Is My Kid (gasp) Average?

24 Jan

Let me start by saying that both of my children are exceptional.  They are bright and funny, good looking (of course) and wonderful.  I’ve been thrilled to see their gifts, talents and interests emerge over the years.  However, I have recently been coming to terms with the fact that, as far as school goes,  my son, my beloved firstborn is (at least at this point in his short academic career) kind of… average.

This is hard to swallow for a nerdy former overachiever like me.  I would say that from what I’ve seen, he’s doing fine in school. But fine is about as far as it goes.  Not great, fantastic or extraordinary.  Just fine.  I should note that we’re talking first grade here. The kids don’t even get grades–more like status updates. But as I’ve been talking to other parents and going into his classroom to volunteer, I’ve noticed that he seems usually seems to be in the middle of the achievement road–in pretty much every area–reading, spelling, math.  I try not to compare my kid to other kids (really I do!), but sometimes it’s hard not to. I know he’s a smart kid, and I want him to excel. But he’s just not that into school and it shows.

My parenting philosophy has always been not to push too hard.  There were no flash cards for toddlers.  No spelling words taped to the furniture.  I’ve always focused on lots of playtime, minimal screen time, good nutrition (omega-three obsession) and lots of reading aloud.  They both love books, that’s clear.  But Henry definitely does not love reading. He loves being read to.

I have been tempted to chalk his limited academic success up to his summer birthday–the fact that he is one of the youngest kids in his class. Before he turned five, my husband and I debated long and hard whether to send him on or sit out another year. Christian had heard about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and was pushing to hold him back, but in the end, for various reasons (including a strong recommendation from his preschool teacher) we decided to send him on.  The summer birthday may play a small role in the situation, but it’s certainly not the only thing that’s going on. His best friend (who incidentally seems to play a lot of video games) is only a week or so older and seems to get everything easily. I mean, I don’t think he’s working any harder than Henry, so maybe he’s just, you know, smarter?  Then there’s the little girl with the summer birthday reading chapter books in first grade.  I have to wonder–when will my kid be reading for pleasure?

I am almost certainly overthinking things (because that’s what I do), tormenting myself with questions. What have I done wrong? Have I made bad choices? Did I drink too much coffee while I was pregnant? (I recently heard about this book called The Good Enough Child -definitely need to check out.) Also find myself wondering whether the teacher thinks he’s stupid. (Have I mentioned that he’s not the most focused kid?) I had a meeting with her shortly after his first report card came home, which happened to be around the time I noticed the spelling assignments were easier than the ones some of his classmates were getting. She assured me that he was doing fine, and that his placement corresponded with the results of tests she had done. I’d say it was a fairly productive meeting.  I asked her to try to challenge him a little more.  But I’m not sure that she gets my son the way his kindergarten teacher did.  And he’s still in the slacker spelling group.

I’m embarrassed to say that there’s another question in the back of my mind: what if he doesn’t get into the gifted program? I hate myself for thinking about this, especially since gifted education doesn’t start until fourth grade in our county. Naturally, it has to do with my own baggage…I was in the gifted program in elementary and middle school. I was also third in my high school class, graduated summa cum laude from a respectable second tier institution of higher learning and am a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  I should also note that my husband (a classic underachiever who graduated near the bottom of his high school class and went on to drop out of art school) was also identified as gifted. Neither of us has put our extraordinary IQs to any great use or financial gain, but in fourth grade, man, we were there.

Anyway, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not about me.  It’s about helping my boy make the most of his elementary school career and love learning (as my husband regularly points out, I’m more of a short term than a long term thinker). I want him to do well in school but I also want him to have a rich extracurricular life (which he definitely does). He’s a boy and active, and right now he would rather be playing or running around than focusing. He has (in my opinion) a great vocabulary and is a good conceptual thinker. His father is teaching him to play chess. He’s interested in science, and his observations never fail to knock my socks off. It’s my job to do my best to access his gifts and nurture his interests outside the classroom, to accept that he is who he is…and keep the cod liver oil flowing.


11 Responses to “Is My Kid (gasp) Average?”

  1. sandra January 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    hi jan, i have been lurking on your blog, but have to say that your kids are wonderful and you are a great mother!! don’t change what you are doing for henry and coco. they will be their own people and you are doing things right. so there.

  2. Janann January 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks Sandra–love that you follow the blog!

  3. Heather Cramer January 28, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    I imagine I’ll have very similar concerns when the time comes for my own brilliant child, and take care of an 8 year-old boy with academic tendencies that are not unlike Henry’s. I think this is normal stuff for kids – particularly boys. It’s just harder to let things take their course when your expectations are so high (as they should be). It’s admirable and inspiring work you’re doing, both of you.

    • Janann January 28, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      I usually feel like we’re just kind of stumbling through parenthood, but I’m conscious of the fact that things could be a lot worse….

  4. Melissa Simpson January 28, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    We mommies are so competitive, aren’t we? Caroline was always an average kid with an extremely high EQ. Her level of compassion and abilty to relate to and care for others is amazing. It has served her well and she is the kind of girl that I would have wanted for a BFF in my teens (witty, loyal, and kind). She is gifted in the ways that matter the most. Now, Lily on the other hand is currently being screened for the GT program and can be the nastiest little stinker on the face of this earth. I think I know how Hitler’s mother must have felt:) BTW, it’s my experience that you can stifle the competitve mommy feeling, but it never leaves. Good luck!

    • Janann January 28, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      Have to meet those girls–I be Henry and Lily would get along!

      • Melissa Simpson February 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

        Absolutely! Maybe we can hook up over the summer. I think that you would love Caroline.

  5. Stasha January 29, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    You are a mother. It is normal to have these thoughts. But I have a feeling your children will prove you wrong :)

    • Janann January 29, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      counting on it–the unexpected stuff is what makes it fun–right?

  6. Karen April 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Jan, I don’t know your children too well yet as you know, but I have met them, and I find them exceptional. Lively, interested, and wonderful.

    Do not worry, do not compare your children to yourself and your achievements – you might miss enjoying their wonderful, unique steps, you may not enjoy the journey as much…

    I do think though (I don’t know how much your children do in after school activities), that generally children nowadays do too much. I hear of children who barely have an afternoon at home to lay in the grass for hours, doing nothing but possibly gaze at a flower or watch clouds drift by. As much as one wants to teach children, however many opportunities one wants to open to them, giving them space for quiet time, time to be creative without instruction, those are things that are important as well – that way, children learn to be self-sufficient, they learn to occupy themselves, and to be independent. Sometimes it is fun if childhood goes by like a whirlwind, filled with countless memories, but I also treasure those memories of sitting on a moss covered rock in the woods by myself, ‘taking in the peace of the forest’, listening to the sounds of the woods, the rustling of leaves…without any expensive activity at all. I would not want to miss those memories, I would have gladly given up tennis camp for them…

    I also don’t feel that it is beneficial to start children in school too early, childhood does not come back. However, your sweet boy may just enjoy listening to your voice as you read to him? Who could blame him?

    With you as their mother and your genes, both children will grow up to be exceptional, wonderful adults. Ignore those school grades, just enjoy watching them grow!


    • Karen April 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      Maybe, the best way would be to try to find a balance inbetween creating fun filled memories, and finding time to create dreams…


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