Help for parents of gifted kid
May 9, 2008 11:08 AM   Subscribe

What are some good resources for raising a gifted child? Google will pull up all kinds of things, but I'd love a recommendation for stuff more weighted toward parents who want their kids to be able to enjoy childhood and away from the more competitive stuff. I don't want to judge anyone else's parenting choices, but we want to feed our son's interests without trying to turn him into the next Einstein. We just got through some assessments, and are trying to figure out what to do next. I'm sure I'll have more specific questions later, but any online communities or background reading you can point me to would be awesome!
posted by rikschell to Education (36 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I participated in CLUE as a kid in Memphis and loved it.
posted by charlesv at 11:22 AM on May 9, 2008

Warning: anecdotal response...

I don't know about specific resources, but my parents were pretty great about enrolling me in science, art, and language classes at local museums (like the Exploratorium in SF and the Science Museum in St. Paul) and non-profits. I've since lost my "gifted' capabilities, but when I was younger, I took the advanced (gifted, like Project Search) classes in school, was given lots of books and a shiny new library card, and got to explore different things in different fields. I was not coddled or turned into the next Einstein (clearly), but I feel I had a well-rounded, social, uncompetitive childhood filled with neat opportunities to learn and explore new things. Find out what your son's interests are and plan accordingly. Of course when I was a kid, I was all about the sciences and now I'm firmly rooted in the humanities, but it was still neat to learn about all those things (entomology, meteorology, archeology) without the pressure of participating in competitions and stuff. (See? "And stuff." I've clearly lost it.)

Good luck!
posted by cachondeo45 at 11:23 AM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you looked into Montessori? It isn't suitable for everyone, but if you want to get away from competitive stuff, it might be something to consider. My neighbours have a very bright child who is in Montessori and she loves it. It's a good fit for her personality. There is a real focus away from competition in her school (sometimes too much, in the parents' opinion, but overall they like it).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:26 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by k8t at 11:27 AM on May 9, 2008

This is worth a read.
posted by fire&wings at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2008

I was involved in the Hopkins gifted program back in the day, and my son is involved in it now (it's a longitudinal study). There are partner programs in other parts of the country. What I like about it is that you can get as involved as you like, with camps & courses etc. Early on I made the mistake of turning one of his interests into academic exercises & just about educated the fun out of geology =(

My other son is not gifted, in fact has a 504 plan for learning difficulties, so it's been very beneficial for my gifted son to understand that his innate academic intelligence is in fact a gift, and something he should make the most of while also developing social intelligence, a bit of street smarts, physical/creative skills etc. So he tutors younger kids & helps his older brother with his science homework, and we encourage his goofier interests (last year he mastered juggling on a unicycle).

I expect both my kids to do the absolute best that they can do, in school & in life. Being brilliant academically is only on aspect of it.
posted by headnsouth at 11:57 AM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: When my firstborn was diagnosed in the gifted and talented category these are the recommendations I was given on raising a well-adjusted child:

1. Make sure he is competent in one sport (competent, not excellent) preferably a team sport.

2. Make sure he is able to perform ( either play an instrument, dance, gymnastic, sing, draw etc...)

3. Make sure he has a social network of peers (through church, school, scouts etc.) and do not ignore the spiritual side of his humanity (i.e. reinforce intellectual and material generosity).

When his sibling were also so diagnosed, I followed the same guidelines. I have used the word diagnosis intentionally because being different is frequently a huge burden to the child.

If you are curious about the outcome, my firstborn became a schizophrenic following a traumatic head injury, and his mind is still awesome in spite of his mental illness. He is actually a fairly functional schizophrenic. One of his sisters choose to hide her rather brilliant mind in middle school and afterward. She has told me repeatedly that she prefers to have friends to having the best grades in her class. She is pursuing an advanced degree. The youngest one was born a loner: it was difficult for me to make sure she had at least a few good friends. She survived high school (barely), but has now a nice circle of friends (admittedly most are her husband's friends: she still prefers watching from the sidelines). She is also pursuing an advanced degree.

If I have to judge, I would pick my middle child as the one who is the most well-adjusted, the one who choose to ignore her intellect in favor of making friends.
posted by francesca too at 12:00 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I went through the gifted track from grade school all the way up to taking a bunch of AP college classes in high school and going to an academically tough university. Here are my thoughts:

"Gifted" is basically another way of saying "does better than most kids on standardized tests". Some kids test better early on because they have good parents who prepare them for school better than other kids. This is fine, but a lot of those kids start performing at an average or below average level in later grades, and if you're whole identity is being "the smart kid" and you're not as smarter than everyone else, it can be devestating.

