The Problem with Colin

When I pick Colin up from school, I wait for him right outside the front doors - and he's usually one of the first to come bounding out, a huge smile on his face. But yesterday, kids started pouring through the doors and he wasn't among them. I saw a kid from his class, then another, and another, until his entire class had whizzed by ... and still no Colin.

Finally I saw him, after it seemed like 90% of the school had left. He came out, with his teacher (Mrs. L.) holding his hand. "Do you have a few minutes to talk?" she asked.

My first thought was, "I'm so glad I wore makeup" - but y'all, I was wearing a cheap black v-neck tee that tends to stretch out within an hour or so of putting it on, showing an embarrassing amount of boob sag cleavage. I was dangerously close to the hour mark, so I held the baby up to block the view of my breastuses, and dutifully followed the teacher inside - Cameron and Coby in tow. Parent-teacher conferences are only a week away. What could be so urgent that she needed to speak to me about it now?

We sat down in the classroom, and Mrs. L. said, "Colin is doing really well academically. He's reading, writing ... he's very bright. In fact, he's been meeting with the gifted-and-talented teacher for a half-hour every Wednesday." (That was news to me.) "But he's having some problems socially ... some problems with not wanting to do what the rest of the class is doing." She thrust a pile of papers onto the table. "Here's today's work."

I rifled through it. He had sloppily written a row of M's - you could tell he was in a hurry - and a row of A's. He had completed a pattern correctly on a worksheet, apple, tree, apple, tree, but hadn't colored it. And there were a few odd circles and a strip cut out of one of his papers. I frowned.

"This is what he was doing when he was supposed to be doing his work," Mrs. L. said, and handed me the cut-out strip. It had glue on each end; I could tell it was supposed to be a bracelet. One side said, "FOR MOM" and the other side said, "I LOVE YOU MOM." My heart broke.

"It's gotten worse over the course of this week," she continued. "He doesn't want to participate. He wants to get up and do his own thing. He talks to the other kids while they're trying to do their work."

I watched him from across the room, his blonde head bobbing past the bookshelves as he showed his little brother the blocks. I wanted to cry. Like any parent, I had hoped he would get to school and excel. Obviously, though, that wasn't the case. "The gym teacher, the music teacher, the art teacher - they've all expressed the same concerns," Mrs. L. said.

I couldn't deny it. We have the same problem at home. On the one night of the week when he has homework, he just does. not. want. to do it. And it's always stuff that's easy for him - things he could do with his eyes closed. This week he had to write, "I am Colin. I am 5. I am a boy." Had he just sat down and done it, he'd have been finished in two minutes. And yet it was like pulling teeth. He had no problem drawing and diagramming the parts of an apple - something that he wanted to do on his own, that he came up with himself - but when it came to his assigned sentences, he didn't want any part of it. I guess, though, that I was stupid enough to think that attitude wouldn't transfer over into the school environment.

"So ... what can we do?" I asked Mrs. L. helplessly.

"Well, we can move him to a separate desk, away from the rest of the class," she said. "It might minimize distractions."

Yeah. It might minimize distractions. But it might also make him feel singled out, naughty, ostracized from the rest of his class. And that isn't what I want for my son.

That's how it starts: a separate desk. Then pretty soon he'll be out in the hall. Or in the principal's office. Or someone will be suggesting that we dope him up with Ritalin so he'll sit down and shut up.

It makes me sad and angry, all at the same time. I know my son isn't an ill-behaved child - he isn't doing the things he's doing because he's naughty. And he isn't suffering from some attention deficit: I have seen him watch a vocal cord surgery on YouTube, glued raptly to the screen the whole time, or spend an hour writing his own book. No one is going to tell me that he has an inability to pay attention. He just doesn't pay attention to the stuff he's supposed to be paying attention to - and therein lies the problem.

I agree wholeheartedly that he needs to learn to listen; to do what he's supposed to do, when he's supposed to do it. I mean, that's how the real world works - sometimes we have to suck it up and do things we don't want to. But there's a bigger piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing here. He clearly needs something different than what he's getting, and shouldn't have to feel wrong or singled out because he has a different learning style. He is, on all accounts, a special-needs child. And if he were special-needs at the other end of the spectrum - mentally disabled, or academically behind - the school would be bending over backwards trying to accomodate him: not trying to making him accomodate them. Obviously, the half-hour a week of gifted-program curriculum (which basically boils down to some accelerated reading) isn't going to cut it - but from what I can tell, that's all his school offers. It's pitiful. Don't even get me started on who "No Child Left Behind" really left behind.

