At the beginning of the year, Joe and I took Jake who was five and three quarters to a little church in Downers Grove to meet with Ruth who was going to assess him on behalf of Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development, an accredited learning center and research facility that identifies, educates and supports gifted students.

Since Jake usually decides whether he likes someone or not within the first five minutes of the initial encounter, we tried to prep him for the event.
“Jakey, mommy and daddy know you’re really smart. But you’ll have to show Ms. Ruth what a good reader you are and how well you know your numbers. She’ll ask you a lot of questions, and we need you to do your best answering them. Can you do that?”
“Sure!” Jake sounded happy and confident.

Ruth got Jake warmed up to her immediately. After an hour of testing, she invited us into her office and shared the results. Jake ranked 99.9% on both reading and math. Ruth was especially impressed with Jake’s ease at dealing with a total stranger and his willingness and persistence to solve tough problems. When asked what eight multiply by three was, Jake worked with his fingers for a few minutes and gave the correct answer. He also figured out the right answer when asked how many paper clips were in ten boxes if each had one hundred in it. Ruth said most kids his age would say one hundred and nine.

So Jake was identified as gifted by a highly credible academic institution and the journey continues. Joe and I attended a conference for the parents of the gifted and I was surprised to find that an alarming number of the gifted kids weren’t doing so well or even labeled as troublemakers in the public school system because they got bored easily. It didn’t change my mind to put Jake in the public school after a private kindergarten but I made a mental note to keep an eye on that.

At the first first-grade parent-teacher conference, his teacher told me that Jake was above grade for both math and reading and thus had been placed in enrichment reading and math. I was very pleased. I shared with Ms. Conant that my biggest concern was that since Jake was ahead, he might get bored and became a distraction in the class. Ms. Conant assured me that Jake was well-behaved, but if I had the concern, she might solicit Jake as her assistant to help the other kids.
“You know Jacob better than I do. Do you think he’ll enjoy doing something like that?” Ms. Conant asked.
“He’d love that!”
“That’s good to know.” Ms. Conant made some notes in her notepad.

At home, we continue to read daily and tackle workbooks on different subjects. We always remember to praise Jake on how hard he works instead of how smart he is. That’s the other thing we learned from the conference: it’s critically important to build the work ethics in the gifted children. Otherwise, their gift may hinder their future advancement because these kids don’t have to work as hard as their peers to get by. Jake seems to take a lot of pride in his work. He finished the second-grade word problem workbook a month ago and moved on to the third-grade one. Looking at the first page, he realized that it was going to be a challenge.
“I just finished the second-grade workbook. There is no reason I can’t solve the third-grade word problems. I should be able to do it!” He declared to himself.
“You are absolutely right, Jake. If you keep at it without giving up, you’ll be able to figure out the equations and then answers. And remember to draw pictures because they help you see the problems.”
“Right.” With that, he plunged into work.

Everyday Jake spends about thirty minutes reading with me and twenty to thirty minutes on the workbooks. He gets a break on Monday because of the swimming class in the evening. Jake is focused when he works which allows him to get things done quickly, correctly and independently.

Joe and I pay as much attention to Jake’s EQ as his IQ. Jake likes to lead and don’t play well with other kids who also want to be leaders. He gets along well with one of his best friends Anderson. But if Anderson’s other two friends are around, things can get intense pretty quickly, with Jake demanding to do things one way and Eric heading towards the other direction and poor Anderson stuck in the middle. But Jake seems to be aware of his limitations.

“Jake, do you want to go trick-or-treat with Anderson, Eric and Aaron?” I asked him the day before Halloween.
“Just Anderson.”
“But Anderson is going with his other friends.”
“I always get into a bad mood when Eric and Aaron are around, so I don’t think I want to go with them.”
“In that case, you and I will go as a pair. We are going to have lots of fun, right?”
“Of course!”

What we are trying to teach Jake is that a good leader is flexible and motivates people to follow his lead instead of demanding it. But at the age of six, it’s wise for him to avoid situations that will surely cause confrontations.

Jake’s other trait used to cause me some headaches: he wants to have nothing to do with people who don’t wow him in some fashion. So he shuts out most of our families in China. They don’t speak English, play computer games or know the names of his favorite singers. He just doesn’t think they are very smart. Jake gets annoyed when they try too hard to please him or get his attention.

My sister came with her daughter to visit us this past summer. Jake socialized with my niece but completely ignored my sister. He complained that my sister was too loud and too goofy and “everything has changed with your sister being here. When is she going to leave?” I told him that he didn’t have to like her, but he was expected to be nice to her. Jake wasn’t always nice. Joe and I went to China for a week mid-October and left Jake under the care of my sister and my 17-year-old daughter Michelle.

When I got back, I noticed that Jake was a lot friendlier with my sister. I asked him how things were when we were away.
“I made friends with your sister on the third day you left.” He said.
“That’s great! I am glad to hear that.”

My sister left a week later after a 3-month stay. I hope they won’t have to start all over again next time she visits.

I don’t exactly know how to teach Jake to value the differences in people instead of writing them off so quickly. Somehow I know we the parents have to serve as the role model for Jake. If Joe and I truly value and accept people of different ethnicity, religious background, political point of view, interests and habits, and if we do it consistently by actions instead of just words, Jake will get the message and mostly likely become more open and receptive to people who are different from him.

But it’s a journey and the exciting part is that we aren’t far from the starting line. There is so much to learn, to change and to accomplish.