Also, parents of gifted kids tend to be obsessed with making sure their kids learn everything they can, but really their kids don't need much help. As long as you teach your child to love learning, they will seek out things themselves. For example, I learned computer programming on my own without any help from my parents or taking any classes until college, and that's what I do for a living now.

I think the most important thing for you to do is to help your child be a normal, well-rounded, good person. My parents had me play little league baseball and other various sports, and although I was never as good at those things as I was at school work, those kinds of activities helped me fit in better with the "normal" kids. Too many smart kids in school get too caught up in studying and getting perfect scores to really appreciate normal childhood life, and I think that's a shame.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:03 PM on May 9, 2008

I want to second the article fire&wings linked to. We all reach a point in life where just pure "smarts" aren't enough, and unless we understand how to keep working and achieve even when we find something difficult, life can be very frustrating.
posted by MsMolly at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a 26 year old adult who was branded "gifted" early on in school, I personally would shy away from ever using the term "gifted" with a (potential) child of my own.

I always felt very uncomfortable being separated from the rest of my "non-gifted" classmates. Maybe it was the programs I took, but I didn't find them any more enriching or interesting, I just found them very annoying and strange and not enriching at all.

I think a better solution would be to have your child skip a grade or two. I think the label of giftedness can sometimes be a curse -- you become full of others' expectations, convinced you always have this potential you aren't completely using, the the sense that you should be doing greater, more important things, lest you let your parents down.

It also gives someone the sense that they are in an entirely different class than their peers, when in reality, everyone is different. Some are "gifted" in sports, art, socializing, persuading, good with animals, etc. In reality, I don't think I was any more special than any of my other classmates.

"Gifted" focuses on potential. That can be poison.

Focus on achievements, and helping your child see the path and steps to achieving whatever he wants for himself in this life.

We all just have to do the best with what we've got. Potential means almost nothing. IMHO.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2008

Mrs True says "One of the most important things you can do for your gifted child is to provide them with a peer group - like minded kids. Gifted children often feel very isolated and have trouble making friends because other kids don't think like them, or aren't interested in the things they're interested in. Check for gifted groups in your area, or post something at the library for a book club etc. also has a lot of great resources, and you might want to look into NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children). An interesting theory that might help explain some things is Dobrowski's Theory of Overexcitabilities - it's all about gifted kids sensitivites, like to noises and textures. A book to read to get your started is Guiding the Gifted Child by Webb, Meckstroth and Tolan.

A lot of universities offer weekend or summer enrichment programs too.

Might be a good place to meet other gifted kids/parents. Good luck!"
posted by true at 12:10 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

headnsouth: I was involved in the Hopkins gifted program back in the day

Me too - I did three years of CTY (Dickinson College). What an incredible experience that was; I fit in for the first (and arguably the last) time in my life. I still use skills, both academic and social, that I learned at CTY. I feel that two things are critical for the gifted kid:

1. The kid has to be challenged. My public schools were definitely above average, and I was still bored to tears by the coursework. My mom enrolled me in summer programs offered by our community school program and we participated in a co-operative extracurricular study group with other G/T families in our town.

2. The kid must, at some point in his/her life, not feel like a freak. Find a community (CTY was it for me) where the kid feels like s/he is a full participant. I was able to face terrible torment and bullying in school because I knew that I had real friends who valued and liked me. They just didn't happen to go to my school.
posted by workerant at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

And I would add - be careful of skipping grades since that can exacerbate the social isolation that a lot of these kids feel.
posted by true at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

If he doesn't have one yet, a library card!
posted by Carol Anne at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2008

When I was younger and so-classified (I would hesitate to call myself anything remotely similar these days), we had a separate school we went to one day per week during the elementary years. Gifted students from all over the county came in (different days for different grades/schools) and we were in class together and did all sorts of "gifted" student things - doing special art projects, learning about the humanities, literature, all sorts of things that we'd never have heard of in our regular school. To this day, I maintain that I learned (and still remember) more in a single day at that school than I did in an entire year of regular elementary school aside from the basics of math and science, etc.

It definitely helped to give me a better-rounded education starting early on, and, in fact, the things I learned then helped me a fair amount in some college history and literature courses!

