08 April 2012

social commentary Sunday . . . 'guiding gifted children'

Greetings all,
I hope by this stage in my blog journey my readers ‘get me’ . . . as I’ve decided to post on how we are guiding our academically gifted children. My mother jokingly called it ‘the G&T crowd’ when we were at school, as the parents of gifted children looked like they needed a stiff drink, a Gin & Tonic, with equally stressed out children. Bless North Shore private schools!!  This is not a hand book, purely my experience & strong opinion on the topic.
Once it was confirmed we were posting to Canberra, we were offered unsuitable Defence Housing options (size, style, location) in the far south; when my husband’s job was in the north?? The only way we could campaign for housing preferences was to deem one of our children ‘Special Needs’. So in 2007 I organised for my daughters to be tested for giftedness (hoping one might be). The school in Darwin had the executive teacher administer the tests during school time, 12 tests over 12 weeks. I didn’t really discuss it with the children, I didn’t want to them feel any pressure.
The Education Psychologist called me with the results. They all got top marks (all gifted), however, he focussed on our eldest (freakishly gifted). I had no idea those conversations about how planes fly, spectrums, pages of maths calculations & her grasp on abstract thinking, as a 3 year old, would result in a specific number of intelligence which had teachers patting me on the back. I was uncomfortable with the teacher reaction though, & have never told them the IQ scores. The Psychologist explained “her brilliance lies in her adaptability – she’s not obnoxious, using big words around her peers to elevate herself or seeking out adult company, but saves it for her exams & appropriate opportunities.” We never tested our son, he’s a replica of his sisters, same inquisitive questions as a toddler, amazing school reports since.
As it turned out, we were offered a suitable home in north Canberra, got places at the primary & preschool of our choice, so we never submitted the Special Needs paperwork. My husband & I know we have 4 academically gifted & talented children, yet chose regular schools, encouraging sport & social skills, imaginative play & creativity. I believe giftedness in young children should be natural, not coached or coerced, let them be children. Certainly have books available should they wish to pick them up, but ensure it’s a well-rounded approach, not an obsession – this includes electronic gadgets. We tell our children they are no more special than the child next to them who might fail spelling yet go onto build cities, or the gamer who might become a humanitarian. The Psychologist asked what I was going to do, i answered “nothing”. He responded “fantastic, just tuck that information up your sleeve & keep your children grounded, they are going to find school very easy, enjoy it.” I remember reading an article on gifted children years earlier, a mother said “thank goodness my daughter was a tennis champion; it kept her from being a social pariah for being a genius.” Today adults call themselves ‘nerds’, as a self-effacing way of saying “I’m brainy” because of this damned tall poppy mentality of Australia (where we chop down successful people), yet you can openly boast you are excellent at art, sport, cooking, music, sewing.  Even Brainy Smurf had a tough time, with his stereotypical annoying listen-to-how-smart-i-am personality!! 
On occasion, my children are nominated for out-of-school extended programmes, it’s always hush hush by the school, they are terrified someone might feel left out as the chosen children are viewed as favoured/ elitist/ smarter. FYI these programmes are ‘transport your own child’ & cost around $90 a day – not accessible to everyone anyway!! I find Canberra schools & their public servant thinking . . . as they go to lengths to make children all feel equal, it’s a bit too socialist for me, what is the harm in knowing you are smarter/ someone else is smarter – like in the real world, when people are promoted past you or earn a better salary!! Thank goodness they still hand out ribbons for sport, I actually loathe ‘participation awards’ & the sickly sweet ‘you’re all winners’ when clearly you-are-not, or we wouldn’t have the Olympics!!
I digress . . . my children have been to 9 different pre/ primary/ highschools, I have a clue about education attitudes in different states & territories around Australia?? What has triggered this rant now . . . last week I met a lady, who asked if I had gifted children, then quizzed me on which primary & highschools I chose & why . . . ones without streamed or extended classes. I explained my view on raising gifted children & she was visibly shocked. I ended it with “I’ve explained to my children, your lucky brains work in a way that allows you to learn quickly & easily” & discussed how my children aren’t inclined to be naughty or disruptive so when they finish their work early or find it unchallenging, they draw & read, they’re not given endless extension papers, they get a nice mental break.  She openly indicated i was preventing my children from success.  Truly!!
I went to primary school with a girl who became a triple Olympian & I remember her modest sportsmanship as the most wonderful trait. That is the approach I hope for my children. I wonder about the benefit of advancing children?? Do parents really need to invest in a baby reading programme?? Guess what, it really matters what happens in the final years of highschool . . . the scientists, educators & other brilliant minds of today, were not reading at 18 months of age!! I’m also baffled by pushy parents - are they living vicariously through their children?? Personally, I believe success is happiness. Congratulations to those who have it all – career, family, friends, travel, happiness & still love their parents. The Tiger Parent, don’t get me started, do those children even speak to their parents when they grow up?? How about mental health & really mean it when you say to your children “you’ve tried your hardest, I love you for giving it a go.” I’ve seen plenty who do not!! Encyclopaedias at the dinner table anyone?? Love the child, not the gift.  What about ‘how was your day’ & regular social interaction, not 24/7 information overload. There is more than credentials/ degrees/ qualifications to get a job nowadays, personality is a factor. You can’t even get into Medicine at University based on marks alone, there are interviews & guess what, saying “my parents want me to be a doctor” is the WORST thing you can do!!
I limit my children’s extracurricular activities, they need downtime too. They’ve chosen sport over music hallelujah (my twins were offered the trumpet in the brass band, I canNOT do duelling trumpets) & while they have beautiful voices, they’re not going anywhere NEAR Young Talent Time, in fact, I steer clear of talent shows (The Voice, Idol, X Factor) as I’d like them to embrace their childhood, not have stars in their eyes about fame & fortune based on a single talent they have.
All this said, you might think I’m raising my children to have low aspirations, in fact, the opposite is true. I have children who dream of being leaders, doctors, models & fighter pilots (guess which), they have to want it, not me. We are giving them the best education we can afford (public primary, private highschool) & support – I’m available for early morning sport practise, evening homework assistance, drive them to all their activities. My father always said “strive for the best marks, so you choose what you want to do, not your marks”. We were never pushed, just given the best tools & as a result, my brothers are a rocket scientist & a trauma surgeon, my sister a ballerina, me a pharmacologist – not one of us EVER branded ‘gifted & talented’ . . . we still love, admire & thank our parents for how they guided us. We’re all passing it onto our children – best education we can afford & support at home, most importantly a family full of love.
I’d love to hear your point of view on this.  I had an opinion on this topic, long before i even became a parent, love Posie


