Three-Year-Old College Material?



A. took a test last Spring (2013) to ensure that he really belonged in the Johns Hopkins University math program for talented youth. It’s an above grade level standardized test and, honestly, we did nothing to prepare for it. This probably doesn’t surprise you, if you’ve followed our journey of parenting A., at all.


Anyway, he took the test and a month or so after, we got his scores. His verbal score was very, very good. His math score was even higher. Still, we didn’t know much about what it all meant other than, according to the accompanying paperwork, he qualified to do coursework across the board with them, should we choose.


We did not choose that. We chose to keep him in their math program, but continued handling reading, language, etc. through the regular school. It is so, so important to me that our child have abundant teacher and peer interaction.


A few months after that, we received notice that A. would be honored in a ceremony for the top scorers on that test. It’s kind of complicated, but it goes basically like this– in order to be eligible to even TAKE the above grade level test, one needs to score in the 96th or higher percentile on a regular standardized test. Of those qualified to take the test, the highest scorers are culled and recognized. I don’t know exactly how great an honor it really is, but, since one of the ceremonies was taking place at Yale University, right here in Connecticut, it wasn’t too hard for us to reply that “yes, we’d be there.”


We went yesterday.


As we sat among these other families, it was super interesting to take in the wide array of children before us. I would say that, in comparison to the general population, there was a disproportionate number of homeschooled children and also only children. Other than that, however, they all really ran the gamut. There was lots of social awkwardness and some clear discomfort on the stage. (Not my kid– he lives for the mic and stage. ;) )


I listened to the master of ceremonies and was fasincated to learn the history of the program. She pointed out that they thought it was critical that the truly gifted high academic performers be recognized much the way top athletes should be recognized. It was well-said and well-received. Of course, we were, admittedly, a good audience for that line of thought.


She went on to talk about how the program has spread all over the world and why that’s important. She ended with the statement, “the opportunity to take this coursework has impacted children of all ages and nationalities– we’ve had a child as young as three doing our math curriculum.”


preschool math

(What A. was doing at age 3.)


I smiled with the crowd and said nothing.


Until late last night.


Well after the kiddos were sleeping, I tucked my legs up under me on the couch and turned to my husband. I asked him, “Is it bad that it made me sad to hear that a three-year-old was doing Johns Hopkins math online?”


“No,” came his blunt reply. (Can I just stop and say that I find it both wonderful and maddening how simple men can be in their responses? No elaboration necessary! Ha!)


“But, I mean,” I went on (<– because: GIRL), “does that make me hypocritical? Am I sounding jealous? Because I’m really not. I know what it’s like to have a gifted preschooler. And, you know, I’m not at all saying that A. could have handled that level of math at age three. This child could be absolutely off-the-charts genius and maybe I don’t understand that?”


I paused. He waited.


“But… I mean… THREE. I just think that there has be something other than a university computer program for a child who’s three. Surely there are ways to keep him happy and engaged and learning without being so serious and structured. Wouldn’t you think? I mean… there’s just so much time for this. It’s like I always say about why we don’t have A. work on his program at home. How far ahead does he really need to get? Why are we rushing that?”


He blinked. Gave me a half-smile. And finally said, “No, you’re not a hypocrite. You remember age three. You remember the wonder and fascination and exploration and all that goes along with it. You remember having to write algebraic equations in the steam on the shower door to keep him interested. You remember guiding a dimpled, chubby hand to form the numerals to answer the questions that he could already solve, but didn’t know how to write. A computer program can’t do those things.”


We sat there, in silence, just thinking about it all.


I’m really not judging this family. I can’t really fathom having a three-year-old who needs a college’s math program to meet his needs. It’s strange enough having a child who started it in second grade! So, I know I haven’t walked in their shoes.


But, man… three?


I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t still make me feel a little sad.


Of course, there are times it makes me sad that my nine-year-old does his math on a screen instead of with other live people.


So maybe it’s just my problem.


I don’t know.


Why don’t you tell me what you all think? Recognizing that none of us really know this family or their exact situation (and I’m not going to accuse you judging– just of having an opinion), what is your gut reaction to hearing about a three-year-old doing an all-computer math program through a university?

