Monday, January 23, 2012

What to do with gifted kids at home...

As a mom of many gifted children, we have struggled to keep everybody busy and happy!  My kids have lots of different interests, so we have tried to build on those.

Here is a quick list of some of our activities:
Piano lessons, voice lessons, violin lessons, roping lessons, horseback riding lessons, swimming lessons, trumpet lessons, and gymnastics lessons, and weight lifting.
Soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading, dance and swimming teams.
We have conducted research on: braiding cowboy gear, Australian cattle dogs, Egyptian mummies, dogs, dog training, Indians, Pioneers, stars, birds, rabbits, saddles, bridles, cows,  and famous people.
The kids have experimented with drawing, painting, cartooning, making cartoon movies, computer games that require kids to think (Spy Fox, Pajama Sam, Freddie the Fish for little kids), computer games that allow kids to create things, digital photography, scrapbooking, card making, legos, playmobil and other building sets.
We read to our kids, let them see us reading, read with our kids, and had them read alone.  We tried to make books available that peaked their interests.  Some of my children were gifted in math and science NOT in language arts, so I even paid them a dollar a book to read in the summer! 
We have also made crafts, sewing projects, wood projects, leather projects, cooking projects, games, movies on movie maker, and gifts for friends and family.
We have bred angora rabbits, bred dogs, broke ponies and horses, trained dogs, trained birds, had a saltwater and freshwater fish tank and more than our share of guniea pigs, hamsters and gerbils.

We have done lots of work together: painting the house and rooms, building things both in and out of the house, household repairs, working on cars, doing basic car repairs, yard work, gardening, harvesting, canning and drying food, remodeling bedrooms, daily animal chores, household chores etc.
We have gone to movies, zoos, museums, visited historical sites, hiked the trails around our home, taken multi-day family lightweight horse packing trips, talked about the mountains and other land marks near our home, took car trips and did anything else we could think of to stimulate our children to think.We also made sure that they had plenty of time to play, imagine, and build.
 So...where do YOU start?

There are tons of websites on the internet that parents can access--just google what you are looking for and you will be amazed at what is available.

There are also many people in most communities that are willing to share their knowledge. We have contacted people that we knew, or friends of friends, that had the same interests as our kids. They have been more than willing to share and the friendships developed through this contact has been a true blessing to our children.

We have made countless trips to the library, looking for information on projects and interests. When our small library was not helpful, a quick search of usually allowed us to buy the needed books very inexpensively.

We have utilized classes and programs offered very through the community: sports teams, scouts, classes from the local university, job shadowing opportunities, clinics, one-day seminars, etc.

We have never had a lot of disposable income, but nearly every resource we used was free or charged a nominal fee.  I believe that the most important part of challenging gifted children is being aware of who they are and what they are interested in.  Their forays into well loved interests can make all the difference in how they view themselves and how they view learning.

Here are a few professional websites for you to check out:

Prufrock Press has a list of books that address the interests of talented students. They include books on encouraging math, science, and writing talent.
Scholastic also gives some ideas for encouraging gifted children at home.
Fun and Challenging Activities for Gifted Children, is a website that addresses where to find stimulating
This is a great pdf for parents about activities and gifted children.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I have a niece that is in kindergarten, who is gifted.  She is ahead in reading and in math.  The school has done a fair job of meeting her needs, by letting her work independently in math, BUT....the district has a new math program which uses new vocabulary and a new format.  The teachers are concerned that she is not learning these. Should my niece attend the regular math class with the rest of the kindergarteners so that she can learn the skills, format and vocabulary? The teachers seem to think so.  My sister called me with this question and both of us agreed that the solution was to grade level accelerate her into a first grade classroom where she could receive daily instruction on her level, AND learn the vocabulary and format.  This is not an option, however, so what to do?

Teachers are often bothered or worried about these issues;"holes" in a student's learning, if they are allowed to work ahead.  I hear this every time I want to accelerate a student to a higher level.  Personally, I think that when gifted kids run into a "hole," all the teacher has to do is explain the vocabulary term or the concept once, and the student has it.  Gifted students have a great ability to quickly learn information, especially in areas they are interested in.

