Chapter 6 - How To Created a Gifted Test Taker

Copyright 2014/2016 Norwood
So far, I'm up to age 9.   Material and an approach for ages 6-9 took about 2 years to address, and you can find my work at the bottom of this article.

One Year At a Time

My first son took the first grade placement GAT test as a 5 year old.  We had about 2 months to prepare.   We live in Chicago, and I didn't know that there was a test for Kindergarten.  In fact, like New York, most of the GAT seats are for the Kindergarten programs.  We were woefully unprepared for the teste, and after he barely survived the test, and enough parents turned down their offers so that we got in, he was woefully unprepared for the program.  Most of the kids already read 2 years ahead.  I didn't think kids learned to read that early.

In this chapter, I'm going to give parents plenty of fair warning, with advice on how to start test prep for the Kindergarten or First Grade tests at birth.  However, most parents reading this chapter will be in exactly the same position I was, with a month to go before the test and not a clue.  You can just skip down to the time frame that applies.

If you are more interested in the Classical (or aptitude) test, then look closely at my Off Season regimen, and do less of the Test Season regimen.

Birth

Stop getting sleep.  This will prepare you for the week that test results are mailed.

Age 1

Start reading to your child at least 30 minutes each night.   This will do nothing for the child, but it's the training you need as parents to prepare for Age 2.   Stop watching TV permanently.  There's not enough time.  In order to get your child into a GAT program, he or she will have to be in at least the 95%.  If you live in Chicago or New York, this is 99.8%.  That means in a room full of 500 kids, your kid is the smartest.


Age 2

Talk non stop to your child about everything all of the time repeatedly.  There is some really great research to back this up, and it's amazing to see kids who are raised this way.  It's as if they have evolved to the next species.  As an example, as you are going into your house:   "I'm unlocking the door with a key that I put in the lock to open it.  The lock is brass, not as shiny as the handle, but still shiny brass. The key turns and the lock is unlocked.  Now mommy can open the door.  I am turning the knob...."

Your child's verbal IQ will jump a minimum of 5,232 points.

You can read Welcome to Your Child's Brain for an great summary of this research.

Age 3: Two Years Before the Kindergarten Test

Focus all of your energy on teaching your child to read, one phonetic sound at a time.  See my chapter on reading.   This will really help a lot during test prep because you can read the newspaper while your child sits there crying and playing with his pencil instead of doing the test prep books.  But at least he can read the directions on his own.  Learning to read also exercises a lot of skills that I call "Pre Test" skills which are a helpful, but not required stepping stone to the test.  If you skip this step with your child, like I did with the first one, it will not stop you from success.

Read to your child 30 to 60 minutes a day from the non-paged books of award winning Illustrators.  Award winning illustrators tend to work with award winning authors.  The whole family will have fun reading these books.  Think The Red Lemon (Bob Staak) or Flotsam (David Wiesner).  I also like Brian Flocca these days.  We went through the entire list of the H C Anderson award winners.  We found a website that had a list of award winning illustrators and checked out every book from every one of these on the list.

What I didn't do was take care of test vocabulary at this time, even though I promised in my blog I would. When my son started telling me about the words on the test that he got wrong (curse you Iowa farmers who make tests!), I realized that I should have taken my own advice.  So we loved reading but didn't know enough rural terms. I'm not going to tell you what these are but we'll cover this at the right time.

Do lots of crafts.  Expose them to every artistic medium.  This will be good for the program and good for Executive Skills which I will cover later.   Do your executive skills training at this time because leading up to the test you'll have too much Anti Executive Skill work to do and won't have enough time.

Piano

Piano deserves special mention as a good pre-test prep activity.  I think this applies to violin as well.  When a child under the age of 15 (careful researchers please correct me) studies music, one section of their brain increases by 60%, but no one knows what it does.  I like the sound of that.  The study of music has been linked to math.  I like the sound of that.  Einstein attributed his success to music.  I like the sound of that too.

There is a series called 'Piano Adventures' that is widely popular.  We bought the books and a keyboard.  If you don't know music, you can put the page title in youtube and you'll see 500 videos of teachers demonstrating the material and 500 videos of students playing it.  I wouldn't go this route if I wanted my child to be a pianist.  I'm just looking for an academic edge and buying my time until we can play woodwinds in 4th grade.