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10 comments to Three-Year-Old College Material?

  • Personally, I think it depends on the rest of the kids life. Is the kid spending much of the day on the computer? Are the parents allowing for lots of play and reading? Are they pushing the kid to learn more or is it used to keep the kid engaged in something? (Does the kid need that mental stimulation that the parents can’t give? Because I’m horrible at math!)

    I’m moving to computer based classes for my DS for a couple subjects this year. He truly enjoys learning this way and many times it helps him retain certain info better than worksheets. We’ll be supplementing with other forms of learning, but I think that as a parent we just have to do the best we can trying to figure out how our kids learn best with whatever we have available.

    • Great points, Donielle, and– I think– that’s how we approach education with our older, school-aged children. It’s the age, not the method, that I question, to be honest. I just don’t know that I think a 3yo NEEDS a computer-based, college math program, no matter how brilliant or precocious he is. There are SO many other things that three-year-olds need to learn and do to develop and I just wonder if that computer math is really necessary for his happiness and engagement or (and I’m just throwing this out there because I’ve SEEEN it in this community) if the parents are just so amazed by their child that they want to see him do more and more because, frankly, it’s incredible.

  • Celine

    So far from a hypocrite.

    I honestly think that 3yr olds should be playing and socializing and learning basic life skills not doing advanced math on the computer no matter what their ability may be. There is a whole lifetime for that kind of work and waiting to do it truly is not going to hurt a child that is really at that level. They will never miss the window of opportunity for learning something.

    • Celine

      Also just cause the child can do it doesn’t mean he/she understands it and can apply it to real life situations. Also it is more important that they be sure the child has the base knowledge to support the more advanced stuff.

      We struggled with my oldest making sure that she could demonstrate a clear base knowledge of certain skills to support where she was academically. Not that we didn’t know she could do those things but her school has a very clear build onto focus. Even if you can do c, d, e they need to first see that you can do a & b.

      • Hmmm… this is a really good and interesting point, Celine, and one I’m going to have to ponder and think on! (Not because I disagree, but because I find it a fascinating thing to think about and analyze.)

  • Belinda

    I think if the 3 year old qualifies for the program, and is benefitting from it, then it works for that child.

    It IS different, but there is nothing typical about children who are that gifted. And who is to say his or her parents are not taking great care to create opportunities to socialize with peers and family? As long as the kid is thriving and the experience is positive, then I say “go for it!”.

    • “Who is to say…?” is exactly right, Belinda. Each child is unique and each circumstance will be, as well. I am hesitant to base the experiences of gifted children on what they qualify for, however, and this is an area in which I differ from many other parents, I realize. If we were to allow A. to partake in all he qualified for, he’d skip several grades, be reading mature and/or only classic literature, and who knows what else… it’s a constant juggling act, to be sure. With a three-year-old, the child’s whole world is pretty much a result of parental decisions and I guess I just haven’t personally met a child that age who would get the greatest benefit from such a program. Much like wearing high heels, there are little girls who can manage to stand on them, but that doesn’t mean they need to be wearing them– there are so many years for these things! I just want to let them be little while they can. :)

  • Belinda

    It is interesting. It reminds me of when I listen to my mother look back on how she raised me and my brother. What she seems to regret are not the things she took a chance on but didn’t work. She regrets the things she didn’t take a chance on and try. Trying something new is always a win-win.

  • Lori

    Definitely interesting. When I first heard about it my thought is that it’s for the parents, sure the child may have qualified, but really there is so much a 3 year old could be doing. My guess is that the child is gifted but the parents are more than happy to brag “my 3 year old is doing a special math program, what is your 3 year old doing?” My 4 year old has an amazing memory, I read a new book to her once and she reads it back to me almost word for word and she can’t read yet. I am constantly amazed at the ability of her memory, and she loves learning new things but I want her to be a typical 4 year old and play outside and make friends. We do some learning fun stuff for her because she enjoys it and of course she is starting preschool soon, but I would never put her into any kind of program this young. In a couple years when she can decide that’s what she wants then sure, but 3 is too young to make that decision. Around here (Oklahoma) 3 year olds aren’t even in preschool yet.

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