Bright Children and Fast Phonics – One Mother’s Story

July 17, 2016 4:30 pm Published by

Oh dear, the first episode of Child Genius and already the metaphorical guns are out and taking aim. ”Poor kids,” I was told, ”bullied and pushed into achieving,” they said, ”child cruelty” and the one I personally dislike, ”let kids be kids.” Emily Martin of the Cambridge News of 16 July 2016 calls it, ‘Channel 4’s sanitised version of the Hunger Games.’ Sorry Emily but you just do not understand bright children.

Children will always be children and bright children automatically turn learning into a game. Extremely bright children love learning. They sop up facts, dates, figures – anything and everything their wonderful brains encounter, while still being children.

My own son never spoke until age three due to constant middle ear problems. With fast phonics the moment he was verbal, he scorched through to confident reading and by age five, when he began school, had a reading age of twelve. In reception his ‘interesting’ words for ‘Word Time’ at school were ‘equilibrium’ and ‘equanimity’ – both of which he defined to a startled teacher. Throughout Primary school he hungered for facts – from age three his favourite books were the Time Life editions of ancient Egypt, Rome, Russia and Greece, which he carried everywhere. In Australia, at school he was encouraged and applauded and his IQ was set at 125.

We arrived in England when he was ten and the battle began. His village school Headmaster laughed at me across his desk and arrogantly asked what sort of IQ testing did they have in Australia, the subtext being it might be phases of the moon or crystal gazing.

Worse was to come at the local Comprehensive where, after six months or so of achieving top marks day after day, I thought maybe things were improving. Wrong. The Headmaster called me in to say in view of Marc’s achieving commendations per day, compared to the other children’s commendation per term, he had told his staff my son was to have no more commendations, regardless of the quality or quantity of his work. The reason? The other children were becoming upset. He further added Marc’s manners were exceptional and that he would be better off at a fee paying school. Not once did he say or imply our child was clever.

We sold our Sydney home, invested in our son’s education and after many weeks of searching, begging for a day place at every private school within reach of where we lived, finished up by dint of family connections, securing the only place available, as a boarder at Brighton College. He felt cast adrift, I was distraught. This only child, my child, was a victim of his own intelligence.

As a member of a large family, and fuelled by Enid Blyton, I myself had longed to go to boarding school. But for my son, to be forced away from home, was crippling, especially as the bullying did not stop. Once again from both staff and peers. At parent evenings his teachers would remark that he was clever, then add, ”But not as as bright as you think.”

We moved him to beautiful Brentwood School, where a brilliant house-master and English teacher both permitted and encouraged him to be intelligent. He emerged from the sixth form with three excellent A levels, a special level in English for gifted students, an O level in law and Oxbridge (a year early) plus the school’s prize for French Literature. At age sixteen he took himself to Mensa (a promise to a friend) and was rated in the top one percent. A scholarship to Oxford, glittering prizes along the way, he won the England Law Moot and became a barrister.

But I was bruised and he was bruised. All because he was highly intelligent.

As we step forward inro a new era post Europe, England desperately needs its brains, its Hawkings, Cricks, Newtons and Turings. We must learn to treasure them. Today, intelligent children are sidelined and squashed into The Oxford Reading Tree at the reading rate of their peers. If your child is super clever don’t be afraid or put off. Let him/her explore the world of knowledge at will. Because very few have access to grammar schools you can help your child to cope within the system. Importantly, never refuse to do any work the school prescribes. Make sure he reads – he will make short work of fast phonics – then give him a reading, colouring, facts book to work on silently, in school, when he has completed his set work. Teach him modesty and take advantage of the holiday activities provided by Universities and Councils. Provide a steady diet of varied information and facts – and talk, talk, talk. Clever children chat, compare, research, reveal, question and chat and chat again. Be there, this precious gem needs you to form his ‘force field’ of protection and achievement.

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This post was written by Alonah Reading Cambridge

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