Gifted and Bored
Issues with Gifted Children at School
By: Christina Wood
|My son has always been a quick study. When I was pregnant with my daughter, he had so many questions about how babies are made that he wore me out with the sheer volume of them: "Can she cry in there?" "Does the food fall on her head?" "Where does her poop go?" "How will she get out?" I knew this was a learning opportunity, so I answered each question. By the time Ava was born, Cole had a better understanding of human reproduction than most of the men I've dated.|
|The speed with which Cole learned made him a delight to teach, so I expected him to do well in school. That was not the case. (See also Attention Issues and School: A Mom's View.) The problems started in Kindergarten, but I didn't start to seriously worry until his first-grade teacher told me, "I keep making the work easier for him but he can't seem to get it." I gently told her that he was really pretty smart and that she might have more luck making the work harder. She gave me a look of profound pity. That and further evidence that they thought he was a discipline problem, as well as slow, was the very moment I turned into a meddling, bossy, dissatisfied, aggressive parent. I called meetings with the principal and threatened (and seriously considered) pulling him out to homeschool him.|
|After a long battle with the school, I succumbed to their pressure to have Cole evaluated for attention issues—thinking it might also help me sort through my education options. The test turned up what I suppose I already knew. Cole was very bright—probably gifted—and no doubt very bored. Like many gifted children, he isn't all that interested in demonstrating his knowledge, so tests make him go limp. He just craves more stimulation. Schools, though, are very concerned with demonstrating what children know, rather than getting them excited about something new.|
|I might have saved my son a lot of trouble if I'd identified the signs that he fell into the "gifted" range many years earlier.
Despite the oft-held belief that an IQ of 130 and above is "gifted," IQ is only one measure. Gifted learners are "children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment," according to the U.S. Department of Education.
It is possible to recognize giftedness in a toddler, or even in a baby. Cole had passed all the baby milestones early; he was observant and curious from an early age; even as a toddler he had a long attention span for topics that interested him; his command of the language is outstanding; he's very funny; he picks up abstract mathematical concepts easily; he worries about morality and death, and he pursues topics like robotics, marine life, botany, dinosaurs, and outer space with an intensity I've rarely encountered outside of college.
|All parents think their kids are great (and if they don't, they should!) so I resisted the urge to discuss my son's intelligence with others. That was my mistake. "Parents are the most accurate judges of their children," says Joan Franklin Smutny, Director of the Center for Gifted at National-Louis University in Evanston Illinois and the author of numerous books on the topic including Stand Up For Your Gifted Child (Free Spirit Publishing). "These children need their parents to be advocates for them—early and often."|
|Many schools assume that gifted children will "rise to the top" and need little help, so they focus their limited resources on kids who are likely to fall behind. But that displays a deep misunderstanding of giftedness. A child who picks up concepts much more quickly than the kids around him is left with a lot of time to get into trouble or daydream. If she is constantly in trouble and told she is a problem, she will likely develop low self-esteem. And failing to challenge a gifted mind will certainly lead to under-achievement. Giftedness is largely a measure of potential. It is up to the child's environment to develop that potential.|
|"Over 500,000 gifted children are born every year," explains Smutny. "But teachers do not have the training to recognize them in the classroom." So only about half of the gifted children in the United States are receiving the education they need. Gifted children are often misdiagnosed as slow or suffering from attention problems.
Often when a gifted child's mind is challenged—even in just one subject area—the behavior and attention problems cease and the child starts to do well in all areas. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, "There is physical and psychological pain in being thwarted, discouraged and diminished as a person. To have ability, to feel power you are never allowed to use, can become traumatic. Many researchers consider the gifted as the largest group of under-achievers in education."
According to Smutny and the National Association for Gifted Children—as well as a host of books—gifted children need a classroom that will allow them to learn at their own speed, and one that will encourage their minds to grow. Some solutions suggested by experts:
|All of these solutions raise a problem that seems persistent with gifted kids: they are different, they know it, and other kids know it. This can lead to emotional problems, difficulty fitting into groups, and problems finding friends. But gifted kids are often happy with only one or two good friends and frequently aren't interested in joining groups. "Insisting that a child join in a group can actually exacerbate the problem," says Smutny.|
|When a gifted child has a deep interest in a more complex topic, Smutny suggests parents find an older child who might act as an intellectual outlet or mentor. She also suggests that parents of gifted children talk about difficult situations and how to resolve them to help the kids cope with these issues. This can be done by example; there are lots of characters in books and movies that overcome adversity.|
|The most important lesson I've learned in my adventure with Cole is that I need to worry less about appearing like an over-proud parent and worry more that his needs are being met. In fact, I'm pulling together a stack of materials right now for my next meeting with his teacher and principal: curriculum suggestions from the National Association for Gifted Children, advice from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, suggestions from Hoagies Gifted Education Page, as well as books from the Gifted and Talented list at Free Spirit Publishing. I'm also bringing examples of stuff Cole likes to read, draw, write, and study at home so that I have concrete examples of his abilities.|
|I started out the school year thinking my only option was to homeschool. I went to the first day of school with little hope, but I was honest. I told the teacher—in no uncertain terms—that Cole was very smart and that we were very disappointed with the experience we'd had in first grade. I also shared some of his current interests. She was able to use that knowledge—and the test from the psychiatrist—to build a relationship with him and a curriculum that suits him. He has to do more rote work and take more tests in school than he would have had to at home, but he does it out of affection for his teacher, even if he finds it boring. That seems to me like a good thing to learn. As a result, Cole has discovered a teacher he loves and has learned a very important lesson: He's not a bad kid, he's a smart kid.|