If there's a program remotely similar that your son could participate in, I'd highly recommend it. It will allow him to be friends with similar students and hopefully he'll feel not-like-a-freak as workerant mentions.
posted by at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2008

I was supposedly "gifted" as a child. I attribute all of it to an early love of reading. That is all you need. Also, playing music was nice too.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2008

I'm probably not the best person to give advice on this since I started so young with my children but here are a few things that I've done.

Starting before my children could talk we said "Please" and "Thank you" for every interaction. This includes taking away items from the child that they shouldn't have.

I would make a game out of memorizing facts. This usually means asking questions while we're driving some where.

Me: Who is the president?
Him: George W! Bush.

Me: And before him?
Him: Clinton
Me: Who Clinton?

This is easy to scale to their age too. I usually try to cover things they don't really cover in school (at least, not as his age).

Other things I've covered include Freedom of speech, expression, the right to question authority (and why it's not usually a good idea at his age).

I've also discussed with him and my younger son frequently that the ability to FIND information is often just as, if not more, valuable then JUST holding information. In other words, knowing that 1 mile = 5280 ft is always good, and that is something that won't change. However, knowing there is far more information "out there" then a single person can hold. The ability to find it, aggregate different sources and come up with useful information is going to help him get much further ahead.

I also don't help him every time he asks. (No, I'm not cruelly laughing and saying "No!".) However, if he asks for help tying his shoes, he can do that. He knows how and has done it many times. That one is an absolute no. Other things such as homework, video games, or general "this is broken, how do I fix it?" I frequently encourage him to find the answer him self. (I usually explain that if I wasn't there he wouldn't be able to ask, let's pretend that I'm not and if it gets to the point I think HE really needs help, I'll jump in. This has encouraged some very innovative solutions early in his life and I hope that trend continues.

I also try to explain more than punish. A good example here is the storm door at my mother-in-laws. It has a large glass section, which used to be COVERED in his dirty hand prints. I called him back in the first time I saw him press the door rather than the handle and showed him the prints. I then cleaned the glass and we agreed it looked much better. From then on anytime I saw him touch the glass I needed only ask, "What's the rule about touching glass?" and he'd reply "Don't if you can avoid it.". He now must clean the glass if he gets it dirty. He is well aware this isn't a punishment, merely a result of his actions. He is perfectly alowed to touch the glass, but since he has to clean it afterward he rarely does.
posted by TheDukeofLancaster at 12:34 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone who was labeled gifted very early on in life, I'd like to nth the recommendations above for both Montessori and CTY, as well as the general idea that your local public school's gifted classes may be as much of a burden as a gift.

Gifted classes set you apart from the other kids, and mark you as different; in my case, this meant that the other kids in my school were convinced that I thought I was better than them. It didn't help that I was shy, quiet, and not particularly athletic. As a little kid, I loved Montessori, and felt comfortable there. That was amazing and valuable, but apparently not enough to translate into feeling comfortable socially in a more traditional classroom environment.

In later years, CTY (which I started attending in 5th grade; I was part of the first class that was able to go so young) really made me who I am. To echo what workerant says, it was the first place I was ever able to feel cool. It was also a fantastic educational resource, where I learned a lot (about writing, physics, astronomy, and archeology, among other things) and found a network of friends, many of whom I'm still in touch with today, and all of whom are amazing, bright, intellectually curious people. I can't say enough good things about the experience I had there, really.

Also, I don't know how much of this book is still applicable, but I know my mom found it helpful back in the day. Maybe worth checking out of your local library.
posted by dizziest at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: I always felt very uncomfortable being separated from the rest of my "non-gifted" classmates. Maybe it was the programs I took, but I didn't find them any more enriching or interesting, I just found them very annoying and strange and not enriching at all.

That was my experience, too. I think the quality of "gifted" programs varies widely, from the very good CTY summer programs to some really terrible pull-out sessions I had to sit through in seventh grade. Just because it says gifted on it doesn't mean it's all that great, and there may be more important things that the kid needs (like social interaction, or to not feel like a freak, or a really good dance class, or whatever).

In my case -- and here is where we need to add all those caveats about everyone being different and so on -- the last thing I needed was the in-school gifted programs. (The summer CTY ones, however, really were great, and if you have access to them I highly recommend them, or something similar.) I was already reading all the time, far above my age level, doing fine with math, etc. The very slightly advanced gifted program activities were basically just as dull as the regular classes, plus the awkwardness of being visibly pulled out of class and labeled publicly as "gifted."

