Smart Kids

?Someone once told me that children are like kites. You struggle just to get them in the air; they crash; you add a longer tail. Then they get caught in a tree; you climb up and bring them down, and untangle the string; you run to get them aloft again.

Finally, the kite is airborne, and it flies higher and higher, as you let out more string, until it’s so high in the sky, it looks like a bird. And if the string snaps, and you’ve done your job right, the kite will continue to soar in the wind, all by itself.?

Charmian Carr


Now, ?smart? is defined in many ways ? David might be very clever with numbers, while Jill is witty and amusing, and Jason seems to be the most curious ? always asking ?But why?!? Most often we think of smart kids as having high IQs or making all A?s in school, obviously on their way to a stellar career in law or medicine.

So we worry about getting into the ?right? schools, and how good their teachers are; and we want them to have a perfect education. Obviously these are important; but even more important are certain other skills and characteristics that need to be promoted.

Life is full of surprises, not always good ones. Learning how to deal with these surprises requires developing certain attitudes and skills so we don?t stay off-balance. For example, we rant on about class sizes that are ?too large;? but we live in a crowded world where we must be able to get along with many people in all kinds of situations.

If a child is always in a small classroom with lots of individual attention, s/he may never learn how to become more independent in finding answers to questions, more confident in creating his/her own spaces, or more poised when s/he is jostled in the airport. These skills don?t suddenly happen ? they are created by a step-by-step learning process.

In fact, one school reality is that it?s simply not possible for every child to have a small class during all 12 or more years of their schooling ? not gonna happen. But given that we learn how to deal with tough situations by dealing with tough situations, it?s not the end of the world, either.

And that?s where parents come in as partners to the school, with caring and consistent help where needed. Learning how to learn, and how to take personal responsibility, in a classroom with 32 other students are critical lifelong skills ? and maybe next year Jason?s class will have only 18 kids.

Schools are microcosms of the world at large; and are organized to teach social and interpersonal skills as well as promote academic achievement. School is where children learn to get along with all types of personalities (including adult personalities), start thinking about different ideas, and learn new skills in diverse situations.

School is their ?work,? and a preparation for how successful they will be as adults. So, we?ll talk about the different dimensions of being smart, and what it means for life success, not just success in school.

SMART kids are:






You will notice that a high IQ is not in this list. As noted above, IQ has far less to do with success than many people assume, and the current emphasis on testing is not only unhealthy, but also damaging to many students. IQ is only one measure at one point in time, and it is influenced by many things that may have little to do with ultimate success. There are many examples of people with high IQs that are not successful because they haven?t learned to focus, or have few interests, or are simply not disciplined enough.  

Schools are about learning ? but in many ways, learning takes place everywhere. Your children are in school 6-7 hours day (less than half their waking hours) for only 180 days with 2-3 months off during the summer ? and then there?s weekends and holidays.

And academics is only part of their school day ? much of it also has to do with learning how to act around other people, and be part of a group of others that may look and dress differently, and who may have very different views of the world. These differences are becoming greater, not smaller, as we intermarry and travel the globe for both business and pleasure.

Today, there?s a vast array of information, instantaneous communications, the sound of many spoken languages everywhere, the spontaneity of split-second answers to our questions ? often questions we never asked! So schools have changed over the years ? I learn something new every time I walk into a classroom ? words and ideas that were never discussed when I was in school.

I once had a father incensed that his daughter was learning aeronautical principles as a senior in her high school AP science class, because he didn?t ?have to? learn those things until he was in college!

The fact that she was doing very well and bringing home high grades wasn?t the point. But the world has changed, and the schools that many of us grew up in no longer exist. The buildings and classroom structures may look the same, but the content and the tools we use are very different.

What it boils down to is this ? you and your child are primarily responsible for what is learned, regardless of the changes imposed on schools by external forces. The first five years of life are critical for every child ? social, emotional, cognitive and language skills all have their basis in what happens before age 5; and sets the stage for how ?smart? we will become.

As I?ve noted above, decades-long research of The Center on the Developing Child ( as well as others such as High Scope, tells us is that a significant part of our brains ? the capacity for language and higher cognitive functioning ? is developed during the first five years of life when our brains are most expandable.

A child?s intellectual, emotional and social capabilities are linked, and negative experiences in any area ? such as a chronic illness, or parental depression ? can affect all areas of development over time. As a parent, you have the most control, by far, over how well-prepared your children will be, or not be, for entering school and community life; and you have a significant responsibility to help make school work for your kids.