk, walk, climb up things...) earlier on and specially if they are the youngest siblings. I was more than curious when we knew our little princess was comming, and after a year I can certanly confirm the statement. It´s not entirely the case, as her brother started walking on his own a week before turning 1 yo, and this little fairy seems to be more confortable crawling around whenever more than 2 steps in a row are required...

Nevertheless, there are many other things that she is mastering before her brother did. She grabs tiny things with more precision, seems to be very agile crawling and climbing, and also shows great skills at understanding and imitating sounds. I never thougt she was going to respond this early to English stimuli, since her exposure hasn´t been in my opinion quite consistent. But here she is answering questions and showing her deep insight on the animal kingdom...

So even though it might seem like she is not paying attention, she definitely is grasping the whole thing... We have tried and we see she reacts to the same things in Spanish so maybe we can start saying she is walking down the bilingual path with us now... and this is just as excitind as it could get!

23 February, 2014

Second Child, double challenge!

When we were about to be parents for the first time I read in a book about bilingual parenting, that a second or a third child raised in a bilingual family were in many cases less likely to reach the same level of accuracy and fluency than a first child. I wondered at that time if this was really something to keep in mind, or even applicable to our case, IF we were going to have more than one kid (which sounded crazy at that time… go figure!). I mean, if you are the same person, following more or less the same pattern with all your kids, why would the second one have that burden…? …until you have the second child.
After our second one our life has turned more than chaotic for the first months. In our case, as the little baby girl is mummy-centric, the oldest one is more in contact with me, so his level of exposure has even increased, I could say that as a consequence I have noticed a pretty good evolution in this level of English, I can observe now more transferences into Spanish (English structured sentences with Spanish words, when he is speaking Spanish, e.g. “Mamá, la vaca está con el FARMERO”, as in “farmer” instead of GRANJERO). But if you take a look at the little one, it is true that she is having significantly less English exposure than her brother at the same age, since I used to read, play and sing more only with him in comparison. Now she is 11 months old, she is able to crawl and steal his brother´s toys as we play together, so she is getting (let´s say) “environmental” English and she is sometimes included in the game with her brother´s permission, but still it is not direct 1 to 1 interaction.

Although she seems to understand both languages pretty well (she reacts to commands, songs, animal names…), I have reacted trying to focus more on her, for example arranging more 1 to 1 moments, like when it´s bedtime, even when this means playing less with the older one. I definitely get now the reasons for the statement in that book.

BUT, as British say, “every cloud has a silver lining”, so let´s not be such a "Pechvogel" (as Germans would say). There are also positive facts that benefit the second child, especially in case of non-native parents like me. Here are some that I can recall:

-          More vocabulary: With our first one, I went through a process of acquiring 20 to 30 new baby-related words and expressions per week. Baby bottle, merry-go, nappies (diapers), pacifier (binky), see-saw and so on… Alright I might not be Shakespeare right now, but the picture is totally different. Now the lion has a mane, the baby has buggers, and the boy picked up an acorn that was right next to a fern, and all come to my head instantly when I´m with the little one, with no stuttering, or rolling up my eyes looking for that word…
-          Better fluency: I dedicated the first 8-10 months of the older kid´s life to get used to say absolutely everything in English, so that I got the fluency I needed (baby talk wise) for the time he was older and therefore more aware of my “non-nativeness”. Now most of the daily expressions are ready to go from scratch and I´ve had time to correct things that I got wrong or not too accurate at a first stage.
-          Sing along dad!: This is the list of rhythms and songs that we sang back in those days (2 years ago). Now we keep the same songs, plus new ones, AND we have a top ten list with the ones that worked better for him. Coincidentally it´s more or less applicable to the little girl. Does this go in the genes??
-          More English children-related media: Most of the days after dinner we watch some 30min of tv together. You all know how much kids love repetition, so after 3,5 years I´ve watched Kung-Fu Panda about 1.345 times, the same for Cars, The Incredibles, Toy Story (yes, the whole saga), all the episodes of Pocoyo, Peppa Pig and the latest acquisition, the entire season of Ben and Holy´s Little Kingdom… That is a lot of English exposure for dad too!! Jolly good!! Also we move from passive exposure to active interaction by commenting the episodes together.
-          Much less anxiety: The Human Being has lots of trouble with uncertainty. We just can´t handle it, so knowing more or less what to expect and how far you can go gives you a certain amount of what is called "peace of mind"! Most of the “what ifs” that prompted back in those days have now an answer or at least some clear ideas about what´s to be expected.
-          No self consciousness in public: I used to feel shy when I was speaking to my boy in English in public, due to the mix of awkwardness and insecurity that I felt at the beginning. Now my boy and I can maintain a full conversation about many things, we play jokes, we sing songs and he asks me his 25 questions per minute about everything, all in English. And I feel proud of him. I know cases of kids with both native English speaker parents, same aged boy/girl, and he/she doesn´t have as much vocabulary neither he/she shows the same fluency and accuray, so in our case his achievements are entirely his, not ours. We are impressed by how far we have gone together, and sometimes I can even detect some jealousy in the people listening around, so now I´m more than fine with speaking clearly and out loud with him and therefore with my little one too. And I think he notices this and considers our pattern as normal. And I´m sure I may be making some mistakes, but now I have the routine of researching and correcting them on a weekly basis, and that´s proven to be a great thing.

For all these things we are willing to challenge that statement and include “me fruity pancake” all the way in our English fun. Now I´m sure my boy is all in with me, and I´m sure we´ll get there, because he is a hell of an assistant!