Sunday, January 20, 2013

My PreSchool Test Saga

Back in October, I think we peaked with test prep.   So I rolled the dice and signed up.  Little did I know that 10 days later I would find out the test date was November 8.

Normally, I counsel friends to wait until the end.  I think most people could do a lot more, and the increase in ability during the test prep period offsets the age advantage.  The age advantage is that a 4.25 year old can get fewer questions correct than a 5 year old and end up with a higher score.  But in our case, I think we had done enough.

To be on the safe side, I asked a friend to give Jr. a practice test.  I chose suitably hard material and we went to a large imposing school for practice test day.   We tried to make it a close match to the real thing:  professional, dry, and "grim" in the words of the practice test person.

The outcome was a real shock.  Some questions were answered correctly before the question was read (due to extensive test prep) but he just randomly guessed, without thinking, on many questions.   Oh no, a whole year of test prep down the drain, for want of maturity.

My wife and I tried to determine what went wrong, but in the end decided that a shy, slightly introverted 4 year old who won't talk to strangers just wasn't ready for this type of pressure.

What I didn't mention to his mother is that we spent a week right before this time on how to guess and I think that back fired. So we had a long talk about guessing under the heading "Stop Guessing".  Then I gave him 2nd and 3rd grade practice questions - which I'm sorry to say are way too easy - which he got mostly right by concentrating.

So off we went to the test.

Test day was a Thursday evening.  This was good, because Saturday's are like a zoo.   We spent the last few days not guessing at test questions.

I had to sit there and endure poised, mature, outgoing and very talkative little 4 year old girls.   That's why my older son's class is 65% female.  When the time came for the test, a "test person" showed up looking like a 12 year old baby sitter, who was super friendly.  My son looked white with fear, but braced his tiny jaw and marched off with her.

On their return, I tried to read the facial expressions and body language of the "test person" but couldn't.  By the way, you're not supposed to use the term "the test", but we use it a lot in the house, like other people use the term "the big game".

When he came back, we had the usual conversation.

What was on the test?   "I don't remember."  How can you not remember?  It was only 2 minutes ago.  "I don't remember."

"There was this question that I got wrong.  My brain told me to stop thinking.  I just guessed."   That's not what I wanted to hear.  "There were other hard questions, and I got those wrong too."

Normally, the child should say that he got them all right.  What do they know.

"There were lots of easy questions."

Well, on that day back in November,  I joined a large group of parents who will worry until March.  In the mean time, we can take it easy and just enjoy reading, phonics, language terms like homonyms and onimonipias, and lots of normal math.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Are All The GAT Kids The Oldest Child

Many parents have noted that the preponderance of children in the GAT programs are the oldest child, or an only child.  I think that the 2nd child should have a decided advantage.  Why is this not happening?

First, let's look at the advantages that a 2nd child should have.They are exposed to the older siblings vocabulary, reading activites, and play.   Each of these should have a profound affect on development.  Advanced vocab, the earlier the better, will boost IQ and test scores.   The second child sees the first child reading, hears the conversation, picks up words, but most especially, thinks "I can read too" and holds higher internal expectations.   And the more sophisticated play is associated with stronger development and stronger EF skills.

The parent teaches much better.   With the first child, many of us remember sitting down for long periods of time trying to get child number one to tell time.   This was repeated on a variety of topics.  With child #2, parents either don't have the time, don't want to go through the pain again, or just figure the kid will pick it up despite our efforts.  And in many cases, it effortlessly happens.  I think parents become much better teachers by child #2.   Counting up, shapes, reading.  There's far less pressure.

The parent has less time to spend with child #2 doing workbooks.  Less time avaiable for all of those organized activities that involve getting in the car.  Instead of workbooks and driving to T-ball, the kid is left with - hold your breath - unstructured play.   Now exhale.  It's the best teacher of all, especially for GAT.

Next, let's speculate why child #2 is cheated out of a chance.When the 2nd child is in the critical learning zone, let's say in the 2 years leading up to the selective enrollment test, the parents are busy with child #1, who may now be in a GAT program.   Now the parents are faced with 2 hours of project work, science fairs, the 100 day project, the autobiography project.  Where does this leave child #2?

Even worse, child #2 may end up during this time sitting in the back seat while the parent drives child #1 to his daily activity.

Did the parent read as much to child #2 as he did to child #1?   Ideally, child #2 should be exposed to even more stories at a higher level as the parent reads to both children, but in many cases, child #2 doesn't get the repetition (reading the same story over and over until the child has memorized it and the poor parent repeats it in his sleep) because this would really bore child #1.  There are probably numerous differences.

As a completely unqualified GAT consultant with 0 years of experience, I feel an obligation to share a solution to this problem.   Plus, the reason I created this blog to begin with was to chart a course for child #2 so I wouldn't have to drive to 2 different schools, so this is a big concern of mine.

Once child #1 is in the GAT program, your single focus should be child #2.  Make child #2 the "only child".  It's Ok for the older brother to get B's and C's for a few years; after all, it's a GAT program full of braniacs, and he can catch up with assistance later.  Turn in projects that are messy, misspelled, and are obviously done with no parental involvement.   The teacher will appreciate it.

During reading time, read with the second child.  Relegate the first child to the living room couch for his 15 minutes of outloud reading, and situate him near the cat so he'll have an audience.

Drop the activities for child #1.  He has enough to worry about in this program, what with all of the homework that he'll have to do on his own because the parents are doting over his little brother academically.  Besides, he likely has already gone to way more organized actities than his siblings will ever get.  When he's bored, ask him to play with his little brother, but "please engage in some role playing and directed play because that will give your little brother an edge on the test." 

Give the older brother extra worksheets in math to buy some more time to teach counting to his little brother.  Oddly enough, child #1 will probably excel because he'll be the only kid in school who has to start thinking on his own.  By the end of the year, other parents will be asking what your secret is.  "Why does he like school so much and do so well?"

Kidding aside, around Christmas of my older son's first year, I sat him down and told him that my primary objective from this point on is to get 2 kids into the same school.  I asked for help, and made this the family objective.   Any time child #1 helped out, I heaped praise.  "Remember when I promised you a toy after you took that aweful test at IIT?  Well, I'm giving you another toy for helping me prepare your brother."  My son asked, "Is that fair?  Can't you get him a toy too, since he has to take the test?"

Every single parent I know is going to sit child number 2 for that test, repeatedly in many cases.  And the results are in almost every case not the desired outcome.   I thought the second child (or 5th) was supposed to be smarter than the first.   If I had a nickle every time a parent told me that they didn't think a GAT program was right for their 2nd child, I'd have no nickles, because not one of thinks that.

It's time to take action.  Take this parenting quiz:

  1. Do I spend as much one-on-one time with my second child as I did with my first?
  2. Do I read as much to my 2nd child as I did with the first?  Do I reread the stories as much?
  3. If I add up all of the hours of activities I've taken my oldest child to, is this greater than the amount of activities I will be able to drive my other kids to for the rest of their lives?
  4. Does my second child spend more time in the back seat of a car than the first?
  5. Will my first child suffer if he doesn't get straight A's until 4th grade?  Will he cry if he doesn't win the science fair every year?
  6. If I stop helping my 1st child, and he does well anyway, will I feel I failed as a parent?
  7. If my oldest child has the best teacher in the city, do I really need to hover over his academic career?
  8. Is this fair to my second child?