Five-year-old Paige Epler is like other children, greeting you with a happy handshake and eager to show off her new bunny Buddy that she got for Easter.
She wants to be an astronaut. And she loves babies.
But then the Lake Ridge girl begins a homeschool session with her mom Pam and it becomes evident she is extraordinarily gifted.
While other children her age are learning their ABCs and 123s, Paige is reading 11th-grade-level literature, calculating the area of a circle and picking up Russian and Japanese. Her mom used to teach history and math to 200 students daily at Woodbridge High School, but now Pam Eplers hands are full just satisfying her daughters curiosity.
“She tells us what the speed limits are and when the fines are double,” Epler said.
The Epler family recently moved back from New Jersey for father Tony Eplers defense consultant business.
Paiges reading started when she was just 1 year old and started reading the labels off the kitchen spice rack. “Paprika” or “cinnamon” might have been the first word, she and her mom said. Now Paige, turning 6 on April 25, can now recite her favorite Shakespeare and read the notes off a reporters notebook during an interview.
Pam Epler acts as her daughters full-time teacher, supplying her with subjects she is interested in, in sessions only limited by the childs attention span.
“It sounds like her moms doing a great job,” said Gail Hubbard, supervisor of Prince William Countys gifted-education program. “The body may be 6 but the mind could be 10 or 12 … When we talk about gifted kids, there are two words in that phrase. You have to deal effectively with both.”
Her parents protect her younger side. Newspapers are not brought into the house and her Internet surfing is monitored. When studying World War II, Paige had to stop because she understood the horrible acts of war, her mom said. The attack on Pearl Harbor was carried out by Japan, a country she likes.
Pam Epler said it was difficult to drive a 3-year-old through New York City when she can read the inappropriate language used freely on signs, prompting Paige to give examples she remembered.
But at the same time, Paige read all the warning signs at The Bronx Zoo leading up to its Skyfari ride. She asked why there was no warning for parents to hold onto their babies at the bumpy start of the ride. This spring, the zoo posted the warning on every car on the ride.
She reads car vanity plates and wrote down one she remembered, in a childs handwriting: IDEAL4. (She can tie her shoes but does not write in cursive yet.) When her mom reported a suspicious vehicle to officials, Paige told them the tag number.
When asked what her favorite foods are, Paiges advanced intellectual side and younger emotional side seem to clash: She has a few, but wont say what they are, only admitting they are “non-nutritious.”
She has to wait until her birthday before she can watch “Star Wars.”
“I need my gloves now,” she said, beginning a science experiment Tuesday. “One of the chemicals can stain your skin.”
A visitor asks, “What is the experiment?”
“Were making light-sensitive paper for photography,” she replied.
Later, the visitor asks her what Shakespeare plays she likes.
“Hamlet is my favorite tragedy and A Midsummer Nights Dream is my favorite comedy,” she said.
What car does you mom drive?
Whats four times four?
She doesnt answer. She wants the visitor to tune into her latest interest, a colorful book on military dress. “I like this … I like this … I bet daddy would like the Russian grenadiers in summer dress,” she said.
Paige is not missing her childhood.
Not just into Shakespeare, she also reads childrens books “The Magic Tree House,” “The Little House on the Prairie,” and the “American Girl” series. She didnt like “Harry Potter” when her dad read it to her, but he ended up enjoying it himself.
She plays around, a sense of humor evident, at the expense of her dad sometimes. Not recognizing the Japanese symbol for “kick” on her flash card, her father came over to her when she asked so she could demonstrate the verb on his shin. In fencing practice with him, she prefers the lunge move.
She likes to play pretend with friends outside. She is a Daisy Girl Scout as well as in 4-H (she gave an astronomy presentation to her 4-H science club Friday night).
“I think the Easter Bunny is really the postman,” she said. Her first loose tooth is still in, but already her mom said Paige thinks she might have seen the Tooth Fairy once.
Prince William schools see approximately 30 children a year who learned to read before age 2, Hubbard said. “Usually theyre not taught, they just learn,” she said. Some of these “exceptional to very, very exceptional” early readers like to read fiction, but most like to research in nonfiction, she said.
Hubbard said the abilities of gifted children are always wide-ranging, requiring they be taught early on to be independent learners by the second grade, sometimes in the first grade, but rarely in kindergarten.
Paiges avid reading got her to an eighth-grade reading level by her second birthday.
“The school counselor said, You cant put her in kindergarten,” Pam Epler said.
By not following rigid textbooks but giving Paige a lot of flexibility in her learning, Pam Eplers methods are similar to the approach of Prince Williams 60,000-student school system with 5,000 students in gifted programs they have to teach themselves.
At the end of her interview, Paige was asked if she had anything to add. Paige said that something she likes about herself is that she has a thankful heart. She is proud of herself because she makes good choices. Also, she said she admires Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium, which helped lead to cancer therapy and nuclear physics.
During her lesson Tuesday, Paige read a passage from “Romeo and Juliet,” a speech by Lord Capulet to his daughter Juliet. She understood the text she explained later its Juliets father trying to force her to marry Paris, whom she doesnt like. She spoke the words deliberately, her hand on her forehead.
She finished the speech, smiling afterward.
“So dramatic,” she said.italicize So