Thursday, January 15, 2009

If You Have a Spacey Smart Kid, Try This

Recently a friend of mine lamented that her daughter already knew most of the material the teacher presented in class and was spacing out during lessons. Her daughter didn't like school because she was usually bored. I said, "Try using a contract." Usually teachers use contracts to help unruly kids get their behavior in line, but contracts work great for smart kids, too.

Here's how it works:
  • Find out the current classroom theme, and set up projects to go with the theme to do outside of class. This will help to keep your child engaged at school.
  • Brainstorm ideas with the teacher on thematic activities that your child can do when other children are still working, and your kid is all done.
  • Write it out. List activities and expectations on your child's skill level with a space for quick teacher comments.
  • Ensure the teacher that you plan to make this quick and easy. The time crunch to fit in all the curriculum can be daunting without an added individual contract. Come to an agreement when your child can share finished projects with classmates, either in a small group or during an already scheduled sharing time, for example.
  • Make a copy for the teacher to read and give input. She has professional expertise that will help you revise activities and make them work better. It's also important to get a teacher to buy in.
  • If the teacher is overwhelmed and can't support the contract at school, go over goals and projects with your child at home after school or after dinner. Insist, diplomatically, upon having activities for your child to do if assignments are finished early while other students are still working. Idle kids get into trouble.
  • Ask the teacher to allow your child to display outside projects in the classroom, whether the teacher can squeeze in the time for sharing them with the rest of the group or not.

Using a form I've come up with, my friend wrote out a contract with her daughter at home. Since the classroom themes are winter and nature, my friend and her daughter went on a nature walk where they collected items that represented signs of the season: a branch without leaves, a nut from a squirrel's hidden stash of food. The little girl glued them to a chart and added winter pictures she drew and photographs she cut from magazines. Then she sounded out the name for each item and labeled them. With her mom's help, she used a children's picture dictionary to correct the spelling of the words and made up her own spelling list. On her regular assigned sharing day, she showed her classmates the work she did at home. Her teacher found a spot for the chart on the bulletin board. When other kids are finishing up assignments, this little one practices reading sight words and winter words. So far, my friend's daughter is enjoying the projects, she is much more in tune with what goes on in the classroom, and she's much happier in school.

Share ideas you've tried to get your smart kid engaged in school.

For an example of a contract and a copy of the form, email me, and I'll send it along!