If your young child seems advanced, contact your state association for parents of gifted kids and connect with online support groups. Look for a preschool that has organized yet flexible classrooms with lots of opportunities for kids to explore, create, and touch. You want teachers who will be engaging and supportive of your child's abilities and who won't feel threatened if you ask about trying to challenge your child even more.
A year before he starts kindergarten, check with your school district to determine which tests are needed to qualify for a gifted and talented program. Most schools will require an ability test or an IQ test, plus an achievement test, which gauges what a child has actually learned. Tests are either given by a psychologist or a school administrator, who will interpret the scores and suggest the ideal learning environment for your child.
The best programs teach each child at his own level and have teachers who have had training in gifted education. One idea that's earned good grades in recent years is "cluster grouping," in which a group of advanced learners are placed in the same classroom. Teachers can give a general lesson to everyone, plus in-depth projects to those who can handle them. If your school doesn't have a gifted program, ask about magnet or charter schools as well as in-district transfers, which let students attend any school in the district if space is available. Investigate what programs neighboring districts offer by checking their websites.
Over the years, you'll probably need to hone your public-relations skills. Approaching school officials in a confrontational way or accusing them of neglecting your child will certainly backfire. Instead, let them know that you hope to collaborate on a plan. When Annapurna was 4, her parents abandoned private school and networked until they found their public-school district's director of gifted education, who helped them to tailor a plan for their daughter. Now 9, Annapurna skipped kindergarten and is thriving in a class with kids who are a year or two older than she is.
Austen Jeffries was accepted into a county-wide program that allowed her to attend another school in their district once a week to study Asian culture and global health issues. As a result, her overall attitude toward school improved and her tics disappeared.
That's good news for Austen and her parents, who are beginning to have their hands full with 4-year-old Ian too. His current obsession: dinosaurs. "He'll rattle off the names of 30 different types," says his mom. "If you ask him a question that he thinks is stupid, he'll just roll his eyes. We're all concerned for his future teachers' sanity."