Coal Valley View said...

Wow, where to start! I really hate to generalise but the area where we were living in Sydney was getting out of control with the competitiveness and Tiger Parenting and one of the main reasons we were so keen to raise our kids in Tasmania was to escape a lot of this to let our kids have a normal childhood which we had already experienced down here. There were barely any kids to play with after school or on weekdays because they were all being coached, tutored, or bombarded with after-school activities to give them a greater chance of getting into the elite private schools or selective high schools. These were 6 year olds in Grade 1 !!! They were not happy kids. I'm not talking about the naturally bright kids that are quick to learn and have a love of learning that will endure the rest of their lives. Our kids are at the local public primary school here and although it isn't as academic as the Sydney school (according to the Naplan stuff) there are so many other beautiful qualities to the school and the kids are still thriving. I think you can spot the naturally bright kids a mile away - they are usually NOT the ones that pushy parents have forced learning down their throats and will most likely suffer burnout before their schooling is over. I would handle the situation as you are. I also like to think that all kids have strengths that should be tapped into and fostered and I love schools that place this value as a priority. Oh Happy Easter too! I;m down to the feet on my chocolate bunny xxxx

Sue said...

We have four G&T's, now adults some with their own children. They went to their local primary schools, all sat and got into their local Selective High School, my youngest now 25 finished in his local high school, we moved between him finishing year 10 and starting year 11, he did just fine.
We never pushed them to be anything other than themselves. Today they are a stay at home mum of a 4 and 1 year old with an industrial design degree and dip ed, an English teacher and he really wants to write books, a sports mad girl with a sports management degree in Melbourne working for IMG and studying at the Anglican Theological College and our youngest still working out who and what he wants to be while drafting for his architect dad. Maybe this year he might apply for uni for whatever the course is that he wants to do.
In saying all this I am married to a man who at 10 knew he wanted to be an Architect who at 28 went to theological college and became a Baptist minister who over the past 20 years has worked both of these positions at the same time adding sport chaplain along the way, life for our kids was not dissimilar to your kids we moved because of dads change of church, or trying something new like church planting and working part time as architect

Posie Patchwork said...

