Summer Ideas for Gifted Students

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Parents often ask me for summer or track out camps for gifted children. In the Raleigh area, we are lucky to have lots to choose from- nature, sports, engineering, arts, music…

How do you find one that is perfect for your gifted child? Or that challenges them? Or understands their needs? Or best- one they can find other like-minded children that understand them. As I always say, they are not better than other children, but they are different (see past posts!).

The National Association for Gifted Children has some great guidelines for helping parents find the perfect camp.

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For my Raleigh parents, here are a few camp ideas:

My favorite local camp is CrazBrain– highly recommend

I LOVE this camp!: Camp SMILE

Another one at NCSU: The Engineering Place

Two of my favorite nature camps: Hemlock Bluffs and Harris Lake

Music Camp (rave reviews from other parents): Camp Musart

Another nature one: Piedmont Wildlife Center

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Fantastic Camp for Science!!

Here Comes A New Idea for a Camp!

Signing up for camps, after school activities, and enrichment opportunities can be stressful. I have spent hours looking through the local town program guides, websites for camps in the area, scrolling Facebook for ideas, and asking other moms what camps they love or recommend. The great thing about our area is all there is to choose from but it can be overwhelming.

Well… on Friday, I decided to drop into a new science camp in the area- Crazbrain. I had met the owner a few weeks ago and wanted to see it in action. Last week, the students were doing a CSI camp! What??! I happen to love CSI shows and was curious about the activities.

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When we got there, the children had safety goggles, gloves, and were swabbing desks for blood (each desk represented rooms in a pretend house). They were really simulating being a real scientist- And they LOVED it! They quickly told me all about the activity and were eager to demonstrate to me how to use the solution to determine if there was “blood” in the room. Once the tested the q-tip for blood, they recorded the results and marked the rooms on the pretend floorplan a.k.a scene of the crime. At the end they had to come up with some theories about what happened at the crime scene.

IMG_5421 Kids love participating in hands-on activities and simulations. This camp is fantastic for budding scientists or curious kids.

Why is Early Education Important?

I am often asked about the importance of having the appropriate learning environment for gifted students. I loved how these educators answered the questions in an article titled: “Love the Child, Not the Gift”

Baby Einstein

Why help gifted students? Because the first rule of education is “do no harm.”

 JON: What are the most important reasons why we need to invest in gifted students?

SIDNEY and FELICIA: The first rule of education is to “do no harm.” There is considerable research suggesting that gifted students can be harmed if they do not receive appropriate educational interventions. This is especially true in elementary school and among at risk populations, such as children who live in poverty or children who have both gifts and disabilities. The harm can manifest as disturbances in social and emotional development, such as behavior problems, depression, loneliness, and alienation. It almost always manifests as lost academic potential. Hence, the first reason to invest in gifted students is to ensure that they are not harmed by their school experiences. We might call this a moral imperative for investment in gifted students. A second reason to invest in gifted students is to enable them to fulfill their potential.  Gifted students by definition have unusual capabilities, but those capabilities cannot be fully realized without a long process of talent development. For gifted individuals, talent development is a prerequisite for self-actualization. We might call this a humanitarian reason to invest in gifted children. The third and final reason we propose for investing in gifted students is because of the potential return that investment might yield for society. Gifted individuals have tremendous potential to benefit society as adults, whether they choose to focus their talents on raising their children, excelling in their professions, performing at high levels in the arts, making discoveries in the sciences, and/or creating inventions that enhance our lives. We might call this the pragmatic reason to invest in gifted children—the investment may return substantial gains to society in the future.

What do test scores mean for gifted children?

Testing does give an idea of strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles of children. Sometimes it can give us an idea of perfectionism and if there are learning disabilities.

I always encourage parents for the individual testing because it does help give them a good indication of the best learning approaches for their child. I don’t advocate for more testing but this type of testing can often be perceived as fun by children and helpful to parents and educators.

For gifted parents, I found this easy chart today to give you a general idea of how the scores can be explained. Very general!

 RufEstimatesGraph

What is the difference between gifted education and academically rigorous education?

A friend just sent me a link to a discussion board that posted this question. I LOVED it because I think some of the confusion with gifted education comes with the battle between pushing the children and how the curriculum is approached with gifted children. Sometimes meeting needs of the gifted is not how far you push them.