Learning music is a firestorm of cognitive activity, with the eyes, the hands, spacial relations on the page, the code of the notes, the tempo, volume, style, and more.  It wasn't until I was teaching a 4th grader until I saw the connection between piano and cognitive skills tests.  He doesn't see the difference between the notes on the page.   The notes differ among a variety of dimensions as well.

I think I like it the most because it's good training for sitting there for 20 minutes doing something that may be undesirable.

Drawing

Let you daughter draw horses and faces, and your son draw cars, planes and tanks.   Go to target and buy a ream of printer paper, colored pencils, markers, crayons.  Hand this to your kid.   But for test purposes, just hand them a pencil.   When they finish a drawing, be very excited, tape it up, and ask them to draw the exact same thing again.   I recommend tanks.  When the tank is finished, look at the proportion and point out the wheel that is too wide, looks like an oval, has an off center axle.   More on this later.

Workbooks

My older son was raised on workbooks and activity books of all types.  He loved them.   When his little brother arrived from the hospital, my wife bought a whole stack to keep him busy during nap and feeding time for the baby.  I didn't factor these into the test prep curriculum for child number two, but we always had a stack of these for fun or for commuting time and he did them whenever he wanted with no oversight from me.

Workbooks got us into the GAT program the first time.  That and a little insanity I added.

Executive Functioning

I'm a believer.   Whenever my son started playing a "Tools of the Mind" activity (see reference below), I'd immediately drop all activities - even test prep, and help him along.   Store, office, coffee shop, posters, decorating the hallway, building a rocket ship, whatever he came up with - if it was a big project, it trumped everything else.   Tools of the Mind cranks out gifted over achievers.

The best private day care centers teach Tools of the Mind.   As soon as you see a fire station, 911 center, and burning playhouse, you are looking at this program.

There is an article here.. This isn't the best, but I'll leave it here until I can replace it.   Sometimes I wonder if the Executive Functioning playing made my son's geniuses and my test prep didn't damage them enough to bomb the test.

Put it this way.  When your 3 or 4 year old child is playing a video game, his cognitive activity level is 0.   Reading takes it up to about 5, and maybe some really challenging discussion or physics worksheet is a 9.   The right type of Executive Functioning activity will take it up to a 30 and he may be functioning at a 6 year  old level internally.

Age 4: One Year Before the Kindergarten Test

Age 4 begins formal test prep.  From this point on, each year is organized into test prep season, which is 3 to 6 months before the test, depending on how insane you are, and the off season, or academic material season, which is the rest of the year, except on your family's major holiday (Christmas in this house).

During age 3 we learned to read, and during age 4, we are going to learn math.  I recommend Sylvan's Kindergarten Math book for this age.  I also provide my little math books somewhere on this site.  The reason I picked math is that if you concentrate on strategies and tricks for solving every problem (like Everyday Math does), and you constantly expose your child to mental challenges he has never seen or done before, you are encouraging the cognitive skills that will be tested.  4 + 4 will not be tested, but the concept of symmetry and doubling is fair game.  Don't worry about perfecting arithmetic.  Worry about perfecting thinking.  He can finally memorize 5 + 7 or 5 x 7 when he's studying for the SAT, but there is little time for mastering arithmetic at age 4.  Too many other types of thinking to conquer.

Reading continued in earnest, especially Read To.  See Chapter 5.  I never want to under emphasize read to, but this chapter is about workbooks.

The poster child of test prep with a marine haircut


January through June - The Off Season

We started the "off season" about a year before the test.   This age is a little early for reading, so every day we had to sit down and do his work together, with me reading and him doing.  I tried to avoid skills that he didn't need, so even though he wanted to write words, circle or draw, I was more than happy to circle or draw for him if he pointed.  On the CPS exam, preK kids are required to point and not write.

We used Sylvan's Super Math Success (Kindergarten) math for math and Thinking Tonight's Building Thinking Skills K-1.  I had a stack of everything else but these were the ones I used on a daily basis during the off season.   At this point in a child's learning, test prep and academic material are very similar.

We also tried Flash Kids (Gifted & Talented Reading, Writin & Math)and Brain Quest and usually skipped the verbal sections, even though for the Kindergarten test these were probably the most important.   But in our case, we were investing that time into reading.  This was probably a mistake on my part.  For the Kindergarten test, the verbal section is probably the most important of all but I'm still having a hard time coming to terms with that.

At this point, I don't think choice of off season material is real critical.  As long as your son or daughter is challenged on a daily basis, for a small period of time.  This is the offseason, after all.