Karen Rogers is Professor of Gifted Studies in the department of Special Education and Gifted Education in the college of Applied Professional Studies, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Rogers is a frequent keynote speaker for state, national, and international conferences on gifted education. She is the author of more than 150 articles, 18 book chapters and 4 books. More than 500,000 people worldwide have read her paper on ability grouping, written for the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented. She was the co-developer of a one-week television series on the nature of giftedness, called, "One Step Ahead," which is housed in the PBS Network Library, in Nebraska.
" Karen B. Rogers introduces five "lessons" about the needs of gifted students...
First, she explains that in order for gifted students' talents to flourish and grow, they need to be presented with a daily challenge that will enhance their particular strength. With progressively more difficult challenges, the students will grow intellectually in their areas of strength and will learn to connect old and new ideas.
Second, gifted students need opportunities for independent work pursuing their specific areas of interest.
Third, they need the opportunity to learn at their own levels; how can a fifth grader who is reading on an eleventh grade level be appropriately challenged in her fifth grade class?
Fourth, in addition to academic needs, Rogers explains that gifted students need opportunities to spend time with other students with abilities similar to theirs. This gives the students an opportunity to work with their peers and spend time with students who think how they do.
Lastly, gifted students need to learn at their own pace. Just like any other students, in order to be academically challenged, they need to work at a pace that matches their learning styles and abilities. Gifted children tend to learn and retain information at a much quicker rate. If they experience too much down time while the rest of the class is reviewing, they will become bored and lose focus. They too need to learn at their own rate in order to maximize their learning abilities.

All of these lessons teach us that students need challenge and appropriate curriculum in order to thrive.  I don't believe that having a student placed in a math class that is well below her level, follows these five lessons.

Another article that addresses this issue, was written by Carol Bainbridge. Carol has been providing advice to parents of gifted children for nearly fifteen years, including work as a gifted children expert on
Carol talks about academic problems for gifted children on the website:
She says, "Ideally, all children will be challenged appropriately. The work they get will be neither too hard nor too easy. If it is too hard, children will give up. If it is too easy, children will give up. In the first case, they will give up because of the stress; in the second, because of boredom." She goes on to say, "For most gifted kids, getting work that is too hard is not usually the problem, at least not initially in school. They may sail through school getting straight A's, but at some point either in high school, college, or life, they may encounter work that does not come easily to them and they may not be able to meet the challenge that work presents. It's not that the work is too difficult for them, but it may feel that way to them simply because they've never been challenged before and don't know how to approach the challenge.

Getting work that is too easy makes it very difficult for kids to concentrate on it. Younger children, who don't have the words to explain the problem, may say that the work is too hard. What they might mean, however, is that it is too hard to concentrate on the work and get it done. They don't mean that they are incapable of doing the work. Gifted children who are not given challenging work in school may end up being underachievers. It is simply easier to give up than to deal with the excruciating boredom day in and day out. These children, too, may find it difficult to meet the challenges later in life that lead to success." 

Next, Carol discusses the social aspects of challenging gifted students,"...gifted kids may be as advanced socially as they are academically. That is not always the case, but is possible. Even if they aren't much more advanced socially than their age mates, an inappropriate academic setting can make them appear to have social and behavioral problems.

Those problems can be caused by boredom, but they can also be caused by the lack of intellectual and social peers. Imagine how frustrating it would be to spend about six hours every day performing tasks to teach you what you already know and to have no one who shared your interests or could understand what you were talking about. Giving children appropriately challenging work and allowing him to interact with social and intellectual peers can prevent or solve many social problems."

Finally, Carol talks about emotional problems that mismatched curriculum can cause gifted students. "An inappropriate academic setting can also lead to emotional problems. When gifted children are not academically challenged and are not able to spend time with other children like them, they may begin to feel as though there is something wrong with them. Why is everyone else struggling with the those math problems? Why can't the other children read already? Why don't the other kids want to spend all day learning about planets and black holes? Why do those kids say such mean things? The answers to all those questions are quite obvious to adults, but not to the young gifted child.

It is even possible for a frustrated gifted child to become depressed, so if your child is not being challenged in school, you want to be on the lookout for signs of depression. Children can appear to be angry, but anger can be a sign of depression in young children."

I do not believe, given the situation, that keeping my niece in a grade-level math class is the best option. What do you think?



Monday, January 9, 2012

Early Entry to Kindergarten

Many of us grew up with a friend or fellow student that skipped a grade.  Grade skipping or "acceleration" is a topic that is subject to much controversy.  The current research actually supports acceleration as a great way to meet the needs of gifted students, but the subject becomes even more convoluted when the question is whether or not to provide early entry into kindergarten.

I have been a kindergarten teacher for nearly 20 years and I have very mixed emotions on the subject.  On the one hand, if a child is reading and seems to be fluent in the subjects taught in kindergarten, it seems silly to make him or her sit out for another year. On the other hand, kindergarten has a lot to do with following directions and rules, getting along with peers, and learning how to follow a proscribed curriculum, instead of the child directing his learning.  Kindergarten success is based a lot on the child being developmentally ready to do all of the work. Remember, giftedness is asynchronous, meaning that a child may be reading at three, but may not be able to identify colors or be potty trained.  In an effort to help parents decide whether or not to push for early entry, I have done some reading and research to help guide the decision. has a good article that succinctly describes both the pros and cons of early entry into kindergarten.  I think that it is worth clicking on the "Readers Respond " area to read what other parents have to say.  Most of the readers had children who were gifted and missed the school deadline by just a few days.  I think that this situation certainly warrants parents inquiring about early entry.  Click here to read the article.