I'm not trying to sound over-dramatic here, but I can see the flame of his love of learning being snuffed out before my very eyes. The more Colin is made to conform, the more he's going to hate it. He's going to hate school. And he's got so, so many more years of school to go. I want him to blossom ... not wilt.

I get so much valuable advice from you guys - and I know that as parents and educators, some of you have experienced this type of thing before. I need your help. Colin needs your help. His parent-teacher conference is next Thursday, and I want to gather my thoughts before then.

Thank you in advance for all the wonderful words of wisdom I know I'm going to get ... and I promise, I'll be back on Monday with something funny. :) Love y'all!



  1. Sadly I had no help to offer, because I'm totally with him, school sucks, and society with all it's rules sucks too.
    However I think that he will accustom to it, quite soon.

  2. I know this feeling because last year at school we had the same issues with Hayden. He went to kindergarten and had all kinds of problems with focusing.

    Hayden too is a really bright kid but he didn't want to do the school work. He was a disruption in class because he was done first or didn't want to do the work at all.

    It was recommended to us to move him into a young 5's class room with a smaller class size. He could get more attention from the teacher.

    He still struggled with behavior but improved as the year went on and Jeff and I started working with him on focusing.

    Hayden like Colin can sit and play video games or draw pictures for hours so I know that he can focus its just that he has to learn to do it when he doesn't always want too.

    So over the summer, we had Hayden sit and do work book pages and if he did so many he would earn a prize. We talked to him about following the rules in school and how he needs to focus better. We have a goal system set up for him where with so many good reports from his teacher, he earns different things.

    And this year, he started Kindergarten again and things seem to be better.

    We have boys and the school system is not made for boys who mature more slowly than girls. Boys are just not made to sit still and focus on paper work all the time.

    Hayden will be six in October and it seems that finally his maturity level is nearing the other kids in his class.

    Sorry for the long comment, I just know what you are going through. If you want to discuss it more, please email me. We can share ideas. :)

  3. Colin has been in school for only what?? a month? He needs TIME to get into the routine. It is all new to him and every year with my boys it has been something. just two days ago Anthony's first grade teacher (after I had his eyes checked and they were fine) told me he just didn't want to look at what the class was learning about and would not aknowledge her when she was showing him how to do something. His dad and I had a very serious conversation with him regarding how important it is to do what the class is doing and the next day he was much improved. Of course, everyday won't be great but YOU AND CURTIS have to tell him it's important and the teacher needs to give him a little time to improve, I think.

  4. I'm going to ask if you've ever considered homeschool or schooling at home? There is a program called K12, it's available in most states through the public school system for free and available in every state as a private school you pay a tuition for. They send you books, supplies, and everything(minus a few consumables) that you'll need for the entire year. Doing something like this will allow YOU to foster his love of learning, teach him at his level, let him go at his own pace(within reason still following the guidelines) and allow him to excell without the headache of the public school system. It's not easy, that's for sure, but it's soooo worth it! Otherwise, it looks like you've got alot of good advice here and I wish you the best of luck!

  5. You are totally describing me. And the problem (if you want to call it that) is that he's bored. He's bright. That's what it sounds like to me. Exceptionally bright. There is absolutely no challenge, for him, in what the teacher is having him do. Why does he have to prove he learned this NOW - he learned it last week...or last month...

    It's me to a "T". (Not calling myself bright, but I was definitely always bored!)

    I excelled when teachers gave me something above and beyond the curriculum to work on. He's supposed to write I'm a boy and I'm 5 and whatnot. Teachers would tell me to write "I'm a girl and my name is Lori and my parents are x and y and I live on z and my favorite thing to do is swim". Teachers would tell the class to figure out 2+23. They'd tell me to figure out 2+23/5. By third grade they wanted me to skip a grade.

    I was fortunate in being able to attend private schools and our teachers would develop curriculums for each of the 28 students in my class. A curriculum for this person, a curriculum for that person. It was an exceptional opportunity and I thrived because of it.

    When I switched to public schools in Jr. High, my education took a major hit. I was expected to do the work and then sit quietly and wait for everyone to catch up with me. Yeah, yeah, x+by=26. Got it. What's next? Nothing, Lori, sit quietly. Well, hell - that's boring. Hey...Tammy...what are YOU doing? Oh, your working...hey...Angela...what are YOU doing? Oh, you're working, too. Well, what happens if I drop this book off my desk (Physics much?)? Or what happens if I write this letter to my friend when she's not so busy afterall?