OH yes, the good old NAPLAN results, like they account for individual children or incredibly bright groups of students in a particular year??!! I have 3 sitting NAPLAN this year, our darling school doesn't account for 50% of the children who are military & come from ALL over Australia with varied backgrounds, so NAPLAN is a pretty rough snapshot of what be completely different the following year. As for children being coached for NAPLAN, honestly, GET A LIFE!! Love Posie

Anonymous said...

Oh...love this post...my boy was the kid in Kindy talking about greenhouse gas emissions and then was labelled ADHD cause he was a bit bored at school and got disruptive!! Change of school and attitude and now with a bit of maturity setting in he is doing so well...twin sister is the quiet achiever also doing well...I dont do the label thing either, encourage the individual and 'your all winners' NO we are not all winners...struggling with Miss 9 at the mo who cant bear to lose a game of anything. Looking at a change of school next year due to increasing fees that I cant keep up with for year 11 & 12 for the twins, they are each thinking of different high schools...funtimes ahead :)

Dianne said...

I love this post - both being a gifted child myself and now it looks like at least one of my kids will be gifted as well. I'm also an army kid - I went to 4 primary schools and 3 high schools. I'm grateful that I was able to cope with all the changing between school systems (bring on the National Curriculum...) and still graduate with a high enough UAI to get me into the course I wanted. It is definitely hard at school for those who come top in the class - I was placed in an extension class for my first year of high school in QLD and even getting top marks in that class led to teasing etc from others in the same class.

My four-year old starts school next year - and he's already showing signs of giftedness (taught himself to write his name at 3.5...). I'm hoping to teach him to be well rounded as well - kids need time to be kids. I just hope he doesn't become bored and disruptive... I want him to have the freedom to do what he wants to do in life, and not feel forced into a particular career path or to take so many extra curricular activities that he gets overwhelmed. I will be trying to get him into a private high school when the time comes, just because the public high schools in my area are not somewhere where I want to send my children, and as you say, its what happens in late high school that counts.

As for the current teaching where "everyone is a winner" - I don't agree with that at all. One of the hardest life lessons to learn is that you can't be the best at everything, and how to deal with disappointment. If kids don't learn that as kids, then as adults they won't be able to cope when things don't go exactly the way they want them to.

mel @ loved handmade said...

I love your attitude towards this, children must be allowed to be children ALWAYS. I completely agree, children do not need added pressure, if they find school & learning easy 'hooray' for them, that's a wonderful bonus. They should be able to dream of being all kinds of wonderful things when they grow up, and if they truly want it they will work towards it, gifted or not. Enjoying your childhood with the love and support of family is the greatest gift we can give..x

Tea for Talia said...

Love this post. My nearly 6yo (6 on Thursday) is in his first year of school (Kindy) and we just had our first parent/teacher interview (very low key, just letting us know what they are doing and where they are headed) and we were suprised by his teacher. He is always 1st in recongnising the sounds they are working on (apparently the other kids look to him for reminders, which they also did in pre-school) and he is also good with logical thinking and numbers. Not sure where he gets this from, certainly not me.
When people asked what to get him for Christmas, I asked for "homework books" to help him learn his numbers and letters. He loves them, has to do 2 pages each night, his choice mind you, not ours. He has just started to bring readers home and is reading street signs, well trys to, as we drive round.
We asked his teacher, lovely lady, how he was with his reading and she said that they expect them to be reading at a level 6 when they finish Kindy and he is already reading at a level 3. So he is doing ok!
However whenever we asked what he did at school that day, he always says he can't remember!
He does swimming and gymnastics and that is all because I feel with just starting school that 2 sports are enough. Soocer maybe next year.
He is a sociable child, the invite list for his party next week is very long. He is kind too, wanting to invite a friend of a friend so he would have someone to play with!
So maybe we have a gifted child or maybe just a smart child or maybe he is just a bit switched on, either way we will take our cues from him in which direction to take him. At the moment he wants to be a farmer like granddad and last week he wanted to be Voltron and the week before a pilot. Kids grow up so quickly these days that I want him to be a kid for as long as possible, to have the sort of carefree child hood I had.
Wonder how his nearly 2yo brother will turn out. Mr nearly 6 started daycare when he was 6 months old because I had to go back to work and Mr nearly 2 never has. Mr nearly 2 is not talking much yet but I recall Mr nearly 6 was a very early talker. It will be interesting to see his daycare was the result of this early learning.

