So I've been working with Ads on the Math and Cyber Olympiad worksheets (IMO and ICO) for the past 1 year. It has not been intensive, just a couple of worksheets every other weekend. Considering we have been travelling every other weekend as well, it does not amount to much (though I'm sure Ads will beg to differ!). Now the thing is that since we were particular to admit him in a low-pressure academic environment, there's not much that he's been taught in Math uptil now (Grade 2). Much being a relative term of course. He can read the time, and do simple addition and subtraction. They just started multiplication tables. Anything other than these is a bit of stretch frankly; which is perfectly fine until you run into a kid from PSBB (Chennai) or Singapore or Hong Kong - then watch my (temporary) palpitations!!!
So anyway, I quite like the IMO worksheets and the exam pattern because it's a bit of a stretch, but not too much. There are 50 questions to be done in 90 minutes - it's not a big deal but it's no walk in the park either. Some of the questions are a little tricky so you need to know the underlying concepts rather than just rely on speed and arithmetical ability. Ads' school enters only 3rd grade upwards for the Olympiads but they register their students for the National Science Talent Search Exam from Grade 1 upwards. I duly registered Ads. Half of the questions in the NSTSE are on Science so his level of interest was also higher than for IMO.
Now even before he went to write the test, I was sure his performance would be average. I know my son is exceptionally bright and curious. He can talk to you about the Industrial Revolution, WWII, mythology (Greek, Roman and Indian), the race to the moon, obscure dinosaurs, prehistoric creatures and the top 10 endangered species, to name a few of his current favourite topics. I'm not bragging, but his breadth of knowledge relative to his age is staggering. It's a different matter that he still spills more food on the ground than goes into his mouth, and the other day he did not eat his pasta lunch because Appa forgot to pack a fork and he was too silly to think of alternative solutions! When we pointed out the ten things he could have done, not to mention eaten the damn lunch with his fingers, his eyes filled with large tears :)
Anyways, I digress. S and I had a heated argument post the test, when I was correcting the answer sheet and telling Ads where he'd gone wrong. There were a lot of silly mistakes and nothing hets me up like carelessness. He got so many answers wrong in Science, which is supposed to be his strong suit. Being lazy and forgetting to cross-check your answers or worse, misreading the question and getting the answer wrong, is unacceptable to me. The husband said:
He's in Grade 2. Give him a break.
Don't turn into Tiger mom.
It's important to get concepts right. He can be tops in speed and calculation but are we testing what he knows or only interested in what he scores?
The only thing important right now is NOT to destroy his love of learning. By drilling him in Math, maybe you are doing just that.
It hurt a little bit. My point was only that while I agree with whatever S said (and hotly contest that I am turning into Tiger mom...does he even know what a tiger mom is???? They are the folks that come to baby ballet and lie down on the floor with their babies and do all the ballet steps while me and all the other babies look on, bemused), in the real world you need to have a good grasp of concepts and speed and intellectual curiosity/desire to learn.
The one thing that Amy Chua pointed out in her book that really resonated with me is that if you allow kids to do whatever they want, all they'll do is watch video games and eat junk food all day. Is that ideal? Obviously not. I approached the competitive exams in much the same way. Ads will not like it, but he'll have to lump it.
I realize that, for parents, achieving that balance is crucial and akin to walking a fine line. S probably thinks I may jump to the wrong side of the line very soon! (He has no idea how very far I am from it). In all this tussle, the only certainty is that we will be revisiting this topic many many more times over the next few years until my kids graduate.