Focus on Academic or Social for Excelling 3 Year Old DS???

Updated on January 24, 2011
A.S. asks from Houston, TX
23 answers

I have a question for you about my 3 almost 4 year old DS. DS seems to be excelling academically. He is reading BOB books right now, so he has (and has had for a while) all of his letters down with phoenetics included.

He knows not only all of his colors, but shades as well as more unique colors like chocolate brown, for example. He know all of his shapes, including those like the –gons and parallelograms. He also understands volume shapes.

He is really good with math, having taught himself quite a bit. For example, he can count to 100, forewards and backwards. He can add and subtract (self taught) in 1’s, 2’s and 3’s , certainly in the first 20 numbers as well as quite a bit in the first 100. He has also started subtracting on his own numbers like 7-6. He is counting in 5’s and 10’s sometimes up to 60.

He also seems intrigued by counting in Spanish and German, which he does to 20. 10 in French. Has quite a few other Spanish words down, specifically his colors.

I write all of this not to brag (although I can’t help it sometimes ☺ ). But, to ask this. My DH and I are considering with getting him into an academic intensive program in preschool (he’s in one now that can’t challenge him at all). However, his MASSIVE (and I do mean massive) weakness is social.

He is very shy around other kids, and in preschool he doesn’t talk much at all. There are a few kids that he is comfortable with, but he gets nervous if the kids start going crazy (as they do at this age ☺ ) or if they run up and try to roughhouse with him. He kind of hangs on the outside of the circle.

How would you handle this large difference in abilities? If we go academic (like Montessori), his social will likely get left even further behind. But if we leavehim in a program that simply does not challenge him in these areas, he isn’t moving further forward in that area, when it is so obvious that he could). What do you think about the situation, ladies?

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answers from Denver on

Sounds like a very bright little guy! My opinion (and it's just that) is that I'd find a place where he can have FUN, the academics are well underway, and he'll excel when the time comes. At this age, make learning fun and expose him to an environment where he can learn to socially interact in a comfortable way for him. Slow down and enjoy him as a little boy - time goes SO fast!

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answers from Seattle on

The school doesn't keep the kids in individual boxes, right? ;) Aka, he'd be around other children AND children who likely have the same interests... and also similar problems. Asynchronistic development is a common problem of/with gifted kids... and it's something that is addressed with far more intent in most gifted schools than in a regular setting.

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answers from Sacramento on

Social is definitely the most important thing for your child ath this age. I am a teacher of young children (with a child diagnosed as gifted in kindergarten) and unfortunately your son will likely be quite bored in preschool and early elementary school with all you have taught him. He needs to learn how to share, play nicely, communicate with with others his age, take turns, develop good listening skills, make friends, learn how to behave in a more structured environment not to mention to be able to sit and focus at a circle-time situation. I see young children who have been over-taught at a young age; they enter kindergarten or preschool reading and doing simple writing and simple math etc but many times they don't know how to get along with others. They often tend not to want to do what the rest of the class is doing that is academically, age-appropriate because they say they know it already and "its boring". There iare sometimes parent separation issues too because they have not been exposed to many other chldren their age. Please let your smart little boy be a child for a while Mom, if not he will likely become resentful when he is older and will have behavior issues at school.

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answers from San Francisco on

I agree that academics can wait, and making learning fun is most important at this time, but perhaps a setting like Montessori would be the right thing for him socially. It's not like there is NO social interaction at Montessori, he's still getting socialization, it's just more low key and less mayhem, which may suit him just fine. And a school like a Montessori is more likely to be experienced with kids like yours (bright but socially weaker) so they know how to draw them out gently without pressure.

But I also urge you not to worry about him getting left behind socially if you opt for play-based preschool. Many kindergartens, and even 1st grade, take socialization into account heavily, and there will be plenty of time for him to find his footing. Choose the preschool where you think he'd be excited to go, happy to be there, and enjoy most aspects of the program. Nothing will be perfect, and suit ALL his needs, but try not to worry about falling behind or moving forward, try to make him happy NOW.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My DS is 4 and is like your son. He was reading by age 3, doing math and can tell you all his states and planets! He learned it all from books, art, nature and family board game nights! His shyness was totally evident and I had been struggling with what school to enroll him in. I wanted him to come out of his shell but still be challenged because he just thrives on it.

Luckily I found a private school in which they really emphasize on the social aspect, however, they test the children in the first week of school and group them according to their academic ability.