The Provincial Homemaker said...

We haven't quite got to this stage yet. But must admit, I have got comments when we discuss the delayed start of Steiner schools - they start kindy a year older. I get the "but she is clearly bright, don't you think she will be ready to go". Really - she is only just 2 - ok, so she is extremely socially confident (people that meet her are shocked that she hasn't been in daycare), pretty eloquent, has a very long attention span and is good at imaginative, independent play. But, how much of that is pure personality, or driven by the way we parent (no tv!) etc. I think 2 is too young to be declaring G&T:)

Given she has a birthday latish in the academic year, I kind of opt for the another year at home is not going to be a bad thing, and then when she does go she will be hungry to learn.

My grandmother was pushed ahead 4 years at school by a mother (teacher) that thought she was extremely G&T (admittedly Nanna's Father was a uni at 14 ), but while she coped her overriding memory of childhood is not fitting in because she was always far to young to socialise with the peers in her class. And, when she finished school she was far to young to go into nursing like she wanted and had to settle for teaching because (after a year wait) she could actually go monitoring.

Having gone to a private, top-the-state academically high school and having been in that little top niche I can confidently say brilliance or high achievement at high school is not necessarily the path to happiness. Getting into the 'right' course at the time seems all important - but how many people have you heard of down the line that didn't get into their first preference course but fell into something which they are blissfully happy in.

Jane said...

Hi Posie,
Thanks for your post and for being so honest. I'm also a huge believer of let kids be kids, there is enough time in life for pressure later on. Some advice we were given about the raising of a gifted child (by an authority in the area) is that if your child is happy at school, and is making friends, then you have success...
PS and not every child gets a prize in my pass the parcel at my children parties! I think that children need to understand that you win some you lose some. I mean we all got that concept as kids didn't we ?

supermac said...

You are a cool Mom. My kids are not "gifted". They are normal girls who excel in some subjects and struggle in some, like Math. I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts about kids and the way we should deal with their education, genius or not.

Amanda said...

My son was assessed gifted for Maths, last yea he had an amazing teacher that stretched him, however I think this year may not be so good with the introduction of the Australian curriculum ( well that is this years teachers excuse for not extending him). We are starting to look at high schools and luckily he is keen to go to our zoned school which has the Ship prorame (gifted program) and not the other local school whose focus is sport. Don't worry he plays football, tennis and does karate so he is not book bound and is very social. But this was not always the case, he talked before he was one spent most of his early years in the company of adults even though we did the play group thing and kindly he would spend most of that time talking to the teachers and helper, it did take home a couple of years to learn to like his peers. Most of the time he just didn't understand kids, we never did baby talk we always talked to him as we would talk to an adult. He is amazed that most of his friends now actually went to the same kindy as him he doesn't remember any of them only the teachers lol. At least now he has a group of good friends loves his sport and doesn't want to be bored at school and isn't afraid to tell the teacher and ask for more.

jennie said...

Great post again Jennie!
Our eldest is finding the 'social' part of school difficult again. Being intelligent does not do you any favours when there are jealous girls around who can't cope with someone being different I'm afraid. She has her own ideas, isn't easily led by peer pressure and totally loves learning and finding out things that the others don't seem to be interested in. We are looking at the new highschool opening up for the Year 7's next year. Think this might suit her, her teacher thinks so. ANOTHER new school, she wants to do it, so we'll see how we go! Thanks for another wonderful post!XXX

Felicity said...

As a gifted education specialist all I can do is stand tall and give you a great big rousing cheer!

Hooray for you!

Hooray for your fabulous approach to parenting!

