This month I invited the mom of a student I work with to share some of her thoughts about what it feels like to raise a child with gifts and talents.
Written by Linda, a mom of a highly gifted student:
“Many things we need can wait, our children cannot! Today their bones are being formed, their blood is being made, and their senses are being developed. To them we cannot say ‘tomorrow’. Their name is Today!”
The first thing we noticed when Amma came out of the womb was how alert she was, especially for a newborn. She was fascinated by words from the very beginning and watched with curiosity as others spoke, scrutinizing every movement of their lips. When she was 6 months old, she spoke her first word, amazing us all when she responded to our pastor’s wife’s greeting with “Hi”. At one, Amma could sing all the Barney songs while acting out the scenes. At two, she was reading and counting by 2s. It came as no surprise to us, as her parents, when as a 4th grader she made a list of all the Newbery Award winning books and committed to reading all of them by 5th grade. The sheer number of books on the list, coupled with the fact that these books dated as far back as the 1920s made it seem like an insurmountable task. We were proud when Amma successfully met this challenge. This accomplishment solidified our understanding of her intrinsic ability to stay motivated and to challenge herself. We believed the school system and her teachers were assessing her academic needs and providing her an education that met her abilities. In our effort to avoid being one of “those parents” who push their kids beyond their capabilities, we never pushed her teachers for more.
Imagine our shock when our twelve- year-old daughter broke down crying about the inadequacy of the education she was receiving from her school, and how much she was struggling to keep herself challenged and motivated. What is a parent to do when confronted with such situation? Many suggestions are thrown at you, such as:
· Place the child in an environment that is solely designed to continually challenge high achieving children
· Maintain the child in her current school , assuming that such children thrive and do great in any school setting
· Skip a grade or two to keep the child challenged.
As parents of gifted and talented children, we struggle with the potential impact of any of these decisions on our children’s well-being. How much challenge is enough to keep the child motivated but not overwhelmed? In our particular case, we were blessed with an opportunity to partner with our district’s gifted and talented coordinator. Her approach of taking her cues from Amma and designing a program best suited for her special needs was perfect. Amma, who was adamant about not skipping a grade, was allowed to take multiple higher grade level courses while maintaining her grade level relationships. Acknowledging that higher grade course doesn’t equate to challenging program, Mrs. Lee (our gifted and talented coordinator) advocated for alternative growth programs for Amma, such as online and self-study classes. This approach was well-suited for Amma’s unique needs.
From my experience as a mother of gifted and talented children, I cannot overemphasize the need for an individualized learning approach for our children. Adequately educating our gifted and talented children will require a shift in our mindset as a society. Our collective goal should be that of growth, and our mindset should be that “each child deserves to be thought and challenged on a daily basis”. The challenge for us as parents and educators is how to meet the needs of these children. Understanding that each one of them is as unique as a snowflake:
· How do we nurture each child’s abilities by finding a way to plug them in in such a way that encourages learning and help them experience growth each day that they spend in a classroom?
· How do we add value to our gifted and talented children’s education in an era of school budget constraint?
Amma is a thriving high school student with high standards for herself, thanks to the timely intervention of her gifted and talented advocate. However, I struggle daily with the thought of the many gifted children who aren’t being afforded the same opportunity to explore their talents. What will become of children who are unable to achieve their full potential? How much does it cost us as society when we fail to appropriately and adequately educate these minds?
As a just society, it is critical that we provide equal and fair learning conditions to all our children, including our advanced and gifted students. There is a saying that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that when you raise the roof, you lift the building. Investing in these children has a ripple effect on the student body as a whole, so let us commit to avoid leaving any child behind, especially our advanced and talented children.