They all share the same lunch/play time so my DS still gets to play with all the other kids, but he was put into the advanced classroom.

He is in the same music & art class as all the children, but his group goes into a different room for the academics portion.

It’s an extremely well rounded school and my DS is being challenged academically and socially.

He has made so many friends in all different classrooms and it is awesome to see him still excel academically, but also socially. Watching him have fun and interact has been the best moments for me. His teachers have told me he is a favorite amongst all the kids. He is liked by all of them. And to think I stressed all those nights that his shyness would be his worst enemy!

Best of luck in finding a great school. Don’t give up!

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answers from Honolulu on

I would keep a balance... and yes, nurture his social skills.
But also, per his age, it is a "maturity" thing as well, which is purely developmental based and you cannot just make his emotions/social skills happen. It is grown.
But he does need to learn the basic social 'rules' and how to interact and get along and to understand people. Which is taught by the parents and guided by them. So he can then therefore, assess/articulate/grasp social concepts and just basic friendships etc. It is all about developing "emotional IQ" in a child.

It is not either or.... because OUTSIDE of a school and what they learn there... at HOME... you also (ideally) "supplement" a child's learning... too. With things and challenge them if need be.
Our friend, has a very gifted boy too.... and at HOME, they did a ton of things with their child, to develop their son OVERALL... not just academics... but integrating it into his life... in everyday things. Because of that, and not just relying on "school" to teach him... he has gone on to become a well rounded older child now.... and academically above par...

BUT, social skills and emotional understanding and learning how to "cope" emotionally... is the key aspect of a person and how well they manage in life.... overall. That is what makes or breaks a person. The social and emotional ability... and understanding. Not just how smart they are. Many 'smart' people... are just so lonely and lacking in friends and social enjoyment.

all the best,

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answers from Detroit on

It is far more important to have good social skills. Your son knows things most kindergardeners do not know.. But he will not do well in school if he doesn have the social skills to speak up and play with other kids.. I would keep in a nice happy preschool and let him learn to play well with others..

I looked at at least 5 preschools this year..I found nothing that I liked.. I decided to keep my kids in the happy little place they are.. they will not learn much.. but I can teach them at home.. I have been getting non fiction books from the library that we are reading.. about science, famous people, sign language.... etc.. You can teach him at home and send him to school to learn to wait his turn, stand in line, share, cooperate... go to the bathroom independently..

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answers from Dallas on

Story from my personal experience. One of my brothers is extremely intelligent as well, borderline genius when doing IQ testing, and your son may even be more advanced than my brother was at that age. When my brother was in jr. high, he was accepted to a program where he was allowed to take courses that would be dual high school and college credit, which would put him on a fast track through college, don't know all the details of the program but that was part of the main idea. My parents declinced the program. Many people thought my parents were crazy for denying my brother who was clearly gifted an "opportunity of a lifetime". However, my parents recognized (like you with your son) that he struggled socially. I learned later that they would make my brother do things like say hello or pay a compliment to 3 different people each day then come home and tell them what he had said and to whom. They knew that the program offered academic opportunity but would do nothing but foster his social awkwardness. They decided that life social skills would serve him far better in life. Besides, a truly gifted person will learn the academics they need, and can flourish in college or do some self-taught learning along the way. My brother grew to have many friends, and had the time of his life in college. He met his wife there and they have a wonderful family now. He earned a biochemistry degree, and now works as a criminologist and has helped the state out in developing databases for their records and sometimes travels to do lectures. Neither my parents nor my brother have once questioned their decision, and to this day are convinced they did the best for my brother by NOT doing the accelerated program. I believe that you are serving your son best by working on his weaknesses, his social skills. You don't have to ignore his strengths in the process, you can still foster them the way you currently are (as he is clearly learning so much despite not being challenged at school). I think that will give him the best of both worlds.

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answers from Chicago on

You definitely need to put him in situations that will help his social skills. I don't really think that putting him in a montessori school will hurt his social skills though. He will be around other kids, they will play together, and he will make friends. They don't just sit you down and drill academics in a montessori, just make sure you find a school that is certified, there are a lot of schools that claim to be montessori, but don't follow the montessori teaching methods. Also, try to meet up with friends that have kids his age so he can play with them.

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answers from Chicago on

Well, the definition of a "gifted child" is nothing more than unbalanced development. So, if he's ahead academically and behind socially that's pretty "normally abnormal" so to speak lol!