    It was a downward spiral met with me being sent to "inhouse suspension" for four days out of five. My mom was called in. "Make her behave!". "Well, what's she doing?", she asked. "Well, Lori finishes her assigments faster and she then distracts the class". "Well then come up with more work for her or move her to gifted and talented". "Unfortunately, the teachers cannot be expected to work with each individual student and the gifted and talented class is full so she's going to have to learn to slow down".

    It wasn't until college that I was able to shake the shackles off and get back to being me.

    If you have any other options, pursue them. I agree with you, don't pursue ridalin..don't pursue anything other than allowing Colin to fluorish. He sounds exceptional - just like his mother!

  6. I agree with Kendall. There are so many great programs you could go with. When I work with Conner. We go at her pace. She also has public school, but I know there are things I can help her with. I get a lot of handouts (worksheet) from kidzone. Conner is autistic so it's not exactly the same, but she does have a problem with concentrating on what the teacher wants her to do. Kids have different ways of learning sometimes the public schools don't meet the needs of those with different learnig styles.

  7. In most cases I wouldn't suggest home schooling because it's detrimental to social skills and most parents aren't good at teaching everything to a child. My future sister-in-law is homeschooling her daughter and she's a brat all the time, she just isn't a very good parent to lay down the law. However, I think you should check out some advanced homeschooling and see about him doing half/quarter days at school where he would attend 'music class' or 'gym class' (the classes where he would interact most with children). You've been doing a good job educating him thus far especially since he's advanced so far. There are homeschooling groups but being part of the midwest means being near all the Bible thumpers, so it might be too religious. Could you also look into private schools that would allow him to skip grades or another public school that offers a more rigorous gifted and talented program (My fiance and I were both in part of those type of programs at our public schools and there were a lot of students in our programs--we weren't ostracized since there were so many of us). Another suggestion is to sit down with Colin and ask him what he feels is so boring at school and try to coax him into doing the boring stuff. I would also ask the teacher to give him additional assignments on top of the stuff he's currently supposed to do.

  8. This sounds like my boyfriend almost exactly. The problem is, like a previous commenter said, that Colin is too smart and he's bored. When you posted about all his interests the other day, I thought to myself...this kid is like John and I feel really bad for him if he gets a teacher that doesn't get it.

    Please don't let them separate him out...he will hate school. And do not medicate him...there is nothing wrong with him that requires medication. He shouldn't be made to feel different or wrong because he's smarter than everyone else. He should feel lucky.

    I don't have kids so I haven't had to deal with this. But I know what John's told me about his experiences and how he wished that things were different for him. My advice is this...I don't know what your school situation is in your area, but try to get him into a different with a better gifted program or at least with a smaller class size. If that fails, I would consider the home schooling option if you think you could do it (I don't think I could).

    He will probably grow out of this phase...John certainly did. But he didn't really understand what was expected of him until he was a little older...probably closer to junior high.

    And know what is best for him...don't let the teachers or the school push you around. Good luck and please let us know what happens.

  9. Rita:
    I'm new here to your blog. Allyson sent me over here after she read your post. Allyson was my Tucker's voice teacher for eight years, and she sees Tucker in your description of your son, down to the glasses. And I think that she would agree that he's the hardest kid she's ever taught.
    He was hard. He's still hard. But I made it through--he's a freshman in college this year. And, although I can't understand exactly what it's like for you, I do understand your feelings. And heartache, and wishing, and struggling.
    You're welcome to email me (address on my blog). But I think it would be great to talk, as well. Email me, and I'll send you my number.

    And maybe Allyson can give you her side of the story--a different perspective on the same kid.

  10. I think you need to retitle this "The Beauty of Colin".

    I struggle with this too, with Eldest. Notsomuch the behavior problems, but the fact that he's BORED in school and NOT CHALLENGED. He has an Oct birthday, so he's already one of the oldest in his class, and could easily be in 4th grade instead of 3rd, academically-wise. It's tough. As far as I know, we have NO gifted and talented program. I'm anxiously awaiting our parent-teacher conference so I can let his teacher know that he needs to be challenged. So far, all his papers have been 100's. Ugh.