Test Prep Rule #1

Always have material standing buy.   It's hard to come home from work and remember where you were or what to do.   You may have to jump into the car with your son/daughter and go somewhere and the first thing you should do is grab a workbook.  I have a drawer in the dining room with the current workbooks.

At many times, I made the mistake of telling my son how to do something.   At age three, I was telling him how to do everything, which is fine, but it was hard to break the habit.  I had to read the directions, and it's only natural that I would be helpful and explain the directions, help with examples, and help with the rest of the work. Best Practices for test prep (see Chapter 3) demands that you let your son struggle for a while and do all of the work himself, to the extent possible.  Be prepared for tears..

With a pace of about 15 minutes a day, which is all you'll get with a child, there's plenty of time (like 3 minutes) to let your son or daughter figure it out for herself first.  Maybe he gets it all wrong the first time.   During this year, you'll go from the child can't do anything himself to the child doing almost all of it with no assistance.   If your child doesn't need any help in March, go much faster, skip some pages and aspire to harder material.

April - Time for Motivation

The biggest struggle I had was getting my kids to do anything.   For each child, I think it took about 6 weeks to get them to stop crying and whining about their 15 minutes a day.  I think this is the area where I probably faced the most challenge.  Here's some tips:
  1. Have a second work book standing by.   At times my son flat our refused to do his workbook page, so I would suggest that he could pick the other one if he wanted to.  It was the slightly easier one, and he always picked it.   That's how we got through the Flash Kids book mentioned above.
  2. Keep a bag of dumdum suckers, sweet tarts, or skittles handy.  Only use a tiny amount, like 5 skittles (one of each color) and only when you are desperate for motivation - which can be every day for a week sometimes.   This will leave no lasting impact on the child other than fond memories of worksheets (they block out the screaming) and maybe a soft baby tooth.
  3. Go super slow.  Be prepared to skip a page that is way over their heads and come back to it later.
  4. Don't ever, ever let your child do something enjoyable until the work is finished.  No desert.  Absolutely no computer or screens of any kind.
Saturday mornings are absolutely huge.   I would be lucky to get a page a night 3 or 4 nights a week, but on Saturday morning, I could get 2 pages out of every workbook.  Sometimes an hour of fun in all. 

Occasionally we'd sneak out to Starbucks or Panera, which was something very special for both of us.  For him, it was a treat with my undivided attention.  For me, it was the chance to show off in front of Asian immigrant grandmothers by saying things like "Read the directions yourself, you're 4 now" and "if it was third grade material, I'd let you miss one, but 2 wrong on second grade material is a disgrace to our family".

Make sure the child finishes the entire workbook.   This is a big deal and highly motivating.  When you get to the last page, you can hand your kid the workbook, with all of the filled in pages, and express your pride for hard work.  In order to get through this workbook, and maybe a few more, I recommend putting up a wall chart.
Test Prep Rule #2

Put up a chart on the wall.  List your curriculum and the pages.  Check things off as you go. Make notes when you have a bad day.   You are home schooling in 15 minutes a day, and you need to stay organized and motivated.

May through July
Still working on this.

August - The Achievement Test

I first started using achievement tests for Gifted and Talented Test prep for the first grade test.   I have a different approach for first grade than Kindergarten with this tool.  Read the August discussion for First Grade to determine if the First Grade approach might fit your child better.  It depends on the child's stage in development.

For Kindergarten, I use an achievement test to inure the child to instructions that are surprising and unfamiliar.   I've used both first and second grade achievement test workbooks for this purpose.  I just read through different sections, typically reading comprehension but it could be anything - like noun or vowel, which word doesn't belong, opposites.  If the child is familiar with the subject matter, pick something else.

I like the "Scoring High" series and the Spectrum "Test Prep" series.  Both are inexpensive books.  The Flash Kids Gifted and Talented:  Reading, Writing, and Math books are also pretty good material for this purpose, but you may not want to go more than a year advance for these.

We work through a page or two a day, with a few extra on the weekends.  Slowly the child becomes conversant with the vocabulary and concepts.   This material may take you through October and into November.

Age 5: One Year Before the 1st Grade Test

This is the test I spent the most effort on and this is the test we succeeded on twice.   We only got about 99.4% on the Kindergarten exam, which is a failure in Chicago.  If your child is going from zero to reading, writing, and arithmetic, then read the Kindergarten section to see how I coped with motivation.  It applied through 2nd grade.