If you "pick" to focus on either academics or social skills you are doing your child a dis-service. He needs to be with teachers (and other students) who both understand and accept this developmental learning style that is somewhat unusual and will serve to frustrate your child if he is not in the correct setting.

I think a Montessori school would be PERFECT for him (and I only bang this drum cuz you mentioned it in your post!!!!). The Montessori curriculum focuses on the individual needs of each child AS A WHOLE and they are able to move at their own pace academically (which would be good for him).
However, they ABSOLUTELY focus on social skills - in fact probably more than ANY OTHER SCHOOL. The kids are together typically for 3 years at a time so they can experience existence on each plane of the age spectrum: youngest, middle, oldest - then repeat - youngest, middle, oldest.
There is a HUGE focus on community. At my daughter's school the entire school meets in the gym in a big circle every morning for 15 min at the beginning of the school day. After circle time they all go to their individual classrooms where they have breakfast together, as a class.
Montessori kids generally share better and have a higher sense of wanting their peers to be successful. peer mentoring is seen in all areas - throwing a ball, learning chinese, reading, feeding the goldfish.
The focus is also on academics - and the kids are allowed to both work at their own pace and with other students. They have a 'workplan' and although they will do some activities together kids are motivated by themselves to inquire and master subjects with the help and guidance of their teachers. Since they are so used to seeing their peers at all different levels academically they think NOTHING of a kid that is advanced or behind where everyone else is.... because there isn't a 'where everyone else is' (trust me, being 'gifted' isn't always looked at as good by their peers).
It is a wonderfully nurturing and academically challenging environment that everyone keeps saying isn't for every child, but I don't believe that. I think EVERY child would benefit from an enviornment that is like my daughter's class. Her inquisitiveness, helpfulness and sense of where and how she fits into the world is leaps and bounds ahead of lots of other kids her age.

Good luck!

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answers from Kansas City on

I think you need to put some focus on the social skills for sure. It sounds like your son is very bright (yay for you!) and that probably won't falter as long as you continue to do the things you're doing, but those social skills, or lack there of, could haunt him forever. In the later years, like elementary and middle school, boys start to fall off the honor roll b/c it isn't "cool" to be smart. It's much more of an issue for boys than girls and I do think it's b/c of social pressures for boys to be good at sports, etc. So, I do think you need to foster more self confidence and outgoing-ness in him so that he is able to combat some of those things as he gets older. Of course I am not implying that you should make him play sports just so he's popular, but having social skills can do wonders for kids self esteem and if at 3, he's already on the outside of the circle, I think you should go with your instincts and put some more things on his social calendar! Good luck...either way you have a great kid and even if it's hard for him growing up, most likely it won't be as an adult!

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answers from Sacramento on

Personally I agree with what most others have said. Most importantly he should be at a place where he loves to go and has fun. This is where his passion for school will begin. Since he is so far ahead academically now, I personally wouldn't worry about the academic side. He is at an age where socialization is learned and so important for future development. He will continue to learn...he is bright and I bet you many things he does not need direct instruction to understand. He will learn even if he isn't in an academic preschool.

I have now 6 year old twins who were both reading by the time they were 4. They taught was nothing I ever pushed. Not really a priority to me (I prefered they played). I did teach 1st grade for 7 years, so maybe some of the stuff I did with them was just part of the way I parent...but no direct instruction. I picked a parent participation preschool which was play based. Very little direct instruction or academics. TONS of play and social interaction with their peers and other adults. It was the best for my kids. They did continue to develop academically. When they started Kinder they were both reading about the 3rd grade level or higher. The teacher was concerned about challenging them, but I told her that challenging them wasn't a huge priority to me. What was important to me was that they continue to develop social/emotional skills and most importantly to be a kindergartener. This time goes so fast!!! I want them to think back to kinder and say...what a fun year...I love school. My kids do love school, and I think that will be such a valuable thing as they get older and the academics start to challege them.

You may want to check out a book called PLAY by Lisa Murphy.

Do your research and it will come to you what is the right choice for your child and your family. What is right for one family, may not be right for another. What I wrote is what I felt was best for my family.