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One person’s answer was amazing and wanted to share it:

This is by no means a scientific answer. I’m doing my best to describe what I have seen as a tutor, and a parenting in education consultant during the past 20 years and presently. As a description rather than a prescription, consider this:
Imagine a a horserace around a track; and then imagine a steeple chase.[1]

Galloping around the track, the horserace, is about finishing the race quickly and strategically. Like Academic Rigor, the horserace is about finishing fast.Academic rigor is characterized more by having a curriculum like a horse race. It typically includes activities involving rigorous testing/scoring and competition/rankings, such as doing an academic decathalon, taking a zillion advance placement (“AP”) classes, learning Latin, history, maths, sciences, English Literature (or literature in one’s native language), Writing, Classics, and playing games like Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy. I have seen many high school students take a rigorous course of study with many AP classes, get advanced standing in college, test well on standardized tests, memorize much — and move quickly into grad school in any field. The goal of academic rigor seems to prepare students to take the next step in their educational/professional lives. The study which pre-med students do — biology, chemistry, botany, physics, maths — prepares students via academic rigor for the study of medicine.

The steeplechase requires a horse and rider working as a unit to analyze what’s coming and to prepare an approach so as to finish first most gracefully. There are all kinds of configurations and maneuvers for horse and rider to learn together. The configurations require agility and flexibility. Like Gifted Education, there is a focus on meaning, ability, and expanding capabilities. Gifted education provides a more qualitative experience for the student. That is, the pursuit of individual excellence guided by inquiry — using a student’s interests and abilities — creates the academic excellence we see in those who are motivated by using all of their capacities, ideally without regard to competition. Gifted education goes deep into subject matter of interest, connects interdisciplinary resources, and provides for an education that has depth and breadth, and does not always include the goal of standardized testing, competition, ranking, etc. The goal is the expansion of the student’s abilities to the fullest extent possible. Rigor can be part of that expansion, but it isn’t always necessary unless the academic goal is competing against those who have had an academically rigorous education.

Gifted education is much more intrinsically motivated, more fluid, and sometimes rigorous. Academically rigorous education is traditionally never fluid, is historically structured externally, and is even now designed to narrow the pool of students competing for X.

I have seen students move from gifted education to rigorous academic education. I have seen others move from rigorous education to gifted education. The students who receive gifted education during elementary school and then switch to rigorous study during middle and high school seem to me to be the most well adjusted and successful students of all.

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[1] Here is a description of steeplechase (a type of horse racing) for those unfamiliar with the event: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steeplechase

*Picture from Wikipedia

Gifted Children Are Not Always What You Expect

Gifted children are often misunderstood or not what people expect. I think often the stereotypical “nerd” or “geek” is what our culture think when they hear “gifted”. I also believe the average opinion is that it is easier to parent these children. They are academically higher so they should be easier to reason with, better behaved, and have a mild temperament. I am not saying parenting gifted children is easier or harder- just not what might be expected. These children are often intense, extremely sensitive, and emotional. But they also have a keen insight, sense of humor, quick to learn, and I love working with them.

I just read an article written by a gifted teacher (thanks LeeAnn for sharing) about what she wants other people to know about these children. photo (8)

