Natasja (35) is mother of Damian (14), Amy (12), Milou (5) and Puck (2). Since Milou has been taught at home by her parents, there has been peace in the family.
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“We hardly tell anyone that Milou doesn’t go to school. I know from experience that it is easier to keep quiet about it than to explain why I keep her at home. When Milou turned four, she enthusiastically started group 1. In the first conversation with the teacher, I indicated that Milou demanded a lot of attention at home, chatted through everything and had violent tantrums. That had a huge impact on my whole family, it took so much struggle to get her through a day.
At school she exhibited socially desirable behavior, but the teacher noticed that she had a significant advantage over other children. On her advice, we talked to a giftedness expert. We met in an indoor playground. While we were drinking coffee and chatting, he observed Milou and had short conversations with her. He advised us to have her IQ tested, she scores 99.9% on an IQ of 145. It is very likely that her actual IQ is even higher, but the test did not indicate that.
Milou herself says that she has fast brains. In group 1 she was bored, school allowed her to accelerate. After three days in group 2, the first lockdown came. In the meantime, I had already purchased teaching methods from group 3. We flew through it together, she could count, read and write quickly. She had a span of one and a half hours, which is remarkable for a four-and-a-half-year-old child.
We saw her blossom. The fact that she was challenged at her own level ensured that she was finally comfortable in her own skin. The tantrums disappeared, there was also room for the other children in my family. That was good for her, for all of us. Except that you have nowhere to lose a toddler who has already finished group 3.
We have been in contact with all schools in the region. After consultation with seven specialists – including the attendance officer and the education consultant – we came to the conclusion that there is no suitable education for her. From there I made the choice for home education, under the guidance of school and the giftedness specialist. He also explained to us that Milou functions on an emotional level as a one-year-old and cognitively as a nine-year-old. That is huge in her head.
I want to do everything I can to prevent her from having had all the material from primary school by the age of eight. So I come up with all kinds of projects to keep challenging her, from building Frozen ice palaces to a sign language course. I’m not a licensed teacher, I’m her mother. What am I taking from her by not letting her go to school? That makes me insecure. Very occasionally she does go for a day, when there is something to celebrate and to keep in touch with the class. After that, she immediately reverts to her old behavior. A sign to me that home schooling is now the best option. Milou always went to school in a fancy dress when she still went all week. She wanted to be someone else. Since she came home, she no longer has that urge at all. She’s finally herself now.”
Channa (40) is mother of Julian (9), Maxim (7) and Fabian (4). Julian is exceptionally gifted and the youngest student at the gymnasium.
“Every morning I take Julian to school. He may be in high school, but I think he is really too young to cycle alone through the city. When I tell someone that he is already in high school, I see people thinking: what a braggart. Sometimes I feel lonely and when I notice that conversations about the children are cut off, I keep my mouth shut. No one knows how intense giftedness can be for the whole family.
My mother always thought Julian was remarkably bright. I had no frame of reference, he is my oldest after all. But when he was able to put twenty-piece puzzles together in no time with one and a half – even if I put all the pieces of five puzzles upside down and shuffled in front of him – I realized that this was not normal. But giftedness never crossed my mind.
At school Julian was the nicest boy in the class, at home all the frustration came out. In his anger and grief, his brother often suffered. Julian needed a lot of predictability. Putting another cover on his duvet unannounced could trigger a tantrum. So I washed everything during school and made sure it was always the same cover. I didn’t understand what he needed and looked for it in myself. I used to want nothing more than to be a mother, but now I couldn’t do anything as a parent. At least, that’s how it felt to me. In the long run we were all walking on eggshells at home, it was really impossible.
Halfway through group 3, I approached the internal counselor at school crying. Something had to happen. She suggested that he be tested for giftedness. Even before the results were officially in, I was already told that his IQ is well above 130. That day I cried so much. With relief because we could now figure out how to proceed with this. But I also thought it was intense, because with this I had given Julian a label. He had to, because without that test result he would never have gotten what he needed.