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answers from Detroit on

He sounds very much like my nephew who is now 19 and in college. He was given many experiences in groups by his parents and lots of physical activity. Many brillant kids cognitively have poor motorskills. So get him running and swimming. My relatives had their son in gymnastics and that helped him alot also. The brain needs to have pathways open to all areas and the more movement in different patterns (like gymnastic and swimming the better).
The concern about pushing the academics is that when he is older he will not fit in with his classmates if he is constantly promoted because he will be younger and exposed to things that are not age appropriate. that will only make his social skills worse. You will be lucky in school, but have to work on the social. My brother in law had his son do a Dale Carnegy class when he was a junior in high school. That helped him also. They did not have their son jump ahead in classes. They worked with the teachers to have higher expectations for Adam. Also they tried to find other kids with the same higher academic level as friends too.They did not want to have him pushed to hard because they were pushing the social skills alot and that was stressful for him as he struggled to learn social skills. But his weakness really was social and they worked very hard on that. (So instead of working on Math you'll have him in more after school social activities)
Good luck like my nephew he will be fine!

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answers from Houston on

Having raised a certified genius who is now 45, I can tell you this. The social thing is most crucial and that is where my son fell short. He was so much smarter than other kids, he was not challenged and couldn't understand why "they" had trouble with basic concepts. He was extremely polite to his teachers, but he wanted to do things "his way" instead of how it was being taught. "His way" always worked, by the way and it became frustrating for his teachers. He was in a highly gifted program in public school, but it was not enough for him. He was attending college concurrently, but scoffed at the academic world as seen through his eyes. He took his GED in 10th grade and dropped out of school. He is now a successful entrepeneur. At the age of 39, he decided he didn't like himself and worked on becoming a social maven. Having both the "looks" and the financial means, he conquered that world and is now a very happy man. But, it took him a long time with numerous bouts of severe depression. And he, as well as my other kids are the product of Montessori schools. In fact, the owners of the Montessori school told me he was going to have a problem in socialization and told me to "beware". So, having the brains are great and makes you a "proud mama", but socialize him as much as you can in group activities and let him know how much you love him. Don't keep telling how smart and different he is. Encourage him to be normal, not exceptional. Don't push him forward anymore academically than he is or he will not be a happy kid! Let him do it on his own at home. Incidentally, my son was reading and doing math at two. My parents friends used to bring broken small appliances to our house for him to fix--those were his games. I was 20 years old, I thought this was normal for a kid! But, on the flip side, he and I are still very, very close and always have been. He treats women like diamonds, but this too, has developed over time. My other two are smart, but are more in the mainstream. They are also girls.



answers from Dallas on

Honestly, I have a question for you. What is DS? Did you teach your son all of that information or did he go to a private school? I work full-time and have my 2 year old in a private school and he has learned, but nothing to that extent. Just curious.



answers from Portland on

Your son is incredible and more than he need know coming out of kindergarten. You have taught him and will need to continue to teach him above grade level. It will not be that he will not learn in school, he will it will be things like concepts and social skills than the basics he already.

Send him to preschool school for the things you can not teach him. (Social skills) You keep challenging him, you have done such a great job already. He is above any montessori education.

A lot a Smart kids need to work on their fine motor skills. Art work, writing, because their mind works so fast their hand righting is bad. Preschool-coloring.



answers from Tyler on

Hey -
My son was in a similar boat. I have him in a private daycare that turns into an elementary school. He attended Kindergarten and 1st grade at the private school and for 2nd grade, I am sending him to public school. For me, I think those first two years, with smaller classrooms were perfect for him. But, also, the smaller classroom led to a lot of social issues (he definitely cried because he didn't have someone to play with at some point or another). He has been with these same kids since he was 2 years old and honestly, I am ready for him to be exposed to a different environment. So, he is starting public school this fall and we will see how he does. I decided NOT to continue to pursue more academics for him because, the reality is, I can't continue to provide that through his educational years. We live in a smaller town and don't have access to facilities. Plus, i can't afford to continue private school.

Interestingly enough, my daughter (who is now 2) is knowing information even before my son did at a comparable age. So, I am very curious to see how she is going to turn out. But, I'm transferring her now, to a different daycare (the same one my son will go to for afterschool care). It is not as academically inclined as the current daycare. But, again, I decided it just does not matter. We can't really excel them in the next few years. So, my philosophy is that the "extra" stuff will come in highschool with dual college credits, etc. I am not going to focus on it now.

I think you need to choose what is right for you and for your family. If you can do extra things with your son, do them. But, I also think the others are right in regards to the social skills. That is HUGE and impacts their lives more than you can imagine at this point. I have really had my eyes opened this year, in 1st grade, to all of the social issues.