Raising A Gifted Boy Reader- Parent’s Perspective

Written by: Amy Sherman
My 8th grader has a teacher who is  trying to differentiate in the classroom by allowing kids to choose books from a grade leveled reading website and answer the online questions for points.  She’s doing her best with 30 kids 5 times a day. The problem is: none of the books that he reads are ever on the site – he usually reads adult non-fiction. So he has his sixth grade sister use the site to find books which she has read – usually a few years ago – and then she answers the questions for him!   Also, the questions are simple yes/no answers to see if the book was actually read.
Well, so I try to find enrichment classes around town, only to discover that there are a plethora of math, robotics and science enrichment classes – but nothing that revolves around reading, speaking, debate,  thinking and comparing or history literature studies. Nothing – all math, legos, science, and more math.  In order to find what I’m looking for to help him stay challenged; I have to hire a high school or college professor for a one-on-one class!
All this work on my part is coming too late though – He has this firmly engrained belief that he should not do anything different with his mind and talent. It’s not cool. 
Let’s just say I’ve read a LOT of articles and books on giftedness over the past 13 years, give or take. So something has to be pretty “wow” to, well, make me go “wow,” or in other words make my “I Wish I Could Have Read This Years Ago; It Would Have Explained/Helped So Much” list.
An Interview with Roland S. Persson:  The Talent of Being Inconvenient (First Published in The SENG Update Newsletter, June 2010) is one such article.  Dr. Persson looks like a member of the World Wrestling Federation or the older brother of Mr. Clean, but is in fact a Professor of Educational Psychology at Jönköpping University in Sweden, where his research focuses on giftedness, with an emphasis on social context and the gifted individual in society.
So what blew me away in this interview?   It’s the first time I’ve heard someone provide a coherent framework for understanding that which I’ve been clumsily trying to put forward these past 2.5 years in this blog, namely that verbally* gifted kids (and by extension I guess, adults) have it harder vis a vis their artistically and mathematically/science gifted peers.  (*IMO, verbal giftedness goes beyond facility with reading and writing.  It is sophisticated vocabulary, persuasive argument, deep interest in–and the precocious ability to question, analyse and think critically about–philosophical, ethical, moral, sociological, political and historical issues.)
“Geeky” mathiness–particularly among boys–is what our society typically reads as “gifted.”  By and large our school systems are pretty successful in meeting that need.  Not perfect, but there is a greater openness to and ability to provide acceleration, as well as a burgeoning math/science pipeline in place to foster and reward this type of gift (think math competitions, science camps, scholarships and mentorships, etc.).  Musical artistic talent too tends to be celebrated and rewarded. It’s “okay” for kids to be prodigies in these realms and it feels like summer programs for kids are chock-a-block with theater and art opportunities.
Meanwhile verbal talent is seen as somehow commonplace (“Everyone catches up by third grade and learns how to read”), thus serving as the source of endless frustration for parents trying to work within school systems to find appropriate educational pathways. Frankly, I bought into the mainstream construct too.  It was only in the wake of a CTY SET ceremony that the reality was spelled out for me.  “Just look at the awards program,” this gifted expert told me.  “There is an entire page, four columns in small type of kids who made SET in math (700+ on the Math portion of the SAT before the age of 13).  Meanwhile, there is a quarter of a page, two columns in larger type of kids who reached the same mark on the Verbal section.”
Okaaaay.  Light bulb going off.  It explained why even in gatherings of EG/PG kids, my kid still had a hard time finding “people.”  There truly aren’t that many.  Throw is the gender skew at the very far right of the bell curve and there really aren’t that many.
But back to Dr. Persson (whose research/writing I’m now going to have to seek out).  My “aha” in the interview was his Hero, Nerd and Martyr taxonomy of giftedness.  He writes:
Somewhat simplistically, perhaps, I construed societal functions as Maintenance, Escape, and Change, typified by the more common parlance expressions of Nerd, Hero, and Martyr…. Gifted individuals interested in, for example, technology, medicine, or finance—“the nerds”—all serve supportive functions in society. They are rarely controversial because their skills contribute towards maintaining society, its leaders on all levels, and its power structure as a whole. Also individuals gifted in sports, music, and the arts are much appreciated. A few are rewarded more for the moments of release from stress that their gifts offer. They allow us for a moment to escape into a very positive experience. As scientists, we go to great lengths to study the constituents of their skills.
However, when it comes to gifted individuals having the potential to change the social world by their knowledge and insight, they are rarely as appreciated as their colleagues more devoted to maintenance and escape. We tend to fail to realize the consequences of having an uncanny grasp of cause and effect, so typical of the academically gifted. When confronted with certain conditions and decisions, the gifted individual is very good at understanding what the outcome will be. However, being one voice in a group of others less equipped to foresee the results and problems, who in the group is inclined to listen and acknowledge the single and voice differing in opinion and conclusion? If this individual is being contrary to the leadership, harassment and being contrary to the leadership, harassment and persecution are sure to follow in one way or
another. Interestingly, it rarely matters whether the gifted individual is right or wrong; he or she poses a threat to the credibility of authority. Again, history is full of examples, and “martyr” is sadly an appropriate term.
The greater the prestige to be lost, the more severe the battle to retain dominance and authority.
Or, as Ellen Winner (1996) put it Gifted Children: The gifted are risk-takers with a desire to shake things up. Most of all they have the desire to set things straight, to alter the status quo and shake up established tradition. Creators do not accept the prevailing view. They are oppositional and discontented.

