Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
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Friday, April 29, 2011

The purpose of education is to make friends your own age, isn't it?

When a school raises concerns about a gifted child’s ability to socialise with others of the same age, parents could be mistaken for thinking that the purpose of education is to make friends your own age.

When social issues, in the guise of a child not being seen to interact well with others of the same age, are given as a reason not to accelerate a child one might be led to think that the purpose of going to school is social rather than provide a child with the chance to learn something new.

Adults are well aware that their social circle is not exclusive to others of the same age and yet in the school setting it is not uncommon to come across an expectation that all children the same age should get along. After all they are the same age. Unfortunately this way of thinking also assumes that all children are the same, that they all have the same interests and all learn the same way, at the same pace. It is tempting and convenient stance, but unfortunately does not reflect real life.

It is a myth that all gifted children have poor social skills. Research with populations of gifted children has shown that generally their social skills are better than average however when they are restricted to same age children for social interactions, gifted children may not have the opportunity to continue to continue to grow socially and their social skills may not ‘mature’ as they do. After all it is not possible to learn something from someone who doesn’t yet know (or demonstrate) it.

Friendship is a key element of the school experience for gifted children, just as it is for any child. However, what gifted children look for in friends is often quite different to others their age. International studies have found that children’s conception of friendship develops in stages and that they move through them sequentially. Miraca Gross in a study of 700 children found that what children look for in friends is determined by mental age much more so than by chronological age and that gifted children were substantially further along the sequence of stages than their same age peers of average ability.

Linda Silverman makes a telling statement about the role of friendship in the school experience for gifted children in her book  Counseling the Gifted and Talented

"When gifted children are asked what they most desire, the answer is often 'a friend'. The children's experience of school is completely colored by the presence or absence of relationships with peers." p 72
The purpose of education may, amongst other things, be to make friends. But for gifted children, these friends are unlikely to be children of the same age, unless they too are gifted.

If you are interested to read more on friendship and gifted children you might like:
Play Partner or Sure Shelter: What gifted children look for in friendship
Friendship Patterns in Highly Intelligent Children
Being Me and Fitting In The Dilemma of Differentness

Monday, April 18, 2011

The power of connecting

I spent the weekend at Hogwarts with 45 kids and nearly as many parents. It was the second Harry P and the Professors camp run by Australian Gifted Support in WA. A handful of ‘second years’ (children who also came along last year) were there but there were many new children and their parents.

One of the most wonderful things about watching gifted children when they are amongst like minds is the social dynamics. Many of these children experience a sense of isolation at school, where they find it hard to connect with other children their age. In many cases is it not as a result of poor social skills, more as a result of being at a different stage of development intellectually but also being at a different stage in terms of the development of friendship needs.

It is wonderful to see the invisible barriers fall away as they discover what they have in common. We often see the same sort relaxed and appropriate social interactions amongst the children attending the holiday programs. At the camp, many discovered their interest in Harry Potter was only the beginning.

I watched 2 girls who didn’t know each other before the camp sitting under a table immersed in a shared activity, oblivious to the fact everyone else was preparing for dinner. I observed chess games where a 6 year old was playing one of the older boys, a crowd of others watching around their shoulders, some of them were no doubt soaking up others moves and strategies and improving their own game even without picking up a piece. I watched as one child opened the piano in the corner of the room and started to play a piece they were learning and a less accomplished learner come along to take a turn when they finished. Children who didn’t know each other engaged in duets on the piano and clarinet. There were older ones helping younger ones, and the younger ones helping older kids with barely a consideration for the age difference.

The Saturday night concert was another wonderful example of these children’s respect for each other. A wide range of ages and skill levels showcased their talent with musical items, singing, dancing (including an amazing performance by 2 boys), telling jokes and performing skits. Although there was some stopping and re-starting at times it did not raise a comment and the audience were enthusiastic about each and every performance. Several parents commented that their child would not under any circumstances put themselves on display in that sort of way in their regular school, but had volunteered to do so at camp.

The ‘students’ at Hogwarts were organised into ‘houses’ and at various points throughout the weekend participated in a trivia quiz. It was a great accomplishment when the groups of 10 or so children put their own desire to right, first or loudest aside and work as part of a team. I couldn’t help but wonder how many had just brought home reports with less positive comments about their ability to work co-operatively or collaborate with others in the classroom.

And it was not just the children who discovered connections. Parents had the chance to get to know each other as well while they helped in the kitchen or while the children were busy with workshops. During an informal chat with parents someone who had been speaking in hushed tones about their child’s ability suddenly laughed and said they had just realised they didn’t have to whisper about it here. I also saw parents who had just met swapping email and phone numbers, others who commented that it was such a relief to be somewhere that others understood what they were experiencing. For many it was a relief to discover that they werent the only ones facing very similar challenges with school or understanding their child’s needs. They left feeling that they also belonged somewhere.

And that is a powerful feeling.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Advocacy is a process

Advocating for your gifted child is an ongoing process. There is no ‘quick fix’ despite the temptation to cling to the idea that there is. Each day brings new challenges, new opportunities and decisions to be made.

Armed with a clear understanding of what your goal is and some sound (research based preferably!) information, you can set about making decisions that will align with your goal.

Knowing what the goal is, is often the easy part. Almost without exception, when I see parents, their goal is above all else, to have a child who is happy (see a previous post about this here). It is the process of getting to the goal which is more difficult to define. The path will be different for every family.

Working out what to advocate for, which things will move you closer to your goal is an ongoing challenge. Life is a changeable landscape and it is worth remembering that the advocacy process almost never proceeds along a direct path from where you are now to your goal. Even if have managed to get things working well and feel able to breathe in relief, you can find that the situation suddenly changes. What worked well just last week, is not a good match any longer. And so you start again.

Sometimes I work closely with families for a period of time, usually near the beginning of their journey as they work out what they need to know, then don’t hear from them for quite some time. Then something changes, a change of teacher, of school or an intellectual growth spurt perhaps which brings some new challenge to the fore.

The more you know about your child, the way they prefer to learn, their personal strengths and any weaker areas, their personal passions and what excites them, their achievement levels or performance in different subjects (as well as the degree of potential they have if you have access to this information), the more able you will be to fine tune your goal.

And it doesn’t matter how much you have learned, there is always more to learn. It is likely that you will continue to advocate in various ways for your child for many years. Even when they can advocate for themselves, they will probably still need you steering gently in the background.

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