Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Gifted" : Enriching Your Child's Education

In a previous post I discussed navigating IEP's and Karen Scott wrote:
Question sparked by this blog entry: what about kids at the other end of the "special needs" spectrum? ... Can you discuss the process by which kids are typically identified as gifted and what schools are required to provide for them? (I realize it might depend on what state or other factors, etc.) Thanks!!
I have been wrestling with this request because as mentioned in the comment, there is no one approved or mandated means of defining, evaluating or servicing "gifted" students.  Furthermore, while states currently determine and set gifted education legislation, it is up to local school boards and schools to define and administer policy.  This, of course makes it much more difficult for parents and students to navigate and can take a good deal of effort searching, advocating, and meeting your child's needs.

Determining programs and eligibility:
As there are no national guidelines you are going to have to do a good amount of footwork on your own.  My first suggestion is to begin with an online search:  Google "[your] state guidelines for gifted education" You should find some published guidelines and may find state gifted advocacy groups as well.  These advocacy groups often provide additional (sometimes clearer) guidelines and links with more detailed information. I would start there - read, think and ask a lot of questions.  I also recommend your speaking with public and private school and local government representatives in your area, check online, speak to professionals and friends- canvas your area.  There are good and not as good programs locally as well as nationally.  There are programs in school, after school and over the summer (commuter and residential) - look into all your options. 

Keep in mind:  All schools have their pros and cons. Sometimes small inclusive, progressive schools can offer more than larger state-run gifted programs.  Look around, visit schools, talk to other parents; evaluate what it is you want in a programs and make your selection accordingly. Know that regardless of where your child goes to school, you will need to advocate for your child and enrich out of school (at some level) what he or she is doing in school.

First, a note of parental support:  I am the proud parent of three kids who qualified for gifted programs, and my premature gray hairs can tell you that while it is a joy having bright kids, there are real intellectual, social and emotional challenges.  And, unfortunately, these kids are often overlooked and/or misunderstood. My son, for example, was so bored he turned off (my daughters navigated more effectively, but we moved after 5th grade and his middle school experience was an absolute nightmare).  His grades fell and he never really learned study and organization skills because he never needed them.  His saving grace was a handful of teachers who understood him, when he went to Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY) summer programs (more on this below), and now in college which he finds stimulating and challenging. 

Providing Support in and out of School:
  • Teachers vary in their receptiveness to parental intervention in the classroom, but you MUST have open channels for discussion with your child's teachers and school administrators.  IF homework is too easy, ask if there is some other more challenging assignment your child can do, or parallel books to read in conjunction with what is being covered in class. 
  • A note on educational challenges:  they're good for your child (as long as they are 'manageable' challenges).  Challenges encourage thinking and problem solving.  They tweak study skills, writing skills, literacy math or science skills.  Don't always shelter your child from challenges.  The earlier your child learns to break down a problem into manageable parts, the more meaningful the solutions and learning will be, and the more willing your child will be to take risks and grow.  Finding intellectual / educational challenges for gifted students is in itself a challenge, but try to work with school personnel to make sure you child is not just 'getting by'.
  • Many teachers and school administrators are aware of after-school and or summer programs.  Look into them.  Get references.  Talk to kids who attended the programs as well as their parents.
  • When speaking to your child's teacher, ask for a copy of the syllabus or a list of topics they will be covering over the next few months. Use this to recommend outside reading, plan weekend 'field' trips, even vacations to support and enrich what is covered in school (see more below).
Talk with your kids about what they are learning in school and provide additional enrichment:
  • I know that for many of you this is difficult, but having family meals together is really important.  This provides excellent opportunities to talk about your day, brainstorm about ideas, and take what was discussed in class further. 
  • When asking your child what he or she is learning in school, try to relate it to current events, articles you recently read in the newspaper or online.  Make the topic more meaningful and more personal.  
  • Go on 'treasure hunts' at your local library or book store for related books or through newspapers and magazines that take school curriculum further.  (You may want to get a syllabus from the teacher to help you structure and narrow your search and to make sure there are no duplications).
  • Field Trips are GREAT!!!!  No matter where you live, there is history and culture all around you.  Take advantage of this.  Go to museums (science, art, natural history), landmark houses, cemeteries!  Even nature trails during the different seasons can be quite meaningful. 
  • I personally love going to cemeteries - OLD ONES - looking at tombstones and trying to recreate life stories about the person buried in front of us- stories that incorporate where they are buried and the time period they lived.
  • When hiking through the woods or local park, bring poems to read and discuss.  Look for migrating and/or local birds/fowl and other wildlife.  Take photos, keep albums, write your own poetry.
  • If there are old churches, synagogues, monasteries, mosques - go visit them - talk about other cultures, customs and beliefs.
  • Go to fairs - maybe various crafts / science projects /  foods will spark interest and discussions.
  • Read aloud.  I don't care how old your kids are - reading aloud is soothing and enriching.  Try selecting high interest books with somewhat more challenging vocabulary and themes.  Discuss the books / themes/ language use /vocabulary as you read.  Also, read different kinds of books, different formats, different genres.  (Look at some of my earlier blog posts for more ideas.)
  • Find different recipes (in books or online) to reflect the different cultures your child is learning about.   If your child is learning about colonial times, try cooking a meal the way you might have done during that time period.