Hooray for your gorgeous, grounded children!

Hooray for the many ways that they are already using their gifts to enrich our world!

Full stop

Deb @ home life simplified said...

Great approach Posie. I was labelled gifted in primary and went to a selective HS in NYC (harder to get into than Harvard). I was never pressured by my parents and while I love to learn and always excelled I have a healthier attitude to life and what is considered "success".

Many of my G&T peers were pushed into careers they did not want or struggled with stress and anxiety trying to perform to parental standards (i guess the 80s version of Tiger parents). I may not have lived up to my "potential" but I also never committed suicide over a B (like some of my peers in the high pressure USA). A healthy attitude and ability to live and love life is more important to me (for myself and my children)

Nancy said...

Love this post - as the mom of a gifted daughter, and the mom of two who are not, I have had to walk both paths. We are also military and there have been many school transitions - Gr 7 (around 13 or so was always the worst move).

Sarah (my gifted one) is now settled - and in university (Harvard) but the path has been challenging. We had her tested because each move became subsequently more difficult as teachers at the new school saw me as a "full of herself" mother when I would explain her skills to them. Things always changed by the Christmas interview as they described her abilities. Having the documentation was useful - it gave me the reinforcement I needed. But we did not dwell on the numbers - it is a gift like being musical or artistic. Not something to be lauded - just lucky.

The tough road happened during the transitions - the jealousy of other (usually female) peers as Sarah would start getting top marks in the class. Then the kids who would want to work with her on projects so they could get a good mark. I also struggled with teachers who would want to reward her because her work was always exceptional but never gave her any room to grow. Where do you go with A+ averages. Or with a kid who could not bear to pass in an assignment with less than double the pages required - I would go to parent/teacher meetings and explain that unless she had previously negotiated the additonal pages - they should only mark the first half - that she would burn out in high school and university.

She was also an introvert - lacking social skills. Until we both read a book about it - we did not understand why she acted the way she did. Luckily she got into a fabulous high school program - Pearson World College in British Columbia Canada. They are all over the world - there were 100 kids from across Canada and 100 from across the world. In this small space she grew and developed friendships that she still has to this day.

Then came Harvard - a big city, a big university and all A+ high achievers - a real shock as the marks tumbled - but she has found her footing by her third year and has taken on leadership positions. Meds have helped with anxiety - better to get the help you need than hide from the stress.

So a lot of this has been about my oldest child - but what about the rest. Katie just finished HS - not gifted and just diagnosed with celiac disease. Because of her illness, she slept through HS and did not do well academically. But after graduation she chose to participate in the Canada World Youth program and volunteering Ukraine for 3 mos and then lived 4000 km away on the west coast of Canada. I am as proud of her accomplishments as Sarah's because she worked as hard as she could and she finished and passed the IB program - a rigorous program. Tough on your own psyche though when you are the sister of a person at Harvard. The youngest Laura is working so hard in her first year of HS - challenging herself with the IB program and is planning a gap year post university.

I so agree with all your comments - kids are kids first and as I told Sarah - she needs to live with the rest of the world all her life - people who are not gifted (like me). Balance is important as is the opportunity to not do everything well - Sarah took gymnastics and competed (not well). She is a rugby player and is not tiny and flexible. But - trying and working to improve to be the best you can be was more important than success.

So, I just want to congratualate you on your insight and great parenting skills. You and your family sound awesome.

ClaireyHewitt said...

Excellent topic.

My eldest just started prep, the teacher is talking about testing, we have mentioned it to some people and they have all looked at us with pity, oh poor you, she is smart, she will be socially isolated and have no friends.

We have no idea how smart she is, maybe just smart, not gifted...there is a very big difference, but we are stressed already. Someone bring me that G and T!!!

Brenda @ Mira Narnie said...

love it Jennie! You are truely gold when it comes to parenting!! Our first born, who has just started school excels in mathematics and reading. We spoke to his teacher just to let her know, but other than that, we let him go at his own pace. We don't do any commercial tv in the house, and encourage lots of socialisation, swimming and outdoor play. I love it when you said "I'll do nothing" just let them be kids....perfect set up for a relaxed and no pressure childhood hey!
god bless you Jennie

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