In today’s crowded classrooms and busy family homes, it’s easy for academically gifted children to get pushed off to the side. They’re bright, they’re not causing problems, and their test scores are good, so people tend to assume they don’t need attention. But that’s a dangerous assumption. It’s a myth that gifted children can succeed on their own. To reach their full potential, they need support from their schools and their parents.
Accept joint responsibility
Because the state does not fund gifted programs, local districts must create their own identification criteria and processes, as well as their own strategies for dealing with gifted students. Consequently, programs vary all over the state of New Jersey. The state does, however, mandate that local districts make accommodations to “identify gifted and talented students” and “to provide appropriate K–12 educational services” for them. The programs offered by the districts “must address appropriate content, process, products, and learning environment.” (N.J.A.C. 6A:8-3.1)
It’s up to the parents of gifted children to learn about their school district’s unique offerings and to advocate on behalf of their children. The truth is, even the most accommodating school districts can’t be expected to meet all the academic, social, and specific ability needs of every child—gifted or not—so parents are encouraged to partner with schools to maximize academic success.
Schedule a strategic planning session
The first step is to have a conversation with your child’s teacher or teachers. Usually the teacher and parents will view this meeting as collaborative; all participants will be focused on the student having a great year educationally. If possible, both parents should attend the meeting so they can contribute to and participate in this and future conversations.
Take the opportunity to explain a little about your child’s strengths in a friendly, non-boastful way. Adversarial, demanding meetings are fraught with problems and do not serve your child well. Having an open mind and a positive attitude will go a long way toward accomplishing your goals. Know ahead of time what you are asking for, and offer your support as parents in helping to achieve your objectives. See if you and the teacher can come to agreement on an action plan. Setting timeframes and establishing goals may be helpful as you measure progress during the year.
Resources for parents of gifted students—>
Create a challenging environment
Your child’s year of learning should be one of growth, filled with challenging opportunities and experiences that make school an exciting and desirable place to be. Learning at a challenging level keeps gifted children focused and involved and prevents the development of poor study and work habits (which often occurs when the work is too easy). These poor habits can have negative ramifications as the student progresses through high school into college—and beyond. If the work and good grades come too easily, the student may be unprepared for the hard work and perseverance required to succeed in the future.
Parents also need to be aware that gifted children often have asynchronous development. This means that they may excel in one subject and be average or even in need of more support in another subject area. The areas of strength must be nurtured as well as any weak areas.
Pay attention to social & emotional issues
Schooling is but one puzzle piece in the raising of a gifted child. What about the social/emotional issues these children experience? What about their need for peers who have similar interests? These may not necessarily be same-age peers. Often gifted children have deep interests in a particular area: archaeology, astronomy, the human body, inventing. Nurture that interest.
Gifted children tend to worry about the world around them, and they are extremely intense in their concerns about issues like world hunger and global warming. Their level of curiosity and intensity may be very different from most children, and parents need to find at least one friend with whom they can relate and feel intellectually comfortable.
Provide opportunities for your child to be involved in service learning experiences outside the school day. Besides sports, provide opportunities to learn an instrument, experience theater, dabble in the arts, take a pottery class, or spend a day at one of the many museums that surround us in New Jersey. These experiences may lead to career interests and will surely broaden your child’s world.
Parents will go to great lengths to ensure a quality education for their gifted students. Some have moved to different school districts to provide specific opportunities for their child; others have chosen homeschooling or private schooling. But a school can’t support a gifted child alone. Parental involvement is crucial.
Did Michael Phelps’ school district offer a course called “How to be an Olympic Swimmer?” No. His parents helped provide the opportunities for him to grow in this area. With your encouragement, your child can also uncover the greatness that lies within.
Resources for parents of gifted students:
- New Jersey Association for Gifted Children
- National Association for Gifted Children
- Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
- Davidson Institute for Talent Development
- Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted
Elaine Mendelow is an educator, author, and past president of the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children (NJAGC). Nathan Levy is an author and the current president of NJAGC; his website is Stories With Holes. Contact them or connect with the NJAGC for additional information about supporting your gifted child.