Most of the country starts here or 1st grade for test prep.  Everything I have to say and the material I used applies to both the 1st and 2nd grade, but parents taking the tests for Second Grade will have to adjust the a little bit.  I have all of the material for second through 4th grade and will list it as I go.

1st grade requires a test ninja


January through March - Begin The Off Season

I had so much success with Kindergarten math that I picked Spectrum's 1st Grade math course for the off season.   If you did not do Kindergarten math, then you might instead consider something that is less Academic Math and more Test Math.  Test Math is heavy in concepts, thinking and geometry, and less arithmetic.  For my first son, we did not do any Academic Math.  For my second son, we were really taking time off and enjoying arithmetic.

If you skipped math the prior year, then I'd recommend looking at BrainQuest or flash kids instead.  To choose your first math book, choose a book with the least amount of arithmetic.  I'll have to go through my stack later to determine which is the best choice for this situation.

For non-math, we chose Building Thinking Stills Grades 2-3.  With both math and non math, I found that the higher up we worked, and by this I mean a 4 year old doing grade 2 work even though he is not especially gifted, the slower it went.   We never did more than a page a day during the week.  On bad days we could only get a few problems done.  On really bad days we'd get them all wrong.

The first son skipped Building Thinking Skills altogether.  I bought the Grade K-1 version, because he was in Kindergarten, and it made sense.  When I got it, I found it was way too easy and didn't use it.  I did not occur to me at the time to buy the next level.   I now know test taking rule #2:

Test Prep Rule #3

Buy material at the level you aspire to, and not the current level.  Then go as slowly as you need to. 
For readers, I strongly recommend the red or purple Vocabulary Workshop (vocabularyworkshop.com) workbooks.   Red is beginning, purple is a bit more advanced.  These books are more engaging and fun (or "less painful" according to my older son) than alternatives, and there is an online component that my youngest really enjoys.  What I like, in addition to vocab - which is critical to all of these tests, is the choice boxes. My sons answer half of the questions because they know the answer, and half of the questions by process of elimination.  Words are chosen by the authors for their double meanings, their degree of strength, shades of meaning, and other characteristics that make them suitable for learning to think and learning to take tests.

The problem that I encounter with Rule #2 is that the more advanced material tends to have the right level of nonverbal material, but verbal material, vocabulary and writing that is far too advanced and I had to skip some sections or lots of pages..   The tests are nonverbal, with the exception of the vocabulary sections, which have pictures, so you'd think that it wouldn't matter.   But it does.

April Through June - Discipline

Believe it or not, not all children want to sit down and be drilled on visual spacial matrix problems.   There are a variety of symptoms of this condition, which is known in the industry as "Being a Normal Kid" or BNK.   Girls might appear to be flighty or disinterested.   I have been told from a Pediatrician friend that girls might bring up a discussion on nails or shoes.   Boys on the other hand, might talk back, cry, or turn their body into the Noodle pose so it's impossible to pick them up.

Children with BNK are tough to teach.  Predictors of early academic success include the ability to sit, listen, and do something.  If a parent can present learning in a fun and engaging way without a workbook, then the battle is won.   If, however, no amount of coaxing works and your child fights, screams and cries through the entire 15 minute session - which ends up taking 55 minutes, then please read on.

First, start with the donut test.  On a Saturday morning, get your child their favorite donut.  Cut it in half and put each half on a plate.  Put the workbook next to the kid and the donut.  Tell him (or her) that if they can eat the donut, but if they don't, and instead do a page in their workbook, you'll walk back in the room and give them the other half of the donut.  If you want to stack the deck  in the kid's favor, give them half a cake donut with white frosting, and walk away with a half a donut with sprinkles on it.  If you have guts, leave a whole donut, no workbook, and set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes before walking away.

Let's interpret the results.

  • If you come back and a page or more is done, and the half of donut is not eaten, then you have a fighting chance.   You might have to get donuts every week during test prep season.
  • If your child can sit there with a whole donut, no workbook, and not eat the donut for the promise of a second donut, then start researching Ivy League medical schools.  
  • If your child eats the donut right away, next week give him the work first, and no donuts until the wok is complete.  The battle has begun. 
  • If your child eats the donut and then proceeds to eat all of the donuts in the box your forgot about when you left the room, get him a computer, a stack of Java manuals, and a consulting gig because he'll skip right from high school to a 6 figure salary and a big waistline. 
Believe it or not, variants of the donut test are heavily researched and the single strongest predictor of academic success.   To put this in more practical terms, a child with BNK needs to be able to get the work done, whether he wants to or not (he doesn't) in order for you to make progress toward his academic goals. The earlier this is taught, the better.