Good luck!!



answers from Dallas on

Well lets see your son is a little bit ahead of my son. My son is also advanced. He also have the social problems that yours has. When mine gets scared he morphs into spiderman. Your son is so little & I know that you want him to be advanced, but he needs to be a kid too. IMO I would leave him in the program that doesn't challenge him. Let him get used to be around other kids, let him grow. As far as the learning teach him the things that can challenge him at home & let him be a kid at school. When he goes to kinder then put him in a more challenging program. My son can't start school till he is almost 5 & that will be him starting in pre-k at that time. He will be 4 in Oct so public school is out & the private schools are to far away. I am just going to teach him at home & let him get more social at daycare. GL



answers from Dallas on

It sounds like your son is already excelling academically and to ensure he grows up to be well-rounded, I think you should focus more on his social interaction with peers. As a teacher, I can tell you that as he grows that will become almost as important if not more so, than his academic performance. His extremely high level of academic achievement and interest in developing these skills combined with his weakness in the social arena does indicate that he could possibly be on the autism spectrum, specially Asperger's Syndrome. Just something I notices when reading your post. Good luck! Sounds like you have a great kid!


answers from Fresno on

My daughter was in very much the same boat at that age. She was very shy around kids her own age, and absolutely brilliant academically. We decided that being shy is not a crime, and she clearly needed an academic challenge. Her school moved her into Kindergarten at age 4 and she had a wonderful time! We were so surprised, but she really seemed to get along well with children a year or two older than she is. I think she was actually confused by kids her own age, because they just weren't interested in the same things she was. She has just turned 5 and is going into first grade. I get all kinds of flack from people about it, but it was the right thing to do for her and I'm glad I did it. I just figured I'd mention it - you may want to look into doing Kinder a year early and see what happens.



answers from Seattle on

Your son sounds EXACTLY like mine. If I didn't know better, I would think that I had written this post myself. The interest in counting, colors, shapes, languages are IDENTICAL to my 4 y.o.

If your son is indeed gifted, then he will STILL be gifted when he gets to kindergarten and grade school. Don't rush academics on him, just let him play and work on his social skills with other children his age.

Continue to read to him at home and expose him to things he shows an interest in but don't fall into the trap of making every book and game about what he likes only. He needs to be able to relate to other children and show an interest in the things they like too.

We enrolled my son in a Montessori last year (3 full days per week) and it was a disaster. I think the day was too long for him and he was/is a little delayed socially and a outlier. That combined with the fact that he knows a lot about the Universe and numbers made the school label him autistic right off the bat.

My husband and I, not being from large families or having much experience with other children, took their assessment to heart thinking "well they've seen hundreds of 3 year olds so they must know what they're talking about."

We had him evaluated several times and each time were told that the school was way off and had no business diagnosing the child. This of course was a relief but it put us through an emotional roller coaster for months. We were making ourselves crazy over evaluating every little thing he did.

My son, like yours, is really shy and better at dealing with people one-on-one as opposed to groups. He can be a slow warmer and needed a more structure environment in a smaller group setting. His old preschool (yeah, we dumped them!) had 19-23 kids for 2 adults.

I was lucky enough to find a small home preschool (run by a family therapist) with a focus on getting kids ready for school socially over academically. That said, they are flexible enough that they will work on special subjects with a child if the child starts showing signs of boredom.

I know that this was the best thing for my kid, and since he sounds SO much like your boy, I had to share.

Best of luck!




answers from Dallas on

Personally, if he is already a self-learner then he has mastered the skill of learning. Academic intensive for that age is all about stuffing knowledge in the brain so they can be better prepared for higher academics. I would find a Montessori or a more self-directed learning where he will be exposed to social aspects of learning but also have the power to learn at will whatever inspires him. Also remember ABC's and 123's are only a part of the development. He also needs to learn to communicate ideas effectively to other people, to develop motor skills both fine and gross, and probably most important how to define his world around him (what is family, concepts of community, values). There are several great sites with recommendations on books for accelerated learners (see Also pushing can take the exploration and discovery out of learning which can turn off bright kids (I know I was one of them). So just get him out to explore things, take him to museums, farmer's markets, let him hear people speaking in other languages, let him see real animals. The more experience you can attach to knowledge the better that knowledge will become a tool he can use.

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