Summer is upon us and most students enjoy the freedom from school that it brings. Many families take vacations near and far, and many stay at home to enjoy their own back yard. Sometimes parents fill children’s days with structured activities in sports, the arts, academics, youth groups, scouts, or 4-H, while others send their children away to summer camp. What will your family do this summer?
Many gifted children and youth say the unstructured time of summer gives them an opportunity to recharge, defuse, think differently, and relax. Some gifted children and youth have told me that they would like parents to know that summer should be a time for the child or youth themselves to determine how they will spend their summer, not their parents. These children and youth said they would like to explore things of their own interest on their timetable, not what and when their parents think they should be doing. For example, one young girl said she would love to spend her summer days playing with her Legos and reading stories because she can build things inspired by the stories and investigate how to make her buildings stronger. Sounds like a possible architect or structural engineer in the making. One teen said he would love to have the summer to further his coding skills and refine the program he is working on to help people stay organized, and he wished his parents wouldn’t think he was “wasting time in front of the screen”. He viewed his time as something of value to help others who have difficulty with organization. Sounds like serving others using a plan to solve a problem, something engineers and computer scientists do.
Research is clear about the value of unstructured play for human beings. We adults are usually the problem. Too often we look at unstructured time as wasted and unproductive, yet even some of the most innovative companies such as Google, Digital Air Strike, Method, and Candescent Health encourage creativity and play. They find that this time is not wasted, but rather, allows creativity and innovation as part of the company’s culture, not as an add-on benefit.
Perhaps your family needs some down time after a busy school year. Consider giving your gifted child or teen the gift of unstructured play time to choose his/her own activities with time to continue their exploration throughout the summer. Consider spending free time playing with your child or youth perhaps in a backyard game of catch, or a summer-long game of Monopoly. Time together in unstructured play will likely benefit us all.
Following are some of the seemingly endless resources about play on the Internet.
The Power of Play
Minnesota Children’s Museum
Articles for Families on Play
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Play is More Than Just Fun
TED Talk by Dr. Stuart Brown. This is from ten years ago but provides a good background of play by a pioneer in the field.
Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, Summary and Recommendations
Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, Full Report
The National Institute for Play
Playtime Isn’t Just for Preschoolers--Teenagers Need It, Too
Play Doesn’t End with Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too
The Importance of Play for Adults
20 Companies Where Creativity is Key
Last month I discussed Self-Advocacy and its importance for gifted students. This month I’d like to discuss Self-Determination. Often people ask me “Isn’t self-advocacy and self-determination the same thing?” The answer is no, it is not. While self-advocacy is a set of skills used by an individual to promote their needs such as learning needs, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD, 2018) accepts “…the view of self-determination as an empowered state in which individuals take charge of their lives, make choices in their self-interest and freely pursue their goals.” This applies to gifted students because they, too, are exceptional learners. Self-determination is a theory with a basis in psychology (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Take a look at the skills required to accomplish self-determination in the NCLD statement above. First, the person needs to be in an “empowered state” which does not always occur in the classroom. The classroom is usually led by one person-the teacher-with some choice given to students, but generally not empowering students to learn according to their needs. Next comes taking charge of their own life which in school means in the learning environment-again the classroom. Are students generally given the opportunity to be in charge of their life in school? Would they know how to do so if they were presented with the opportunity? Next comes making “choices in their self-interest.” Students make choices all the time; in school, at home, with friends. Do they know how to make choices “in their self-interest”? This does not mean in a narcissistic manner, but rather, to gain what is needed so they can learn their way, have autonomy, and set their own course. For most gifted students this usually means with a curriculum or approach that is different from the one the rest of the class is using and may even mean a different grade level. Finally, the NCLD view of self-determination requires students to “freely pursue their goals.” Are gifted students given the time and opportunity to do this? If so, do they know how to or do they need to learn ways to accomplish certain tasks, approaches, collaboration, or research?
All of these require critical thinking and problem-solving skills which students need to be explicitly taught, not in a rigid, rote way, but in an exploratory manner giving them freedom to explore and learn deeply and fail and learn some more. It is said that one is self-determined when using these skills to make “active and positive choices about the direction of their learning and their lives” (NCLD, 2018). Notice the words active, positive, direction. Learning how to be self-determined is an active, not passive process. It is controlling one’s future and destiny.
Self-determination can be more difficult than self-advocacy because it requires the person to direct their own life. This can be scary for many students, and many parents, teachers, and other adults who do not believe children and youth can do so. Too often adults believe children and youth will “mess up” and make wrong decisions. If one believes in the gifts and talents of gifted students, then one knows that from mistakes comes learning and growth, and with guidance gifted students can direct their own lives and practice self-determination. They just need someone to support them and stand by their side to help positively guide them through the journey.
Agents of Their Own Success: Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities in the Era of Personalized Learning, (2018), National Center for Learning Disabilities. https://www.ncld.org/archives/reports-and-studies/self-advocacy-skills-and-self-determination-for-students-with-disabilities-in-the-era-of-personalized-learning#utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=selfadvocacylaunch
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
Here are a few resources related to Self-Determination. Many resources available are about students with disabilities which also applies to gifted and other students.
Self-Determination: Supporting Successful Transition
PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment: Self-Determination
Increasing Student Success Through Instruction in Self-Determination
Ask the Doctor