If you troll through my blog, you'll see many references to this issue.  Now that I'm an older wiser parent, it's much easier than I thought.  During the 6 weeks we had a daily battle with crying and "I can't do this" and "this is too hard", it seemed like my kid was destined for mediocrity.   I read lots of books and tried out different approaches.   At one point, I was using The Homework Trap time limits, but I eventually discarded this approach.

Here is my step by step method:
  • Do something every single day, like a page from a workbook.  Do something at your kid's level, or slightly above if you have tolerance for pain.
  • Make sure you child is not hungry, especially if he is a boy.
  • Do not allow any computer, desert, treats of any kind, TV, anything fun, until this homework page is complete.  
  • Do not, under any conditions, ever let your child touch a computer, a toy with a screen, a cell phone, or anything electronic without first completing a page in a workbook.  This choice is totally in the parents' hands.  The choice you make on this bullet point will determine the success or failure of you child in not only 1st grade, but the rest of his life. 
  • Be extra sensitive if the child is having a bad day,because they could be sick, exhausted, or tired.  This is 40% of the time.  Write this down with a sharpie on the cover of their workbook so you don't forget it.  It is really hard to distinguish the onset of a cold from the typical protests of a kid with BNK unless you are alert for symptoms. On bad day's, you'll get nothing or all wrong answers and fighting it will be counter productive.
  • Push rewards, like 5 Skittles (one of every color) or a dumdum sucker.  These will eventually disappear when the child begins to become proud of their work at the end of a session.  If you give a bigger reward, then the child will be less motivated by it the next time.
  • On one day a week - Saturday mornings in this house - do 45 minutes.  If 15 minutes bought us one paged during the week, 45 minutes bought us 3 pages.  Remember that the test might take up to 90 minutes of concentration.
  • Set aside 30 to 60 minutes daily for reading, music, crafts, or other engaging activities that are brain builders.  This is probably where the most important learning takes place.
With experience, I found that the intellectual progress magically happens whether it's good days or bad, whether most answers were correct or most were wrong.  Internal self discipline and self regulation follows suit.  Knowing this took the pressure off, and from that point on, I didn't get much crying after I relaxed. Maybe it was me all along.

If your child gets everything wrong, go slower.  If your child is having a hard time making sense of the question, just concentrate on making sense of the question.  Feel free to go as slow as you have to.

If you get to the end of August and your child is making daily progress, then you succeeded.  A child with BNK syndrome will still complain every day and try to get out of doing any work in 100 ways.  But they'll get something reasonable accomplished under the right conditions bulleted above.


June Through August

I'm not there yet.

August - The Achievement Test

I like to end academic season with an achievement test as preparation for the gifted program.

An achievement test is dramatically different from the gifted test.  You can teach your child in a fun and engaging way how to do math and how to read, and the kid may be horribly unprepared for a gifted test, which is evaluating how they learn on their own under adverse conditions.   On the other hand, a child's current level academically is a pretty good predictor of their future academic performance.   I have devised a way to use the good old achievement test to move forward the cause of passing the gifted test.

Pick up an achievement test or achievement type workbook that is 2 years ahead of your child's grade level. Since you've been doing a little extra every day, the kid might be a little ahead anyway.

Pick some odd-ball reading comprehension material and a few challenging math problems - preferably word problems.    If your child can't read, be prepared to read the question and the answer.  Each Saturday, spend 30 to 45 minutes tackling these problems.  The point is to throw your child into the deep end and let them sink or swim.  You are not testing the child's academic level.  You are not teaching the child anything. You are exercising their skill of wresting with advanced material, and not giving up in frustration.   If your child misses all of the questions, you may point this out, but then keep going.  My experience was a 50% miss rate.   I was quite encouraging the whole time.   If we got to 100% wrong, it was an instant trip to the ice cream parlor, and my child knew it.

Some sessions can be a complete disaster.  Hang in there and encourage your child.   This may seem like an odd statement, but this is one of the top skills the child needs to succeed academically in a gifted program, and a skill that the test is looking for.  It is so much easier to teach your child at age 5 or 6 that it's OK to be totally lost and just muddle through than to have to teach this skill in Junior High or High School.