In retrospect, what I really could have used was to have my boundaries stretched. For a smart kid who is reading and doing math for fun and all that, doing a little extra science, or learning a bit of Latin, is not stretching anything. That's just more of what you are already good at. And if you come from (as many "gifted" kids do) a household where reading is normal and everyone is numerate, you will pick those things up regardless of the school. Instead, I wish someone had decided to push my boundaries by signing me up for more sports, every shop class offered, and other things that don't usually get thought of as part of "gifted" activities. But when you think about it, being good with your body, and knowing lots of practical skills, complement book-learning really well, especially for someone who might go on to be an engineer, scientist, or artist.

So sure, sign the kid up for science camp or whatever, but make sure he or she leaves high school knowing how to use a table saw and weld, has taken art classes every year along with dance classes (especially if the kid is a boy) and is physically active (whether or not in group sports just depends on their interests and personalities). A lot of kids who test well on standardized tests, like I did at that age, get pigeon-holed in some pretty unhelpful ways, when really there are perhaps more holistic approaches that make for a happier and better-adjusted person down the road.
posted by Forktine at 1:10 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ask him. When I was a kid I was always amazed at the extent of discussion that went on, sometimes, about what to do about/for/with me that didn't involve simply asking me. Always ask, no matter how young. When stuff like skipping grades presents itself, ask. Even if he's 4.
posted by kmennie at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forktine and hal_c_on also mentioned this: if the child enjoys physical activities, make sure to encourage those. A chess group might sound good to him/her when the sign-up form comes around, but 4 p.m. is also a great time to ride a bike, dance, do team sports, let off steam. Some gifted kids like mental stimulation with their physical play, as in rock climbing or making up games. There's nothing wrong with Scrabble, but if the kid likes to move, make sure there's time for that.

Oh, and my parents always praised intelligence and intellectual accomplishment, but seemed to have little regard for other kinds of smarts and skills... it took me a long time to learn that abilities that other kids had (and I didn't have) were worthy of admiration.
posted by wryly at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: As someone who once was that child, I wanted to comment on a few points above. Everyone's parenting and everyone's kids are different, of course, but just a few words:

And I would add - be careful of skipping grades since that can exacerbate the social isolation that a lot of these kids feel.
Careful, sure, but don't rule it out. If I had not been skipped (entered early, skipped 3rd), I would certainly not have become successful in school at any point, and ended up tuning out and eventually rebelling or dropping out. We went with skipping because I would come home from school in tears - without exaggeration - every day from the sheer boredom and busywork. Be prepared for major battles with the school district though.

the recommendations I was given on raising a well-adjusted child My parents tried this one on me (gymnastics, piano & flute). Please don't force this stuff, as it'll only backfire. In the end there was bargaining (you can ONLY take horse-back riding IF you continue piano lessons). Expose, involve, sign up, but don't force an activity that doesn't seem right to your kid. Don't be that parent.

Ask him. This is the most important!! Any child, but especially one who is supposedly "gifted," should be treated as if they have some capacity for critical thinking skills. A lot of the things that helped me get where I am now came about because I was asked what I wanted, and then started saying what I wanted and eventually going in and fighting my own battles when I wanted something.
posted by whatzit at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2008

Re-reading what I wrote above: can you tell there was resistance in the school system? Find out more about the "high potential" programs and affiliated staff in your school district, and learn about the teachers that are supportive of kids who need the additional challenge. Having them aware of you, your commitment, and your child's needs can make a world of difference. My parents are still in contact with some of the teachers who made great opportunities available to me now, what, 20 years ago.
posted by whatzit at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2008

Just wanted to chime in with a few thoughts. I know that a lot of people have talked about the importance of ensuring that they're well-rounded and that they have good social skills. I think that was my parents rationale when they enrolled me in a Montessori school. I stayed at that school till the tenth grade and basically coasted along. There were only 8 other students in the class and I never really challenged myself or had to work hard for any academic rewards. Then in the 11th grade I transferred to a highly competitive, somewhat hard-assed school where there were really highly motivated students. To some people that second school would have been the very definition of hell, but all I could think was -- wow! what have I been missing all these years? Here were students who were smarter than me, more well read than me, all very highly motivated. I had to really scramble to catch up, but it was so worth it. So what I wanted to emphasize is: it really depends on the individual child. Some students will do better in a looser, more informal atmosphere, and some people will appreciate the extra pressure to do better and challenge themselves. I don't regret that I went to that Montessori school at all -- it gave me lots of free time to read books and write stories and do lots of things that wouldn't have been possible in a school with a more rigorous schedule. But try to recognize when your gifted child isn't being challenged enough. It's good for all kids, not just gifted ones, to sweat a little to achieve something worth attaining.
posted by peacheater at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2008