Now, just to play devil's advocate, I want to tell you about my experience with this situation.  My oldest son's birthday is Sept. 4th, just 3 days past our school deadline.  He is gifted and needed to be in an academic pre-school.  We were new to the area, so I stopped in the school office and asked the principal for a recommendation for an academic pre-school.  The principal informed me that the school had an early entry policy. If a child turned 5 by November 15, the parent could request that he be tested and enter kindergarten as a four year old. We opted to do this, and he was given an IQ test as well as the school's regular kindergarten screening.  He scored in the 98th percentile on the IQ-type test and the only Kindergarten skill he didn't do well on was cutting. (Hmmm, probably because he cut up our family pictures so the scissors had been hidden for some time.) After some discussion, we decided to put him into kindergarten.  He was able to do all the work, but he was more interested in the social aspect of school and he often had to bring unfinished work home. In short, he was just squirrelly!  The following year, we moved again, and in this district, the kindergarten deadline was August 15th.  We opted to have our son repeat kindergarten, even though he was fine academically.  It was kind of a boring year for him, but I have never regretted my decision.  He was an awesome, settled student all the way through high school and college.  He excelled in everything he touched.  I think that he would have been ok if we had not kept him with his age-level peers, but it would have been a lot more work both for him and for me!

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development has a more scholarly article about early entry into kindergarten. It was written by Nancy Robinson and Linda Weimert, and it describes several studies on this subject.  The authors suggest that students should be selected for early entry after "careful evaluation."  That, I believe, is the key.  Students need to be evaluated on several levels to determine their readiness.  My son, was ready for the curriculum, but he was not ready for the rigors of school, but this is not always the case.  Many gifted students have high social maturity as well, and this must be a consideration when making the decision.

The authors suggest the following areas of  assessment:
Cognitive Ability (IQ 125+ as a loose predictor using a test like the Wechsler. The authors suggest, "Individual administration allows the tester to observe the child's reaction to challenge and difficulty, enthusiasm for problem solving, or anxiety in a new situation. Such information is useful in predicting a child's response to early entrance and is also essential (especially for the young child) in estimating the degree to which test performance approximates the child's best effort."

Academic Abilities
The student is reading, writing, and doing math, or shows readiness to do so.

Classroom Learning Skills
"Although not strictly academic, there also exist a set of learning skills that most children acquire in the course of preschool. These include, for example, the ability to remain engaged in an interesting task for perhaps 15 minutes without adult redirection, the ability to be a member of a group (as, e.g., listening to a story), the ability to listen and remember oral instructions, the ability to translate from one visual stimulus (e.g., a blackboard) to another (e.g., a piece of paper), and a vocabulary that encompasses concepts of relationship and quantity basic to classroom communication. There is no easy measure for any of these behaviors.Perhaps the best source of information here is the preschool teacher, who generally has a good sense of how a child compares with age-mates in these learning skills. A child who has not attended preschool, and therefore has not had the previous experience of developing group social skills, adapting to structured routines, and sharing adult attention, is seldom a good candidate for early school entry." (Robinson and Weimert).

Motor Development
"The child's competence in motor skills, as well as health and physical stamina, is important in determining a comfortable fit within the peer group and the ability to participate in classroom and playground activities. Fine motor coordination and visual-motor integration are essential to the paper and pencil activities typically introduced in kindergarten, and delays in visual-motor integration are often associated with delays in acquiring reading skills. Well-standardized measures of visual-motor integration are exemplified by the tasks of copying designs that are included in subscales of the WPPSIR and the Stanford-Binet, Fourth Edition."
(Robinson and Weimert).

Additional areas to screen are:
Screening for Learning Problems
Adequate visual discrimination and orientation
Auditory discrimination
Auditory processing
Information from parent interview in assessing risk for learning problems.

One final website may be helpful.  Click here and choose the pdf called Kindergarten Readiness: is early entry to kindergarten right for my child? This is a less technical site that lists several areas to consider if you want your child to enter kindergarten early. The areas are:
1. Cognitive (academic) readiness.
2. Developmental readiness.
3. Physical readiness.

In conclusion, it is always a difficult decision when our little ones are involved, but parents know their children best...follow your instincts and do what you think is right!