Outside of these sessions, which I consider survival training, plod through the rest of the book a page or two a night.   After all, you bought the book and might as well use it.   The once a week session is like the big game, and the daily pages are like practice.


Ages 6 to 9
Test Prep material is plentiful and useful up to about age 6.  After that, things get more challenging.  It's 2016, and he picture is brighter now than when I originally wrote this article.

The test prep material for ages 6 to 8 is readily accessible for the majority of children whose parents are going to sign them up for a cognitive skills test.  The majority of children are in the 50% to 85%, and I think this is where the published material sits.   Most school districts require cutoff scores of 95%.  In Chicago and New York, the cutoff is at least 99% in first grade, but it falls after that as the test scores become less of a reflection of a child who is ahead and more a reflection of the child's cognitive skill set.

At any time up to age 6, if you just discovered test prep material, get it and use it.  It will be somewhat helpful for your child.   Start with the appropriate level and just keep going until it is all finished.   If your child is 4, you can start with something like the first Building Thinking Skills book and do the first 3 levels in the next two years.  At age 5 or 6, you can start with the 2nd book and go much more quickly.  At age 7, 8, and 9, I'm not sure how helpful this material will be.

In our case, the problem wasn't getting to the 95% level of cognitive skills, it was staying there.  School curriculum doesn't teach cognitive skills.   This is especially problematic for math which is where these skills should flourish along with problem solving skills.  An advanced 1st grader child who doesn't need to think because the material is easy will be in trouble 2 or 3 years later as the material gets more challenging and requires skills that they haven't exercised.   For these reasons, I created Test Prep Math Level 2 and Level 3 (2nd and 3rd grade).  I may rebrand Level 3 for 3rd and 4th grade because it's so relentlessly challenging.

You can read the introductions to these books on the Amazon Peek-Inside.   The Level 2 introduction focuses on what the key skills are and how the book tackles them.  The Level 3 introduction focuses on how to survive each question as a parent when your child isn't making progress.  The questions in these books teach skills that are the basis of the skills on the cognitive tests, and it can be challenging for a parent if your child is deficient in one or more core skills.  But the investment pays off when your child begins to start tackling problems on their own.

I'm not going to guarantee that Test Prep math will take a B and C student and get them to straight A's in an accelerated problem, or that it will take an A student and put them into the 99.9th percentile, but this was my intent when writing the book and this was our outcome.  We spent about 6 months going through each book.   Most of the improvement came in the first 3 months, and then after that, we refined the skill set.  If I had a test date looming, I would set a 2 to 4 month objective.  At a problem a day, which is a tough pace, the child will get to problem 60 in 2 months.  This is an achievement.  There are 40 more word problems after that in each book.  Many problems look a little bit like reading comprehension, and I like to use Bonus and Super Bonus problems to really challenge thinking skills.  Since my publishing costs are so high, I want a book that provides 100 hours of thinking challenges that focus on the core skills.

Because I had to make the Level 2 word problems easier and shorter, I added 120 quantitative problems to the end of Level 2.  These are not hard, but given the level of working memory required, the quantitative problems might be a problem a day as well for most children.  My goal is that these questions are at least twice as hard as anything your child would encounter on a cognitive skills test.  By the end of Section 2, I think the problems are 6 times as hard.   When my children take tests, I want the math/quantitative on the test sections to be a break so that they save their energy for the other sections. 

If you are going to use these books, be forewarned that the first few problems, while simple, might take multiple attempts and a long time.   After that, the complexity of the questions increase.  I don't use advanced math - it's all simple arithmetic was nothing fancy - but I have a skill for writing a problem that your child may have to read repeatedly to figure out and solve 3 or 4 times to get the correct answer.  As described in the introductions, this is the foundation for all of the skills that follow.

16 comments:

  1. I have a 4 year old who will be in Kindergarten next year. She has finished Sylvan Math (kindergarten). Wondering if I should have her work on Sylvan Math (Grade 1) or find other Kindergarten math workbooks (if so which one do you recommend). The Grade 1 one might be hard for her but challenging but I am afraid that she will feel overwhelmed. Any thoughts will be appreciated.

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  2. What type of workbook do you recommend for "achievement test" (mentioned for August at Age 5)?

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    1. Sorry for the late response. A good home math and reading curriculum is the driving force for achievement tests. I like Vocabulary Workshop because it teaches how to guess. I also use Reading Comprehension workbooks because this skill is a game changer on achievement tests. But mostly it's just nightly math, vocab and reading. It's hard to cheat an achievement test because it tests current academic knowledge.