Nthing CTY, which was so important not just for my intellectual and social development, but for my sanity. There was a period of several years when I pretty much couldn't relate to any of the kids in school (long story, it wasn't about smarts per se but culture) and desperately looked forward to CTY every year because I knew I would get to be part of a community for three glorious weeks. I will mention that some classes are more about learning for the sake of learning (Paleobiology! Astronomy! Oh how I loved you) and others are more about getting ahead in school so the student can skip forward through the system ... not necessarily a bad thing, but comparatively a bit of a drag. (Although the teachers are still good - I still remember the flaming methane bubbles demo from High-school-chem-in-three-weeks quite fondly.)

I would tend to say that unless your kid really, really needs a course to skip ahead for some reason, it's better to take the fun classes they won't get a chance to take ever in school until college. They're usually more fun and less competitive and more mutually "let's all learn together," which I think is much healthier when the students are often learning that no, they're NOT the smartest kid on the block at the same time. Which is not to say they aren't challenging, either - I did a project on singularities for my astronomy class the summer between 4th and 5th grade, which involved reading the first 4 chapters or so of Hawking's A Brief History of Time (yes, I did understand it, and I would have finished it except the course ended and I had to return the book to the library ... and actually, I've been trying to finish that darn book ever since, argh).

Sports are important, definitely. I wish I hadn't jumped around so much in sports as a kid and had found a niche, but nothing ever quite fit - then I found fencing, but by then all the kids my age at the club were regional and national champions and I felt really awkward. (Actually, fencing is a great sport for gifted kids. Makes you think, has geek factor. Ask your kid what s/he thinks, if there's a club in your area!)

Okay, now I'm not really answering your question so much as rambling - good luck!
posted by bettafish at 4:04 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer:
Sports only if the kid likes them!!!! Today's idea that kids have to be good at everything is really, really damaging-- many gifted kids (labeled as such as a child, too) are extremely highly focused on one particular thing and while you can try to mitigate that, forcing them to do something that they do badly at and don't like is never a good idea.

My friend Alissa Quart wrote a great book on giftedness: Hot House Kids and the over-parenting that sometimes surrounds it.

This book may also be useful-- it looks at how it is better to motivate by praising effort than by focusing on "fixed" traits like giftedness, which can scare people into not trying hard because they are afraid they will no longer be seen as brilliant if they fail.

Situations with other kids who can understand their passions are great-- and if possible, it's a good idea to try to ensure that social skills don't atrophy because the child's obsessions make them alien to other kids. These days, there are social skills classes and groups that I wish I'd had as a kid.
posted by Maias at 4:23 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the really thoughtful answers. My son is 5, we live in a small city so resources are more limited here than in some places. That said, his school's been really great so far. They recognized that he soaks up knowledge like a sponge and want to make a plan that works best for everyone. They're very solicitous of what direction we want to go. Promotion is an option, or joining different grades for each subject area while staying with his age grade for lunch, recess, etc.

We'd like to keep him in a public school, not just because it's free but because he can be with kids from various backgrounds. Social skills and sports are definitely on the agenda, not least because my wife and I never did well at them. He's definitely got a library card and a love of reading. But he's just now starting to make friends and play well with other kids. We want to reinforce that, but we don't want him to be bored in the classroom, because he'll end up acting out.

TheDukeofLancaster, what you do sounds very similar to how we've been raising our son. I'd guess a sizable percentage of kids might suddenly test as "gifted" if they were stimulated more, but truly every kid is different, and I don't want my son to think that he's better than his peers.

Forktine, I like the idea of stretching into areas beyond the immediate talents, but as Maias points out, only if they're a thrill not a burden. The stuff about praising effort and achievement seems really positive. I feel like I've only gotten halfway decent at self-discipline in the last few years—I coasted through school myself, usually bored out of my skull. I'd like to avoid repeating that process (and he's smarter than I was at his age).