This mother wonders: ‘Don’t those plus classes miss the mark?’ >
Around the table with the crisis team
Within a day we sat down with the school’s crisis team: principal, teachers, internal counselors and gifted specialists. After the test, the advice was: speed up and get a compact lesson. Gifted children are crazy about repetition. If the class had to do ten sums, Julian would do two and then continue with projects of their own. He learned Spanish, was allowed to make mandalas, everything was invented. His class has always accepted him as he is. He has never been bullied or dropped out of the group, he was really lucky with that.
Julian has completed primary school in group 6. Since the beginning of this school year, he has been in an intermezzo class at the gymnasium. This is especially for children who are too young to start secondary education and are a size too big for primary school. I hesitated for a long time, until the internal supervisor said to me: ‘Do you really want your son to work below his level for two years for three days of camp and a musical?’
As a surprise, he got a smashing goodbye. For the last day of school I arranged laser tag for the whole class. Then Julian came out with the director, his class formed a guard of honor along a red carpet. It was amazing. He still sees his friends from class on the football field or when we pick up his brothers from school together.
Julian has now really found his niche. At home he is calm and happy, a totally different child. He is affectionate, likes to sit with me and chat. So nice. He finally feels understood and I cherish our contact. In the meantime, I remain on my toes, because I can’t trust that things will go well forever from now on.”
On to the serious work
Tamara (43) is the mother of Tatum (11), who is gifted, but does not have her finger in the air all day to answer everything.
“When I picked up Tatum after her very first day of school, she said, ‘The teacher forgot to teach me to read, write and count.’ She was ready for serious work, didn’t want to tinker again. I found her comment especially funny at the time, didn’t look for anything behind it. Her kindergarten teacher often gave her challenging assignments, out of the closet with the sticker ‘difficult jobs’. Only after two years did I find out that Tatum herself only called it difficult work because of that sticker, not because she found the work difficult.
In group 3 she sat in the back of the class all year, backwards and with headphones on. According to the teacher, she did not need any help and was easily distracted by what was happening in the classroom. Apart from the fact that this was not okay anyway, she developed calculation strategies herself that were far too long. The following year, her behavior changed. Not at school, there she was the sunshine of the class. But as soon as she was out, she got angry and sad. She was not enjoying it, it was a drama. At night she couldn’t sleep and she was brooding. I wanted so badly to see her happy. But it was difficult for me to reach her.
Peacocks and zebras
We engaged a children’s coach who she could talk to. The school suggested that her IQ be tested. We didn’t think about giftedness at all, but the teacher did. I didn’t find the outcome that interesting, but that alone would open doors at school. The result was an IQ of 137.
To deal with this, we engaged a giftedness expert. She observed Tatum at home and at school and estimates that her IQ is even higher. If she is not challenged, she gets distracted and bored. Tatum isn’t necessarily hungry for information, she didn’t want to skip a class or go to a school for gifted children. She doesn’t sit with her finger up all day because she wants to answer everything. Her social development is very strong, she finds her friends important.
She is offered Acadin – a digital learning environment for gifted children – and Digital Learning School at school and goes to the plus class. Most of the kids in that group are peacocks who like to show off what they can do. The teacher of this group calls Tatum a zebra, because she prefers to be absorbed in the whole.
‘She also needs attention’
Tatum is now in the last year of primary school. She’s not underperforming, but she’s not really getting the most out of it either. From group 3 I have regularly stood at the desk of her teachers, always with the message: watch my child. I don’t interfere with education, but I do interfere with how Tatum feels in the classroom. It’s too easy to think: that’s a smart girl, she’ll take care of everything herself. Tatum also needs attention.
I notice that there is still a taboo on giftedness. Tatum never told her friends about it. I’ve also only informed a few friends that I really trust. I don’t want to be the mother they think about in the schoolyard: there she is again, with her smart child. But being gifted isn’t just being smart and it’s not that easy at all. Not for her and not for me.”
This article can be found in Kek Mama 06-2021.
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