    1. It so totally should be retitled!
      I have two of the same problems. I have one who is creative and kind and socially attuned who does not like to sit still and I have one who is too dang smart for his own good who gets bored and frustrated. Embrace his differences. Then tell his teacher to suck it. If she was half as smart as she is snooty then she would see it too.
      I was told be my youngest's preschool teacher a couple years ago that "gifted is rarely ever a gift". So wise.

  11. Another suggestion that I have is since he is doing the work but just not doing it perfectly, is to remind him that he needs to do it correctly. I would race through my work as a child and if it was done sloppily, I had to do it over again. You could add in another goal into the assignment that way he's motivated by something else. He'll notice that you're paying attention to the quality of his work and that it's important to do something correctly.

  12. This post actually made me cry, Rita. I am so sorry this is what Colin's introduction to education has been like. Obviously he is bright and incredibly eager to learn. This completely struck me as so true and yet not at all in line with the philosophy of most schools:

    "And if he were special-needs at the other end of the spectrum - mentally disabled, or academically behind - the school would be bending over backwards trying to accomodate him: not trying to making him accomodate them."

    I think making Colin sit at a separate desk is downright horrifying and cruel. Colin is obviously bored out of his skull. And I think he probably isn't getting much out of worksheets (I must say, they are the very part of Jonah's curriculum that I find most worthless and eye-roll worthy). I do not think it is up to the teacher to determine how to quiet and pretty much kill the spirit in Colin. I think it is up to her, and you, and the school to figure out how to enhance Colin's learning experience and engage his innate curiosity. His intelligence is so beautiful and pure. That needs to be honored and fostered.

    I have some friends who are teachers and some friends with exceptionally gifted children. I'm gonna point them over here and see if they can give you some advice.

    Love to you & that amazing kid of yours!

  13. It seems like he needs a challenge class. I was one of the youngest kids in my class, but I was usually bored, especially in the earlier years. My Mother had taught us all to read, write and do simple math problems before we went to kindergarten, so I literally remember thinking that the other kids were "slow." I know now that they were all at a normal learning level, but was hard to sit through 2 years of school "learning" everything I already knew before I got there!

  14. Sounds to me like he doesn't want to do the work because it's too easy and he's BORED. If he's smart enough that they have him meeting with the gifted teacher, why aren't they talking about bumping him up a grade?

  15. I don't really have advice, but just know that I'm rooting for you. Whatever decision you make will be the right one.

  16. Rita, Colin sounds a lot like Zane...only probably LESS on the ornery side! Zane is also very intelligent. He went to the principal about once each week last year. He had 26 other kids in his kindergarten class, so this year we switched him to a private school. He's now one of 14 and doing MUCH better. Yes, we've seen the principal there twice, but I really feel like it's helping. The teachers have more time to work directly with each student, allowing them to differentiate instruction more effectively so that each student is challenged, not frustrated and not bored. If any smaller class sizes are available to you, I highly recommend it. If not, maybe send activities with him to school for when he gets bored...things that will encourage his intellectual growth, rather than stifle it:-)

    Good luck!


  17. Ok, I actually came to the comment section to suggest homeschooling, and as a homeschooling parent, I find the comment about the ONE homeschooled brat equalling homeschooling being detrimental to social skills offensive. MY child is one of the most polite young children I know. Just today, he went up to the clerk at the bookstore, and said "Excuse me? Do you have a trash can?" and "Thanks!" When the clerk took his cup. It was cute! You know what, kids run the gamut, in school or homeschool. Agh.
    Anyway, my kid used to exhibit many of the same behaviors as your child, especially when I tried to force him to learn things he didn't want to, or show me he had learned something he thought was well done with. Once I put his learning in his own hands, things have gone much, much more smoothly. He is currently working at a 2nd grade level, because I'm worried that skipping ahead will cause him difficulties down the line, but in many cases, he would be doing just fine at a 3rd grade level. But that's only sort of a brief supplemental bit of work I have him do each day. Most of his learning is on his own terms. Just like your son wanted to do a drawing of an apple--which imparts so much information--much, much more than "My name is Colin. I am a boy. I am 5." anyway. I realize homeschooling is not for every family, but it really sounds like it would be ideal for your self-motivated, independent learner.

    If you absolutely won't consider homeschooling, there's a great bunch of women with lots of experience advocating for their gifted children at school at this forum:

  18. I'm a secondary school student in Singapore, so I don't really know much about what school is like there but I think Colin is bored out of his mind, because if he is as bright as it seems, the work they're assigning doesn't exactly seem constructive or challenging at all. Maybe they should bump him up a grade or you can transfer to another school with a programme for gifted students like him. In any case, good luck!