I'm all too aware that "giftedness"—both the label and the condition it applies to—can be a burden as well as a gift. I don't want to hold him back, but I want to make sure he get what he needs in the social and emotional realms as well as the intellectual.
posted by rikschell at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Homeschool. When my oldest son started doing precocious things as a toddler, I read a bunch of "how to raise your gifted child" type books and most of them focused heavily on preventing or ameliorating problems in school; advocating with the school to get your kid the support she needs; documenting giftedness from a young age to get him into the programs that will challenge him, etc. etc. My conclusion (also based on my own experiences as a "gifted" child suffering through years of school) was that school made raising a happy and mentally healthy gifted kid harder.

Keeping him out of school has let him pursue his interests fully, advance at his own pace, and ignore the things that just don't have meaning for him. It has also allowed him to find peers by being able to pursue friendships with other homeschooled kids, which tend not to be as age-defined as school relationships, since IME homeschoolers don't tend to segregate kids by age very strictly. For his sixth birthday party, for instance, he invited another six-year-old, a five-year-old, a nine-year-old and an eleven-year-old: the kids he thinks of as his "best friends."

It has also let us, as his parents, not worry about whether he fits a certain profile of a gifted kid. We don't talk to him about giftedness or grade level, and he doesn't pay much attention to whether he's "ahead" or "behind" other kids. He is happy and busy all the time, really enjoying his life and his pursuits. He's free from all the baggage that being gifted in an academic environment can bring.
posted by not that girl at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

For me, the key was getting into accelerated programs in school and during the summer. If it wasn't for the gifted class I started in second grade, I would have gone nuts. It was a one day a week setup, and that was what I constantly looked forward to. And the summer program was the same thing - also great because you stayed on a college campus for two weeks, living in the dorms with a roommate from the program. Nothing could have prepared me better for college than that experience. It also felt great because I was around a lot of kids who I related to very well. It was set up so you picked a single class for the two weeks, but the social growth was tremendous for me.

It was a precursor to my time at college; when I first visited Stanford after being accepted, I had that same feeling of being around people who got me, just as I did at age 12 at summer camp for nerds. And what do you know - I picked television broadcast for two different summers, and now I'm a video director.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:06 PM on May 9, 2008

I want to add my experience here though I don't have any children yet.
When I was in 3rd grade I was drifting in school doing just enough to get by grade wise. That was also the year we did our first rounds of standardized testing. I was then taken out of classes, given an IQ test and further testing. Then they called my parents in for a conference. I, of course, thought I was in deep trouble but was allowed to be there for the conference. The principal and guidance councilor of my school explained to my parents that I was reading at a college level (whatever that means) that my IQ was 130 and that my science and vocabulary skills were beyond what they could test with grade school standardized tests. I was "gifted" and was drifting in school because the course work wasn't challenging to me.
My parents thought that was great, but nothing changed. I was kept in regular classes and the label of gifted became a weapon to my parents. When I would bring home low grades they'd tell me that I should be doing so much better because I was "gifted."
When I was in middle school I was bullied pretty badly so turned inward into my mind and managed to stay on the honor roll those 3 years and took a few advanced classes. When I was in high school I settled back into just skating by, I graduated with a 2.1 GPA though I took advanced english and science classes.

I'm not really sure what the point of this story is, maybe just to tell you that being "gifted" doesn't mean crap if you don't encourage your child and give them opportunities. But I suppose that's why you posted the question. Good luck I hope your son turns out to be and do all the things my parents told me I would if I'd only "apply myself."
posted by Kioki-Silver at 6:41 PM on May 9, 2008

I want you to read these two articles. Please.

Background: I grew up going to every "Gifted and Talented" class my school district offered. I was a smart kid, and I knew it because everybody told me. My parents pushed me, too. But college was kind of a mess. I grew up with really high expectations for myself, and without ever having to work really hard to learn things. If I did well on a test, it was because I was "smart", some innate gift I was lucky to have, not something I earned by working hard. So when I reached some really tough classes in college, if I did badly, I felt that it was because I wasn't smart enough - not because of anything I did wrong, . In the course of figuring this out, I went through a lot of self-esteem issues and came really close to flunking out of college. Not what you would have expected from such a gifted child.