Your Great Interest

By: Diane Rowe

In Stephen King’s Different Seasons, the novella Apt Pupil contains a quote that resonates with me: “You see something for the first time, and right away you know you have found YOUR GREAT INTEREST. It’s like a key turning in a lock.” I think that everyone should have at least one great interest, and as parents it is our responsibility to give our children the opportunities to find the lock for their particular key.

Sometimes a great interest reveals itself at a very young age. My oldest daughter got on her first horse when she was four and has parlayed that love into a fulfilling part-time business in addition to a full time college load. My youngest daughter took a more circuitous route, exploring roller skating, dance, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball – moving from one activity to the next – without really settling on anything until she started playing an instrument. She is now in her final year of high school, and her marching band is the only band in North Carolina to have achieved semi-finals in Grand Nationals twice.

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Why is this important in understanding a gifted child? It aligns with the three-ring conception of giftedness (my favorite definition), developed by Joseph Renzulli. In this definition, above average ability, creativity, and task commitment are equals in determining excellence. Of the three, I believe task commitment is key. Many people demonstrate a great capacity for sitting down to work and getting the job done, but when you add “your great interest” into the mix, that’s when opportunities for excellence appear. It’s the four year old who gets off the horse and asks, “can I do that again?”, or the eighth grader who, in her final middle school band concert, stands at the microphone and says that she’s going to dedicate the next four years of her life to her band.

three ring conception of giftedness

So, what can we do to help a child discover his or her great interest? First, listen when your child expresses an interest in something. Do a little digging – Where did she hear about this? Would she like to see/do/try it? Next, if the interest seems to be there, do some research together: read a book, watch a video clip, see a show/sporting event, explore a bit. Then, if the interest continues, find an opportunity for some hands-on experience. Is there a way to take a short class or a trial lesson before making a longer commitment? When your child is ready to commit to a new activity, make sure that the end date is clearly defined: “You are a part of this team now, and your coach and teammates need your best effort throughout the season”. No quitting in the middle of something! If you have to coax and cajole someone small to get ready, or if you hear groans when you say “it’s time to go”, then that’s a really good indication that activity is not one that your child needs to pursue. But if your child has given the longer trial his or her best effort and is still enthusiastic, then you both will be able to determine if it’s a good idea to put further resources into the interest, or if it was simply a passing fancy.

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Great interests are not always fixed; my equestrienne took a detour through dance before focusing on her four-footed friends, and my musician may be putting down the piccolo temporarily as she gets ready to move on to college. But each of my gifted girls has had the joy of being part of something greater than themselves. They have experienced delayed gratification, and have seen their skills increase through sustained effort over time. They have triumphed, failed, and triumphed again. They have done the work necessary to get the job done, but with a joy that has allowed their spirits to soar.

Diane’s great interest in musical theater began at the age of three when she got down off the stage after her first dance recital and said “I want to go back up there”. That interest turned into a career, with over 20 years teaching dance/theater and 10 years as a gifted education teacher.

Teaching Academically Gifted Children to Relax?!

Last week I took a week off of the blog- and I missed it. I found that I wanted to find resources, articles, and information to share. I might not have many “followers” but I do this because I love it. But, I still needed to have a few things off my plate for the week to focus on a my to-do list.

Help Your Child Relax

I consistently struggle with wanting to do it all and not knowing when to stop or say no. I think this is very common in gifted children too. They might not want to admit they can’t do it all or have difficult time just relaxing. Their little minds are always racing so they feel that physically they have to be in motion. It is our jobs as educators and parents to teach these children how to relax and just “take it easy”. It is a skill that comes naturally to some but not many gifted individuals.

Here are a few articles for parents to help teach your gifted child how to relax (or any child!)

Stress- Learning to Relax

How to Help Students Relax When They’re Feeling Stressed

Help Your Child Relax *

*Image from here