This fall, 5 year old Pearl M. got accepted in the Gifted and Talented enrichment program of Woodbridge township. Gifted and Talented students are transported to Avenel Middle School to interact with Gifted and Talented children from other schools during a half day session.
Woodbridge township is unique because the Gifted and Talented program is offered to 1st graders. Most schools start offering this program starting at 3rd grade.
Pearl has been a Genie Academy student for the past two years. She enrolled in our program when she was 3 years old. So we are especially proud of our student. We sat down with her mom, Crima, to talk about Pearl and this magnificent achievement. The following are excerpts of the interview.
How did Pearl get into the Gifted and Talented program?
Crima: Pearl is a straight A student so her Kindergarten teacher recommended that she take the OLSAT (Otis–Lennon School Ability Test). This test determines which student enters this program. Pearl scored 133 on the OLSAT. Her reading level was at M. At Kindergarten the expected level is E. So she is 2-3 levels ahead compared to a typical Kindergarten student. Also, being a straight A student played big part in her acceptance.
How did she achieve this?
Crima: I credit this achievement to Genie Academy. Pearl has been coming to Genie Academy for the last 2 years. Since she was was just shy of 4 years old. The result of coming to Genie Academy is that her mental math is top notch. Mental Math teaches her to visualize. This visualization helps her deepen her understanding of math. The Genie Academy Core Curriculum also helps her stay ahead of the school math. I believe that the brain is "use it or lose it." I wanted Pearl to exercise her brain not just to master Mental math and do math quickly.
How is Genie Academy different?
Crima: Before enrolling in Genie Academy I checked other popular programs in the area. There are plenty of popular learning centers around the corner from my house in Iselin. However when I checked those classes I discovered that they were very boring. As a four year old child Pearl needed a colorful attractive place where she could be engaged. When we came to Genie Academy we found its a very attractive and energetic place. Pearl liked it instantly so did I. In the other classes it was more black and white, rote memorization method of learning. It was a very studious environment where kids were not having any fun. It reminded her of the highly regimented and strict teachers of her native India. Their books were boring.
By contrast, the Genie Academy environment was energetic. Books and materials are fun and colorful. Kids love it. It helps in keeping the child motivated. One major feature of Genie Academy, is the kids learn to solve problems interactively instead of a rote memorization way. This way the child nails down the understanding of the concepts as opposed to rote memorization. Genie Academy stood out and I enrolled her even though its a 30 minute commute.
How much time does she spend at home with Pearl?
Crima: I work from home full time. So time is a constraint. I have meetings and conference calls at all hours. I still manage to spend an hour with her every day. However it's not one hour straight. Its in a 20 minute chunk and a 10 minute break. Then another 20 minutes of work and 10 minute break That way we go on for a hour or so. She gets a lot of work done.
So it's really 40 mins work & 20 mins break. What you are accomplishing in those 40 mins?
Crima: We cover Abacus Math and Reading. No more than 2 pages a day. We don't do all the homework at once.
Do you have to struggle to get that hour in?
Crima: It is sometimes. She may not be in the mood sometimes.
What is your strategy to put her into the mood?
Crima: Pearl knows that she needs to do her work if she wants to play. If she wants to go on a playdate the work has to be done. If not she doesn't get to do any fun activity.
How firm are you with the consequences if she doesn't do those 20 mins?
Crima: She has a weekly chart and she has to do her homework and accomplish the weekly targets. Pearl knows the that If she doesn't finish her homework she doesn't get to go to playdates. Playdates are very important to her.
How many times have you had to enforce the rule?
Crima: She know is if she doesn't do the homework she doesn't get the playdate.
But she might have tested you?
Crima: Yes. Sometimes it happens. Even I am lenient. Sometimes I let go. However if Genie Academy class is on Monday and the homework is not done and she wont get time after school to finish the homework then she has to do it.
What if she doesn't?
Crima: If she doesn't then she doesn't go for playdates. She knows and even her friend knows the rule. That if the homework is not done she wont get a playdate.
So the consequence are clear. No negotiation there. Do you ever feel like a mean parent or the bad guy when she doesn't do the homework and you have to enforce the consequences?
Crima: I have a Masters degree in Computer Science. I was also an actor in Gujrati theater. I had other hobbies as well. My parents made it clear if I wanted to pursue my hobbies I had to do my work. This is how I was raised. I had to get distinction (Straight A). If I didn't then all my hobbies went away. So I developed the responsibility automatically. The problem with many parents is they don't enforce the rules they setup. If you don't enforce you wont get results. If she doesn't get the results then I explain to her, "listen Pearl since we didn't do the work we didn't get the results. So lets stick to it."
If kids get too busy in playing they will forget the skills. Like reading, I am teaching her phonics, spelling etc. If I don't reinforce she will forget. So regular practice is a must. I would share this with every parent.
If you had to give any one piece of advice to a parent what will it be?
Crima: Even Pearl would tell you, practice makes it perfect. Regular practice. No practice, no playdate.
What happens if she throws a tantrum?
Crima: Then she doesn't get to do anything. You can do pretend play on your own. No TV. TV is her favorite pastime.
How did you come up with this? Was this how you were raised?
Crima: I cant enforce these rules without learning what she likes and dislikes and knowing how much is her attention span. When I first enrolled her in this class I was so nervous. I mean she was just four years old and this was her first class. I was nervous whether she could be able to sit for one hour, but I was very happy to see the results and her improvement. Then, she was moved to two hour classes and I was shocked with that.
I will tell you why the kids do very well. There is a structure and the kids know the structure. We break up the two hours, so the kids are not doing the same thing for the whole time period.
Crima: Really I’m coming to this class, which is so far for me, but sometimes I get nervous and start asking whether we will be able to make it? Will we be able to drive her here and take her to all the different classes? But she says "no, we have to go here, we have to continue this, we cannot stop this."
Edit: Pearl also got accepted into Woodbridge NJ's Program for Exceptionally Gifted and Talented. She also accelerated from fifth grade to seventh grade.