Credit this Wilton mom for creating something when she couldn’t find it. That’s the story behind Nancy Miller who started a business called Boundless Education, offering enrichment programming for students who are exceptional and gifted learners. She has incorporated both writing and math programs into the curriculum; for math, she brought in an established curriculum called IMACS, which stands for Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science.

The program consists of five levels of enrichment classes geared to bring very deep understand of some pretty sophisticated math concepts, early in age. But the real focus of the program, especially for the youngest students, is training children to become problem solvers.

“It’s different from acceleration, which is what many schools and curriculum systems do with a child that’s talented–they just push them farther, faster. The problem with that is they don’t necessarily learn the underpinnings of why things happen with numbers and with the algebraic logic and problem solving.”

Miller cites what the IMACS creators called the IMACS Advantage, and says this may be what’s a play with assessments that American students don’t fare as well as children in Europe, Asia and elsewhere:  “You slow down to get ahead. You’re taking more work on the noodling through of concepts, trying it and reworking it as opposed to memorizing and placing an emphasis on computational speed–which is what we do in America. It may be why globally we’re not at the head of the math game. We don’t teach our kids to slow down or teach them frustration tolerance. Our IMACS curriculum does that.”

Miller’s own children took part in the program when the family was living in Florida. Miller sat in on the first class with her son.  “I was prepared to be bored; I brought the newspaper in with me. But by the middle of the curriculum I had my hand raised, I wanted to answer the questions. We got engaged quickly,” she recalls, laughing.

The methodology she says is game-based and involves fun stories. For instance, there are ‘detective stories’ and ‘what-ifs.’ It’s not a method of drilling, repetition, practice and mastery.

“My child loved it, and it was changing the way he was learning.”

When Miller and her family moved to CT, she had the idea to bring the IMACS curriculum to Fairfield County.

“It’s a curriculum enrichment program that is specifically written and crafted for children who naturally have an inclination to talk about numbers, play with numbers, enjoy numbers. It’s for kids who want to learn more and who are capable of learning at a pretty high level,” she explains.

The course work is offered to students in 1st grade into middle school. First and second graders are offered a class that meets before school at Miller-Driscoll. Classes for older children meet after school at Comstock Community Center.

While the IMACS curriculum may not match or follow the curriculum that the kids follow in school, Miller says to think about it this way:

“If you have a child who is musically talented, and you get them violin or piano lessons, they’re learning a different tool in their musical tool box. They’re still going to go to music class in school, and they’ll still get something out of that process–whether it’s learning to sing, to harmonize, to listen to someone else. But what they’ll see with us is a way of thinking that they won’t be exposed to in school, and it’s because they’ll be with like learners and they can fly as fast as they can fly. If we find someone who is outperforming the curriculum, we move them up–we don’t just ask them to sit and wait.”

Miller says that’s something called ‘frustration tolerance.’

“Every child has something they can’t do. If we’re not giving them that, we haven’t put them at the right level. What happens to a lot of the higher learners in most [day-to-day school] learning systems, they’re made to sit and wait, so their cup isn’t being filled every day. The kids in the middle are being stretched all the time, but the kids at the top aren’t. When they finally do hit something they can’t learn, they get brutally knocked on the head. Some shut down, some panic. They should be given the chance to be exercised at the same level, every day.”

What are the signs parents can look for?

“The common thing is the child who ends up in our class and does well walks typically says, ‘I’m bored. I haven’t learned anything all year, Mommy. It’s November and I’m still learning multiplying by 3s and 4s.’ That’s our kid.”

Essentially, she says, what has motivated her in bringing Boundless Education to Wilton is the concept of challenging children to their highest potential. She points to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal that ran last week, titled, “The Brightest Students Left Behind.”

“We spend enormous effort and expense to raise the floor of the educational experience in this country. I believe we should spend equal energies raising the ceiling. In that way our society will accomplish two things:  We will challenge all children to reach their highest potential and at the same time the high achievers will naturally be competitive the world over,” Miller says.

Of course, she knows that there are those few naysayers who would criticize this approach by saying Fairfield County parents push their kids too hard, or that the only reasons our schools are good is because these kids are all tutored. Miller disagrees.

“It’s our job as parents to help our kids use their potential. If a child is telling you they’re bored and they haven’t learned anything new, telling them, ‘That’s OK, you don’t need to learn anything new,’ isn’t the answer; the answer is to go help your child. Clearly we don’t want to push kids–if your child says they don’t want to do this, I don’t want them to do it either. There has to be a proclivity for it, a joy in learning,” Miller says.

For more information, call Miller at 203.762.7402 or visit the Boundless Education website.