  19. I am a credentialed teacher without a classroom. If I had your son in a class I would find out what he was interested in and enjoyed. I would create assignments that interested him, have him read books that he was interested in and reward him with something he enjoys. Time on the computer or something. It doesn't sound like this teacher is familiar with creating assignments that keep children interested. I would talk to the principal about finding a teacher at his grade level that has a different approach. Or if another school might be an option or like someone suggested home school.

  20. This just breaks my heart! This is a child whose amazing mind may hold a cure for cancer, or the key to some major environmental issues for the world. To separate him in the classroom, or to suggest that if you put pressure on him long enough, he'll end up just like everyone else is ludicrous! He is a sweet, bright, enthusiastic kid who deserves to be appreciated for being himself.
    I wish I could afford to quit work and homeschool him myself, because I know you have your hands full with three little guys. But you and Curtis have done an awesome job so far and I know you could give him so much more than he'll ever get in the public school system. (Don't you wish we could clone your wonderful kindergarten teacher, Diane Gammon?!)
    Don't worry about socialization. He can learn to stand in line at Wal-Mart, take turns at Worlds of Fun, and get all the information he loves to research on the Internet and from the special trips you and the family always take. And all within the loving and nurturing surroundings of those who love him most.

  21. What I really dislike about the educational system is that like you say they do so much for kids with learning difficulties but there isn't much for brighter children. The way you describe the situation is sounds to me that Colin is bored at school because it is all too easy for him. The problem is that if the school doesn't help these children by giving them more challenges they lose them along the way. I hope it won't happen to Colin and that you and the school will find a solution that helps him thrive in this environment. Good luck and sorry I can't be of any more help x

  22. My heart goes out to you. I'm a Middle School teacher and I've had my share of challenging students. It helps a whole lot when everyone is on the same page. Maybe you should send Colin's teacher/s a copy of your post? Or find some way to let them know how you feel. If you don't agree with their plans (moving Colin away from the group), they need to know.

    There's a wonderful program called "Tools for the Mind." One strategy that they use is role-playing. For example if the kids are supposed to work on their writing skills, they can pretend they're a waiter and need to take somebody's order. It's a lot more fun then just staying in your seat and writing the same thing over and over again. You can try it at home, see if it works, then sneak it into the conversation during PTC. ;)

  23. When I was in school, I was Colin.

    I had the good fortune to attend a small school, a long time ago, with teachers who were willing to let me do my own thing (usually read something form the adult library) after my other work was finished. Right now, obviously Colin has no similar light at the end of the drudgework tunnel.

    I don't know if you have the opportunity to send Colin to a charter school? In our area they have been very successful at re-creating the caring, small-school atmosphere.

  24. I know you have little kids at home still, and this might be hard to do, but you might consider just going to his class and observing him. My mom did this for me when I was in kindergarten and she noticed some of my learning issues right away that the teacher just hadn't had the change to see. You and the teacher also might want to work out some sort of incentive program for him that he can do at shcool and which is continued at home for doing his work etc. I know gifted is rarely seen as a special needs issue, but it truly is. I would also try and see if the teacher or any of her coworkers have experienced this with other kids and maybe refer you to those parents for support. Good luck. :)

  25. He needs to be challenged academically. Skipping a grade might be a good idea if that would get him advanced enough material. If he needs something more than that, perhaps he could do independent learning. I had an Algebra book at my desk in school that I taught myself while the rest of the class was learning fractions or whatever. Doing your own thing isn't a problem for teachers or the rest of the class if its a quiet and constructive activity. What learning opportunity could he focus on quietly at his desk? Maybe a book on surgeries?

  26. This was me in first grade and my teacher put me in a box. An effin box! To keep me "focused".

    Don't let them box Colin in. Make them challenge him!!!!

  27. Check into a local college that offers education degrees and see if they offer a Children's school. We do here at Stephens (if you remember) and I know the teachers here work with the students on their ability level, not necessarily grade or age level. It will take Colin time to get adjust to school. Speak with the counselor at the school and see if some type of reward system can be worked out with him and the counselor or the teacher. If he does x,y,and z, he can do something that he likes to do for a different assignment. I'm not sure what any other answer would be. Schools are not really made for those who struggle or those who excel. They want everyone to be average and those who aren't, are left sitting alone.

  28. We are having the same problems with my daughter in her kindergarten class. Her teacher told me she is immature. No crap. She's five. :( I have no idea what to do...


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