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  3. I have an 7 and 8 year old and who should be taking the test next year. I have not really gone through the intense preparation that your outline, but would definitely like to get started. We work every single day for a couple of hours after school in addition to the school work and extra curricular, but reading your blog, makes me feel i was just doing the wrong thing all this while. Can you please suggest a good place to start? There is a lot of info here and it all starts at an early age (3 yrs and lower), where can I start for 1st and 2nd graders?

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    1. See that stack of books in my son's picture at the top? That's just part of his curriculum. Actually, I have a stack about 5 feet high that I went through when figuring out what to do. The curriculum and approach for 7 and 8 year olds is the same, but there's just less of it for the older kids and it's easier. Read the last 6 months of my articles while I struggle with older kids (mine). It's not about mastering the concepts in school, but a whole set of executive skills and slow, steady thinking. The starting point that I usually recommend is Building Thinking Skills, but in this case, it would be the 4th-6th grade book for both of them. Don't let either of them write in it of course, because they'll be sharing it and the older one might go faster. The other thing I recommend is Smart Cookie's Raven Matrix book, which isn't even for the COGAT but would be appropriate for right now. Read through my past articles. You'll see which ones are pertinent and which ones are just me complaining, and you can skip the latter.

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  4. Hello! I just started reading your blog and I am finding myself overwhelmed! My daughter just turned 5 in June and we have always believed she was ahead of the curve (what parent doesnt?!). She has always suffered from some overstimulation and recently developed severe night terrors -- which has lead me to start doing some research and I believe all of these things may be because she is gifted. She is only 4 days into kindergarten, but already I can tell she won't last long with the slow pace of the classroom. I have decided to talk to her doctor next week and see if a gifted evaluation would be appropriate, but now I'm nervous that we're behind in preparation! Is that crazy? My husband already thinks I'm nuts to try and schedule so much reading and academics into our busy lives, but I know how important it is. I read all of Glen Doman's books (worth the read for the philosophy, maybe not the material) but never put any formal practice to work. What would you recommend for starting off? I also have a son who just turned two and I am realizing the opportunity I have to do it right the second time. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, especially specific book recommendations (I know my husband will kill me if I have a list of supplies lol). Thank you so much. TuffToodle@aol.com

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    1. So much to respond to for later. For now, let me just give you a list:
      1. Low grade, medium sized poster boards
      2. A box of 200 Dixon Ticonderoga #2 HB soft lead pencils
      3. Post it notes of a minimum of 3 different colors
      4. A craft box, fully stocked, including googly eyes and feathers
      5. A list of winners of illustration awards going back to 1950. You will have to put a hold on every book of every one of these illustrators even if it takes inter library loans. 10 holds per week. You may have to get a library card for the 2 year old if there is a limit of holds per card.

      For the two year old, you just have to worry about reading, talking a lot, more talking a lot, letter blocks, and numbers. There's not much else until age 4. Unless the 2 year old starts reading independently, which occasionally happens. Read Your Child's Brain.

      I'll write a post soon on how much is enough. It's surprisingly little. I'll also post on the joys of boring unchallenging Kindergarten supported by a little At Home Schooling.

      As for the night terrors: Our first child used to tell me that he saw faces and other things on the wall when the light turned off, like a David Sandberg short film. The younger one just yells a lot from his bed and we spent many nights sleeping in his room. Still. It's a sign of imagination. We treat potentially scary topics like parents of kids with allergies treat peanuts. We spent last week at a lake, and every time he jumped in, I could see large monstrous fish in the sea weed under the surface, but I kept it to myself. I'll continue this later before it becomes an article.

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    2. Hello again - I am the anonymous above lol. Thank you so much for the speedy response. Based on the reading I have been doing with your blog I ordered the Building thinking skills workbook for my kindergartener and intend to spend a half hour before school with her each day. The library is not a problem, we already have a strong relationship going there and she spends a half hour reading independently and a half hour being read longer more advanced books and ones in Italian (shes been raised bilingual). I do have to admit we have be lazy on crafts - mostly because they are messy and inconvenient so I guess its time for me to suck it up on that front. My 2 year old reaps the benefits of wanting to be just like his big sister so he gets a lot of the same activities and I am hoping to start some Brain Quest cards with him while his sister does the workbook. Thank you so much for this resource and for you help. It is so daunting as a parent to have to navigate something as important as education all by yourself. It is so comforting to have some real answers (I am the crazy parent who actually does the research and reads the papers instead of the "parenting advice" you get from all sorts of weird places lol). For a long time I did nothing, simply because every approach I outlined was too intense, for me and for the kids. When you have more than one and they are young it's hard to brush your teeth in peace let alone implement an entire curriculum. And mommy guilt takes over every time you think, "I should have started sooner". So thank you for the permission to just do a bit each day. It is so much easier to just get started on anything than plan forever doing nothing. A million thanks.

