It is my great privilege to work with parent groups and with families as they navigate the joys and challenges of raising gifted children. Without fail, at workshops and in coaching sessions, we often pass the kleenex because the task of parenting gifted kids, while full of joy and pride, can also be difficult and fraught with emotion. Many of the emotions, and the questions that go with them seem to be universal, and may present themselves at various points during the journey of parenting. One of the most important things we do is to reassure parents that they are not alone, and that other parents share these same emotions and questions.
While pondering this topic, I came across a blog that included a checklist of emotions, Gifted Challenges: Welcome to Gifted Parenting: A Checklist of Emotions by Dr. Gail Post, Clinical Psychologist, that helped me identify and group by “ages and stages” some of the most pressing issues and questions that parents of gifted children often share in our work together. I have chosen to “dig deeper” into each area, and to share the questions that most often come up when working with parents of gifted kids.
The questions and emotions are endless, and the angst and joy are real. Many families have found that reading widely helps answer their questions. One of my favorite sites for parents is The Parenting Link at hoagiesgifted.org. Additionally, many parents have found comfort in the book, A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children, which is used in SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) discussion groups. SENG discussion groups, and Parent to Parent: Sharing Your Wisdom workshops, such as those offered at the WATG Fall Conference October 3-4 in Wisconsin Dells, also provide parents with a community of ideas, resources, and reassurance.
Parenting is always full of joys and challenges. If you are reading this article, I want to assure you that you are doing a good job. Let’s encourage each other, talk to each other, and share what is working.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WATG
This year I have been blessed with an opportunity that has helped me grow, learn, and ponder new questions about this thing we call “learning”. As an educational coach, I am currently coaching the entire foreign language department at a private school, and am immersed in French, Spanish, and Chinese classrooms. While I am fluent in German, and of course English, I have only ‘un poco’ Spanish, far less French, and no Chinese language skills at all. But...I am learning, and amazing myself. This has led me to wonder about the brain’s plasticity, and our ability to learn languages easily, especially as we age.
Thus it was with great fascination that I happened upon this article, MIT Scientists Prove Adults Learn Language to Fluency Nearly As Well As Children. The main findings in this article assert this: “In a nutshell, this team found that if you start learning a language before the age of 18, you have a much better likelihood of obtaining a native-like mastery of the language’s grammar than if you start later. This is a much older age than has been generally assumed… This data has also given us a really amazing insight into language learning in general and shows that adults of any age can obtain incredible mastery nearly as quickly as children.” But what about learners after the age of 20, I wondered...
Analyzing data from nearly 750,000 people over time, the scientists also found that, “Given the same amount of time, the top quarter of learners from the over-20 group do just as well as the average of those who started before 10.” (The scientists did concede that the evidence got “pretty wobbly” for the over-20 group after about 20 years of learning experience, however, and this was due to a much smaller sample size. Apparently, not very many people choose to learn a new language at an “advanced age”, probably fearing that it will be too hard).
The author of this article, Scott Chacon, does, however, seek to explain one apparent reason that children learn languages faster than adults -- and that is the amount of exposure that children receive. “It’s highly possible that this learning difference by age is not due to some magic change in brain plasticity, but simply that adults don’t have as much time to be exposed as children, and often hit a point where it stops being helpful to improve after a while. They become totally fluent at this slower pace and reaching native-level mastery provides little additional advantage. Maybe it’s not that it’s harder for older learners or that they’re not capable, maybe it’s just that they don’t have the same opportunity.” Or...I might add, the same amount of time to pursue mastery, given the other challenges of life.
Another interesting finding of the study was that, as people sought to master a new language , it did not seem to matter what their native linguistic background was. The human brain, at any age, is equipped with neuroplasticity, and learns.
The most encouraging advice from the scientists in this study confirmed what I have been hopefully suspecting as I dabble in French, Spanish, and Chinese -- “ Don’t let use poorly reported studies convince you not to try learning a language. The truth is that you’re almost certainly very good at it. People consistently learn new languages in a year or two -- from no knowledge to very capable, fluent levels, -- and in my personal experience, much faster than children given the same amount of time. That last mile, getting from fluent to native-like, is statistically more difficult...but like any good 80/20 rule, the first 80% of the results takes 20% of the time. What is remarkable about language is that we are (nearly) all extremely good at it, including adult learners.”
My takeaway for gifted individuals, and especially those of us concerned about keeping our brains challenged and growing, is that learning new languages can be one way to accomplish our goal.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts. Together we learn and grow.
Past President, WATG
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think