The lists go on, but I don't want to inundate you.  Again, we can discuss this in greater detail if you're interested (just let me know).  Also, note that these suggestions really hold for all kids regardless of their strengths, weaknesses and needs - the point is to help your kids take what they are learning further - on whatever level they can.

Before closing, however,  I want to let you know about one special program that literally saved and shaped my kids educational, intellectual, and social lives:


One special program- Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY link is www.jhu.edu/gifted):
I know there are many special  programs available for gifted and talented kids, but there is one that was an absolute god-send for my kids - and as it turns out - for me.  The story of how we found this program and its specifics are interesting may worth hearing.  But as this post is already long enough I will give you the bare basics, please comment if you would like me to write a post about this.

The bottom line is that CTY summer programs offered my kids not only courses that (10 years later) they STILL talk about, but it offered them an incredible social network.  Each of my kids had friends in school from K-grade 12, but in school, my kids stuck out as the smart kids, the nerds (which is FINE BY ME but they often felt left out and misunderstood).  At CTY, their friends were just like them.  CTY offered them an incredibly warm, cozy place to learn and explore in and out of the classroom. When my son started, he was younger than my daughters and only qualified for commuter sites (there are summer residential sites as well).  As we lived far from the site, I applied for a teaching position (to help pay for our housing).  I loved teaching the summer courses and now teach their online distance education courses.  They are wonderful courses - they make you think and are constantly encouraging students to depart the text and take the readings further.  At the risk of sounding like a solicited (or even unsolicited) advertisement, it would be my pleasure to tell you more.  Just ask!

In the meantime, let me know what you think about the recommendations above, let me know what you are doing, and let me know if you want to hear more.

Happy new year to you all and let's make 2011 all we want it to be and more!

7 comments:

  1. Just as an aside, two amazing resources for all things gifted are Gifted Homeschooler Forum and the Tagmax listserv. They are both for gifted homeschoolers, but they have a tremendous amount useful information for anyone with a gifted child. Both are great ways to connect with other parents of gifted children in your area to find out about issues regarding giftedness.

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  2. Thanks for giving such a great answer to my question! I really appreciate it. I guessed that the "rules" would vary greatly depending on all sorts of variables, which is certainly frustrating at one level. I have a son who "just missed" the score on a test to qualify for gifted services, but is obviously thinking beyond others in his class and zips through almost all activities in the regular classroom. Thank goodness we've had a few great teachers who have extended themselves and their curricula to help keep him engaged. And of course, we already do many of your suggestions above at home. (Hurray!)
    Does the Johns Hopkins program have a website that explains its offerings? I could probably just google it, right?

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  3. Hi Karen. I included the website on the blog: www.jhu.edu/gifte

    And, if you want to know more, please let me know. The Hopkins program is certainly not the only one - it is simply the one I know best.

    Also there are a lot of options you still have. If you want to talk more about it let me know. I really understand how hard this can be.

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  4. I would love to see your reading recommendations all in one place. I have 4th & 5th grade boys who are both gifted (recently completed the CTY testing and trying to determine what to do w/ the info!) and love to read.

    Thanks.

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  5. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I will put a recommended reading list for 4th & 5th grade precocious readers together. Please check back (it will take a few days at least. Any particular interests and affinities you would like me to focus on?

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  6. I loved your list of how to extend the learning in the classroom to other areas. I teach sixth grade and many of the parents of my gifted students ask how they can help push their child further. I’ve also found that it helps keep my talented learners from getting board.

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