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    3. Update: We just had a meeting today and found out that she will take the Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test (NNAT) in November. Any specific recommendations for prep?

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    4. Sorry for the late response. I've got 2 comments. First, we have the brain quest cards somewhere on my shelf. I think all of them. Looking back, vocabulary words produce a much bigger impact than brain quest questions. Something to think about.

      Secondly, my favorite book for the COGAT is the NNAT 3rd-4th grade book by Smart Cookie. Even better if you have to prepare for the NNAT. This is my recommendation, even if you don't make it through the whole book at a pace of 2 questions per day. If you haven't figured it out yet from reading my blog, the magic of 3 pages a day (or 20 questions) is a kid who started with 1 or 2 questions a day and just kept plodding along under no pressure to go fast or get the right answer. This applies to any subject.

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    5. Thanks for the info! The problem with my kiddo is that I know she's bright, but she rushes through things without listening carefully or fully evaluating her choices. Just for kicks I gave her a 20 question sample test online and she scored a 60% in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade and a 0% in fourth and fifth. What that tells me is that she is capable of the higher level stuff because it forces her to slow down, but she rushes through the "easy" stuff and makes simple mistakes. Hopefully doing the higher level stuff you recommend will help her slow her roll. lol. As for the brain quest cards, I mostly just picked them up to do something with my son while my daughter works, since he just turned two I didn't think he was ready for vocab just yet, but he does love them and so far he'll sit for them longer than he will when I read so maybe its the gateway drug I needed haha. Thank you again so much for all the advice. I wish there was more I could do to thank you! We will absolutely be buying both test prep math books as soon as we're ready and I eagerly await any new materials you might produce!

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    6. Sorry if I'm overwhelming you, but after reading your blog religiously for the past two weeks I feel like we're friends and I ought to keep you updated lol. After another talk with the guidance counselor I found out that the test for K and 1 is the NNAT and for 2-6 is the K-BIT, which I never heard of and haven't seen mentioned on your blog yet. She also went on to detail what the program looks like and I'm pretty unimpressed. For kindergarten the have the "PENN teacher" (thats what they call their gifted program) stop in the class and help the teacher to differentiate her instruction and in extreme cases may use a pull out program though it seems they are fighting that in half day kindergarten. They said in 1st grade they will pull out for an hour a week and for 2nd grade they pull out for 2 hours per week. I'm new to this, so maybe I don't properly understand, but I can't imagine 1 hour a week of "special instruction" is enough to properly challenge kids who can already do all of this years math and reading requirements -- what are these children doing the rest of the week? I understand they want the main teacher to differenciate and keep them in the same class, but doesn't this lead to a lot of busy work for the smart kids without any real growth? I'm still test prepping for the Kindergarten NNAT, but I am already seeing future issues with program that I'm trying so hard to make the cut in.

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    7. Our children are in a program that is GAT based project work and accelerated by 2 years. I once checked the curriculum class by class against school districts that publish their work, quiz results, etc and found that they are generally ahead of the grade level for the advanced grade. Nonetheless, most parents in our program feel like they are in charge of the education and have to do most of the work anyway. If your child has a good teacher and a good class once in a while, that's a bonus, but you are mainly in charge of the real learning, and it will take place at home in 30 minutes or so each night. The majority of parents have no idea that this is the case and expect schools to be in charge of learning. A few years ago, I stopped using the term "GAT Child" and replaced it with "GAT Parent", which makes more sense.

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  5. Oh! Sorry - and both tests are followed by the WISC IV if they do well on round one.

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    1. Unfortunately, the WISC IV is a bit more like an intelligence test than a cognitive skills test, and is therefore out of scope of my research.

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  6. Hi,

    I really want to buy the book you mentioned called: "Thinking Tonight's Building Thinking Skills K-1" but I cannot find it on Amazon. Could you please send me a link of the book in order to buy it? Thank you very much for this awesome blog you have created. You are helping my child!!!

    Thank you

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