My Son's First True Peers

Group of Happy Kids

Before my son started school, he was a happy, confident little boy. I admit that it took me a while to understand him. He was not like the other kids I had known. But he was an absolute joy and pleasure to be around. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was quite witty, even as a little kid. He was personable and quite social, too.

My favorite story that illustrates his social skills is the one about one of our visits to the local park.

The second I parked the car, he hopped out and started off to the park. I had to hurry, but caught up with him as he was chatting up a mom and her kids sitting at a picnic table. When I arrived, my son introduced himself and added, "And this is my mom, Carol. Do you mind if we join you?"  He was four. No socialization issues there.

Since I had to work, I needed to find daycare for my son. At age three, my son started attending the perfect preschool. It was a genuinely multiage Day Care Center/Preschool. Kids from age two all the way up to age eleven or twelve attended. It was the Day Care/Preschool for a local commuter college, so parents who had to attend classes dropped their kids off after their schools let out or when their schools had the day off.

The Center rather small and didn't have separate rooms for different ages. All the kids were allowed to mingle as they saw fit. My son opted to mingle with the older kids, who enjoyed his company.

That included the older kids who showed up when their schools weren't open. But then we hit kindergarten, and we had to deal with age segregation, the practice of segregating children into separate classrooms based on nothing more than their age.

My son, who had been enjoying the company of children representing a wide range of ages was now forced to interact exclusively with only those kids who were around the same age - all within a year of another.

It was  an intellectually stifling experience for him and was emotionally painful - for both of us. It hurt to see him frustrated, alone and unhappy.

In the process of attempting to get a waiver from our public schools for my son to start kindergarten early (he missed the cut off by 28 days), I had learned about Saturday programs for gifted kids. The closest one to us was at least an hour and a half away from us. I didn't care. I could drive that distance. So I enrolled him in the Super Saturday program at Purdue University. His first course was a course about dinosaurs, one of his favorite subjects. We live in a different time zone, so in order to get him to his 9:30 class on time, we had to be on the road by 6:30 am. Every Saturday for nine weeks. 

The class started in January. By this time, my son had spent half a school year in a frustrating, stifling, and emotionally stressful environment. I didn't know what to expect when we arrived at the university. All the courses were held in various rooms in the education building.

There were quite a few of them, too. The hallways were full of kids scurrying through the hallways with their parents as they sought out their classrooms.

Here were hundreds of kids of all ages, some, like my son, from miles and miles away, all of whom had given up their Saturdays to LEARN. These were kids like mine. They bubbled with enthusiasm. You could see the excitement about the class they were about to start in their eyes, in their step, and in their voices. They all looked just like my son. I was completely overwhelmed. After a couple of years of feeling alone and struggling to get my son's needs met in school with little success, I was now surrounded by kids and their parents who were like us! I couldn't keep the tears from welling in my eyes. It was an emotional moment.

When classes were over, I went to pick up my son from his classroom. He was happy. Very happy. He was almost like that little four-year-old who had no problem chatting up new people. He was so excited about the class, showing me what he had done, introducing me to some of the other kids, and dragging me to talk to the teacher.

My son talked almost non-stop on the nearly two-hour drive home. He didn't talk about the course alone either. He talked about the other kids in his class. Here was a roomful of kids his age who loved dinosaurs as much as he did, who could all talk endlessly about various dinosaurs and the eras in which they lived. He got to share what he knew about the micropachycephalosaurus with kids who actually wanted to know about it and who didn't think he was weird for knowing it or for wanting to share what he knew.

This was the first time my son had been surrounded by his true peers. They were kids his age, with the same interests, and with similar abilities. The experience helped me understand just how important those true peers are to gifted children. Being with their true peers helps make anything else they must endure more tolerable; at least it gives them a respite from the tedium and sometime torture of their regular classes. And so we drove almost two hours every Saturday for nine weeks twice a year - for nine years.

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