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Preparing your advanced tween for middle school

Kia Morgan Smith is a popular mommy blogger at Cincomom.com where she blogs about her life as a mom of five children and wife.

If you're child is an accelerated learner, they may not be challenged enough in their classes. SheKnows parenting expert Kia Morgan-Smith shares some tips to help advanced learners excel.

Getting your tween prepared for middle school is like watching a toddler weeble and wobble while learning to walk. There’s excitement, fear and uncertainty along this independent path. Even more, if you've got an accelerated learner, the last thing you want is for her to get stuck in the mud because the classes aren't challenging enough. It’s an issue many parents like me have to deal with and find ways to overcome to help keep a smart kid from falling through the cracks.

Ways to prepare

If you have a really smart kid, he is doing a delicate dance between owning up to being a nerd and giving in to the pressure to be a “cool” kid. And although you want to be the safety net for your child and keep him from failing during this new educational phase, this is the time to help him embrace changes, tackle increased homework demands and deal with the rigors that come with the middle school curriculum.

Becoming an avid reader

One way to keep your child ahead of the curve is to have her join a book club or study group that’s a year (or years) ahead of her grade level. Be sure to check out the activities at your local library to see if it has weekly book clubs. Most do. This is a great way for your child to analyze what she has read — a critical skill that will be assessed on a state achievement test she will have to take!

Online resources for advancement

There’s nothing more stressful to a middle schooler than having to haul around a bunch of heavy books that he can hardly read or doesn’t like to read. Reading is going to be the core of his curriculum, and everything else revolves around that. Getting your child acclimated to reading really is a habit that should start from day one, when he is an infant, but you can foster a love of reading in him later on as well. If your child is into superheroes, then buy him comic books so he can become more interested in what he is reading. If your child doesn’t care for contemporary literature but loves to cook, buy him a cookbook and have him read the recipes and measure out ingredients to make a meal. And if you already have a bookworm, there are programs online like MyOn.com, which is a resource that will let your smart kid browse a digital library and become immersed in hundreds of titles, take reading assessment quizzes and work on fluency. You’ll be able to measure his reader metrics to monitor how he is faring over time.

Special services

There are other special programs you may not know about. When most people hear the term “special education,” it makes them uneasy, and most parents don’t want to face the fact that their child may need special education services. What you may not know is that your schools gifted program falls under the umbrella of special education! You can ask for your child to be evaluated in middle school for inclusion in the gifted program, and if she tests and scores well, she will receive special services right at her school! It will be like having a private-school education in a public-school setting. Under the gifted plan, your child will be included in an Individualized Education Plan, and the school will be required by state law to ensure that your child receives additional services and extra resources. That means an extra teacher, extra lessons and the extra challenge that will keep her brain bubbling!

Also, know that there are recruiters looking to identify your smart kid right now, to offer him scholarships to attend their camps and programs or to just track him until he starts his college search. How do you connect with these recruiters? The Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) is a gifted-education program based at Duke University. The Duke TIP identifies gifted children and provides them and their parents with the resources for them to reach their full educational potential. The Duke TIP operates in 16 states throughout the South and Midwest: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Indiana.

Children are also identified as part of the 4th–6th Grade Talent Search and/or as part of the 7th Grade Talent Search. In the 7th Grade Talent Search, students take the SAT or ACT. If a student does exceptionally well on the exam, she can receive state and even national recognition for her efforts. This usually entails a congratulatory letter, medals and an invitation to attend an awards ceremony. In 2013, 64,000 students in the 7th grade took the SAT or the ACT.

Handling homework

Although you may feel confident that your smart kid can handle homework, let’s face it — handling homework is not going to be easy. The best way to approach it is to ensure that your child’s teacher provides a weekly outline of assignments, what’s expected and when it’s due. And with more schools becoming more tech savvy, check to see if your child’s school has an online parent portal system where parents can log in and see all of their child’s homework assignments and test scores. For instance, the state of New York has implemented ARIS Parent Link, a secure online location where parents can find information about daily attendance; NY State test results, including Regents exams; report card grades and unofficial transcripts. Parents can also find extra activities to do at home with their child.

With these extra resources, your smart kid will get all the extra help he needs to survive the hectic middle school years.

More on parenting

Parenting a gifted child
The downside to having a smart kid
Signs your child is gifted

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