What I really needed was to be taught that effort is ten times more important than IQ. If your son learns something fast, praise him for his hard work, not for some inborn "giftedness" that he has no control over.
posted by beandip at 8:40 PM on May 9, 2008

Odyssey of the Mind. So much fun. The link will describe it better than I can.
posted by belau at 8:53 PM on May 9, 2008

A wonderful program to encourage creativity and all different kinds of gifts is Destination Imagination or Odyssey of the Mind. (The two are extremely similar). Both are problem solving competitions where a team of 4-6 put together a performance that include a variety of required elements around a theme. The most important rule is that every idea and every bit of work that goes into the final solution must belong to the team members. Parents or coaches can teach a skill if the children ask but this is about the only setting I have seen where children build, make costumes, write their skits and they do it all themselves.

I coached a first grade team where the theme was "Dream Vacation" - it had to include 3 settings and an original song. The kids come up with surprising solutions. In fifth grade the theme was a mystery and had to include delivering a message by mechanical means. My kids wanted to an elevated train using magnets but they couldn't get enough magic and stay in budget (a maximum of something like $100 of supplies and materials in the final result - they are encouraged to scavenge and recycle.) Their backup plan was to use a plastic fork as a catapult - it met their criteria (worked reliably, in budget and didn't take too much time to make). My son did a robot project in fifth grade. They solved the problem by making the robot perform by basically making a life sized puppet that ran along a track. The story had to do the robot trying to get through airport security but setting off the alarm since he was made of metal.

Anyway, it teaches teamwork, creativity and thinking outside the box and lets the kids perform at whatever level they are at - the more ability the more they stretch themselves. It is not labelled a gifted program but gifted kids love it.

We started an OM team at my son's school because one parent offered to pay the school fee and coach one team (for her own sons plus 4 others) and then since several teams could compete for the same fee, she offered anyone else who wanted to put together a team the chance to do so. So, if you like the idea and have time to coach a team, it is easy to get it going.

One final bit of advice - I strongly recommend co-ed teams. The girls and boys tend to have different strengths and each gender is less distracted by each other when they only make up half the group.
posted by metahawk at 8:55 PM on May 9, 2008

Another resource for parents of younger children like yours who want to give their kids some good math experiences is a book of math games called Family Math.

Finally, don't be over-impressed with the gifted label in a five year old. Think of him as simply bright and curious. Some kids who are "gifted" turn out to have a special gift for something and some are just smart. With the smart ones, the main challenge is keep them from being bored at school. If they also have a special gift, you won't need to push, you'll just be trying to figure out how to keep feeding their interests.
posted by metahawk at 9:07 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more thought. (I have two kids, one is bright and talented (a writer), the other is extraordinarily gifted in math - probably in the top 15-20 math students in the United States his age. This is a subject close to my heart).

My preference was to give them an elementary school experience that emphasized love of learning. Both kids went to an alternative public school with a "whole child" philosophy. The result was that they didn't learn as many facts but they did like going to school. (I had to argue to get them to stay home when they were sick). Too many of the academically challenging elementary schools swamp the kids with homework and use grades as the measure of success so they burn out on school at a young age. However, once they have that foundation, they know that learning is fun and not about getting the grade on the paper so they will be able to handle an academically challenging program.

Summer programs like CTY are great at any age because they can measure themselves against other talented kids but it is an ungraded, cooperative environment.
posted by metahawk at 9:21 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

My sister and I were both in the gifted and talented classes in elementary, junior high and high school.
The best thing our parents did was to let us be ourselves.
We were allowed to explore our talents (music, art, writing, learning languages) and not forced to do anything we didn't have an interest in. We were also allowed to try things and if we didn't like them, to stop. We were also allowed to do things on our own like go to the library, go shopping, walk to stores, run errands for our parents, etc. as early as 12 or 13.
Words used to describe us in college recommendation letters were: curious, intellectual, thoughtful, analytical and leader (for me).
I think being gifted has a lot more to do with being curious about how stuff works, how the world works, why things happen a certain way and thinking through things (analysis) than being able to rattle off facts.
You can do this with your child by asking him questions, getting him used to explaining--even when he needs to speculate as to the answer--and explaining why you do something a certain way, or how something works. It can be as simple as, "Look at that dog. He is very dirty. How do you think he got that way?" and letting him tell you. Or, have him help and watch you as you take something mechanical apart and put it back together, or cook dinner in the kitchen.
I also believe this should be done for any child not labeled as "gifted." It's just how to expand their intellect and get them to realize they are not an island unto themselves. So I would raise my child the same, gifted or not, depending on what their intellectual maturity allows them.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:05 AM on May 10, 2008

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