Friday, August 29, 2008

Kids and "Giftedness"

I just read a brilliant article entitled, "Is your kid really gifted? Probably not." I love it for a host of reasons...

Many years ago I had a third grade class in which 1/3 of the class was identified as "gifted." What a joke! Yes, I had some bright kids. But the kids that they pulled from my classroom were not necessarily any brighter than the kids they left's just that the areas of "brightness" were the areas that are usually held in highest regard in the school setting...things like reading, math and science. The activities that were offered to the "gifted" were activities that could have benefited any of the children in my classroom. It was a shame that only a select few (excuse me, a full THIRD) were given the opportunity to get an "enriched" curriculum.

Years later, my own daughter was identified as gifted in kindergarten. Her enriched curriculum consisted of a stack of worksheets and a one-on-one teaching assistant who helped her put together a book once during the year. I felt terrible that the assistant was being pulled away from the kids who really needed help--the non-English speaking kids and the kids who'd never picked up a pencil before kindergarten...which brings me to another point...

You cannot compare a child who has had a rich early learning environment to a child who has not. A child who has never picked up a pencil and has never been read to is not going to show the same abilities as the child who has been read to every day since birth. It's just not gonna happen. (Or in the rare < %1 of the cases when it does happen, then you might truly have a gifted child on your hands.) They say that the #1 predictor of school success is how much a child has been read to. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those who are read to are going to look heads and tails ahead (especially in the beginning) of those who were not.

When my daughter was 3 1/2, her Sunday School teacher said, "Is there a book or something that you're using to teach Lizzie? If there is, I want to buy it and do it with my daughter cause Lizzie is so smart. She knows how to write her name and everything. You can see it in her eyes how smart she is!" Lizzie was smart. She is smart. So are her two brothers and one sister. The book(s) that I used are called Give a Mouse a Cookie, Make Way for Ducklings, Bread and Jam for Frances, Owl Babies, Corduroy, Babar, Madeline,....and on and on and on. You get the point.

Incidentally, Lizzie was a preschool dropout. She tried preschool for about a month and asked to quit. I let her. Instead we were zealots about our library attendance. Every week for more than five years we made a trip to the library for storytime. It was one of the highlights of our week.

But let's look at the article again...

1. Forget about the "g" word

I LOVE this! I love it so much that when Lizzie returned to school this year I didn't even ask for gifted services. She qualifies. Frankly, I could care less. I love who she is, not what her score is on a standardized test. Additionally, schools really don't have much to offer in the way of gifted resources, at least in our area. (This coming from someone who has been hired to do some gifted education in another school district this year.) "Giftedness" doesn't matter as much as this does...

2. Start with the basics

I cannot say it any more clearly than they do here:

In the first three years of life, all children need to feel a sense of security and attachment. Being held, being loved and having one's basic needs met are all critical for future learning.

The growing brain next needs stimulation in order to change and develop. One thing it loves: novelty. Every time your baby is exposed to new toys, words, sounds, textures, tastes, smells, faces and places, she's learning. You don't have to work overtime to make this happen; everything in everyday life is new to a baby.

By late infancy and toddlerhood, some kids do dart way ahead on milestone charts, and some don't. Whether your kid does or doesn't, experts say, all babies, toddlers and preschoolers will thrive as long as they are:

• Provided a predictable life with a reasonably ordered environment.

• Held and touched often.

• Talked to (or sung to) often.

• Read to frequently.

• Exposed to interesting experiences.

• Given many opportunities to learn through play.

The only thing I'd add is that "the basics" are absolutely crucial for brain development. You want good brain wiring? Then hold your child. Talk to him. Read to him. Play with him.

3. Play's the thing

Over the last few years I've taken several post-graduate courses in play therapy. One of the most important things I learned was just how essential play is. Preschoolers don't need computers. Or Baby Einstein. Or enrichment classes. Or big expensive trips. They do need to play. And they don't need fancy toys to do it. Blocks and boxes and rocks and forts under big bushes...all are ideal for development. It doesn't need to have flashing lights or spin or use batteries. But after reading Last Child in the Woods, I am convinced that a great deal of the play time or the "being" time needs to be done outdoors.

And some of the play time needs to be with mom or dad if you want it to have the additional benefit of creating relationship. Nothing can quite substitute for what you learn when you get on the floor and actively play with your children. It's the place where you learn secret sads and mads and scareds...and happinesses...that you may have never learned about another way.

4. Tune in to your kid

The fancy name for what they're describing is "cognitive dissonance." If something is too easy, you don't learn anything. If it's too hard, you don't learn anything. Somewhere between being sure of yourself and being totally clueless you find the wonderful middle ground...where you don't know the answer but realize you have the power and ability to figure it out. Cognitive Dissonance is scary sometimes. But the younger you are, the more it's just a part of life. What's scary about looking at a cocoon and wondering what it looked like before this stage and what it will look like in a few days?

I remember one of the richest educational experiences we ever did while homeschooling. Ants. Yup, ants. We'd take a long walk down the street every day to watch the ants and see what else we could learn. One day my daughter got up at daylight to accompany me on my jog down the street just so she could see what the ants were doing. We were marvelously surprised to see that they were barely moving...sluggish in the morning fog and cold. A few years later we rejoiced at learning that ladybug larvae look like creepy miniature alligators...ugly creatures that we would have squished had we not known what they would eventually turn into. Learning is in the everyday. But it's in the everyday that we find brilliance.

5. Be a guide, not a coach

This sums it up:

Above all, don't overfocus on cognitive abilities. "You also want your child to be resilient, empathetic, and creative," Schader said.

And you both want to enjoy his childhood....

So relax. The best gift your child can have is the gift of time with you. Reading, singing, playing, dancing, catching fireflies -- it's all good. The rest is gravy.

Enjoy every firefly moment you can get. And ant moment. And ugly ladybug larvae moment.

P.S. If you're really into labeling your child as gifted, then this is an article worth reading. I by no means agree with the article but I think the concept of "levels of giftedness" is interesting...especially after being told that 1/3 of my class of 3rd graders was gifted. This article would have been helpful to help sort out what was meant by "gifted"...gifted at what level?


jennifer said...

But after reading Last Child in the Woods, I am convinced that a great deal of the play time or the "being" time needs to be done outdoors.
Totally with you here. Of course it's easy for me to talk about because I've got kids naturally bent that way. They'd rather be lying on the ground studying the dirt than nearly anywhere else....unless Daddy's home. And then it's amazing imaginary worlds to explore and stories to tell.

Good stuff. Glad you're writing here......

Sherri said...

Someone recently used the words "brilliant" and "gifted" as she talked about one of my girls. I didn't know what to say because I don't think of her with those labels. She is who she is, a girl who loves to learn and works hard at it.


When I see some of the kids--and the sheer number of them--who are making honor roll in schools, I gasp.

Excellent post!

KMDuff said...

Great post, full of interesting things to think about!

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