I’m pretty dang smart, like 97-99th percentile smart according to this, or this. My wife is very smart as well, rocking an LSAT in undergrad for “fun,” and scoring in the top few percentile. Hence, genetics has passed along not only our bad eyes and teeth, but our intelligence to both our kids. As the youngest in their 3rd and 5th grade classes due to summer birthdays, they are both testing in the upper 90 percentiles, and are both doing reading well above their grades. We are truly blessed as we have friends with kids who struggle, and they have that extra burden to bear to keep their kids up to speed with the rest of the class. We are also very fortunate to be in one of the best public school districts in the state. But despite those things, we still need to advocate for our kids and have them be challenged in ways that are maybe outside the standard Get On The Public School Train Where Everyone Goes At The Same Speed.
Now I’m of the opinion that there aren’t many truly “gifted” kids, I like this text from this Parenting article:
Gifted children are very rare…in your average classroom, there will be none,” notes Michelle Rhee, CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, an organization devoted to improving our public schools at the grassroots level, and former chancellor of the Washington, DC, public school system. “My daughter is in a class for ‘gifted and talented.’ Twenty percent of her grade is in this class. Hmm…twenty percent of the population is not gifted.”
But my kids are smart, which means they whip through homework, and get on to what they really want to do at that moment (play with friends, Minecraft, arts and crafts), though we have a different set of challenges. Here’s a few things from our life right now that maybe apply to some parents reading, and to most kids in general.
Advocate for Yourself and your Child (cuz no one else will do it for you)
Loudboy (8) has the same teacher that BirdsNest (10) had in 3rd grade. We don’t like her very much. She views all students through the socialist prism, where they all are the same (unless she says differently, which she doesn’t recognize unless you are a straggler). For example, Birdsnest has always been a very creative writer and tells amazing stories. Even in 2nd grade her stories would go one direction and at the very end would have a twist ending. Her 2nd grade teacher (who we loved) said that in 20 years of teaching she could only remember one or two students who had this level of creativity. But the socialist teacher basically told us “aww, she’s just a normal student,” which she isn’t. She isn’t a protege, just a smart kid. They put Loudboy through the test wringer when one teacher in late 1st or early 2nd grade identified him as having reading Game. They basically make him read paragraphs and segments on some topic they may not even know, and ask him questions to see his level of comprehension. They keep making the reading harder and harder (going up in grade level) until they break you due to complexity or vocabulary. So at 6 years old they kept ramping him up, until they broke him at 8th grade level reading comprehension when they started getting into topics on guerrilla warfare in South America. He recently tested in the 98% percentile in math. And EveryoneIsTheSame teacher from above doesn’t flag any of this. Just like his sister. So we were advocates ourselves and recommended a formal evaluation by the Gifted/Talented program. I’m not that concerned if he gets selected or not, as they still segregate a handful of students from each class who are on the top to get more advanced teachings, siphoning this group out of four classrooms into advanced math or whathaveyou. I was like that, never in any formal program, but pushed by teachers in an informal manner.
Keeping Kids Doing Something Productive and Positive
This is probably our biggest struggle. Like I mentioned, they don’t need help with homework and score near perfect scores from spelling (including the challenge words) to math. They read at night on their own, so that is covered, but it’s the down times in the evenings and on weekends that we tend to see them spiral into laziness. I want to preface this in we believe in downtime and being kids and the value of play. But it is easy to let kids spend 8 hours a day watching Minecraft videos if left to their own accord. This is true of every kid. So we try and keep our kids engaged and try to sharpen their minds as best we can, in fun ways. We play Dungeons and Dragons and chess. They play piano, and are made to practice regularly. Besides that they play one sport (or activity) per season. They can choose what that is (cub scouts, sports, robot club, whatever), but they aren’t allowed to sit idle. My wife and I try and model behavior as well, We read a lot, exercise a fair amount, and they have some semblance of understanding about my running websites, investing (Birdsnest has a spreadsheet she helped set up to track her net worth and portfolio). They learn about the outdoors and gardening by modeling our behaviors. And then we introduce other learning activities. The latest has been basic java coding (and it is rudamentary) using Minecraft skin as the backdrop (right in their wheelhouse). We bought Youth Digital Mod Design 1: Learn to Code with Minecraft for Mac/PC and both the kids are running through it. And they are learning to deal with tech support on their own too, with the real-time website based text help Youth Digital provides (which helped when Loudboy blew up some basic code they needed).
Encourage Their Interests, Give them the Ability to Drill Down
Basically, it is easy to unplug and zone out as adults, and as kids. It’s our job as parents to keep kids engaged and moving in the right direction most of the time, while still finding that balance for them to be kids the other parts. We throw a lot against the wall, and not that much of it really sticks as far as long-term interests. And that’s ok, but we’ll never know if they’ll have the grit and interest to be the next Eagle Scout or renowned graphic designer or movie director if we don’t show them how those things work. And when they do start to gravitate, we give them the opportunity to drill down and grow in that area. Birdsnest wanted to learn how to make movies. So I showed her how to shoot videos with the digital camcorder we have, how to download the video, how to use Microsoft Movie Maker and edit them, even how to put a soundtrack to it. She’s easy, she’s interested in lots of things and wants to do them all. Loudboy is a lot more of a sourpuss and naysayer, and hasn’t found much he likes besides Minecraft, soccer, reading, and camping. That’s a good start, but he hasn’t really sunk his teeth into much else, and with things we introduce he reluctantly or begrudgingly evaluates them. But we set the table for that, it’s up to him to figure that out.
Limit TV Watching
We don’t have cable, and we rarely have network TV on. With the exception of a Sunday NFL game, and maybe some dancing show my wife will watch on occasion, or American Ninja Warrior, we don’t watch regular TV. Television is not good and we limit that poison. We don’t want commercials or the shallowness and narcissistic nature and the FemCentral message to infiltrate into our children any more than they already do. We allow videogames of a certain sort (Minecraft, Lego ones), but TV is way worse and the consumption attitude it promotes is nauseating.
Help them Develop Grit
I’ve written before about Grit, and the importance of trying to implement that core value into their psyche at a young age. Teaching them the patience and perseverance to accomplish their goal is a difficult task. Instant gratification is so easy these days. Pushing through boredom is difficult. Having grit is said to make the difference between a high achiever and an unsuccessful person, and is more important for success than innate talent or intelligence. One way to teach your child about grit is to share with him the disappointments and frustrations that you have experienced.
Encourage Creative Pursuits
Whether music or arts and crafts or something else that we, as grownups, may see as silly or a waste of time, we should still be encouraging those things. Loudboy started an afterschool club called The Doodlers where him and a few friends write out comic strips. They are fans of Calvin and Hobbes, Big Nate books. The strips are silly but he’s started a whole series of strips. My daughter is much more of a sewer, crafter (making duct-tape everything: wallets, purses, bracelets, kindle covers, clothes for her dolls), computer movie maker. Pairing a creative pursuit with a fungible science or engineering based craft is some powerful stuff. Just today I was reading a thread by parents on college entrance strategies, or some other typical bullshit. But I read one gem out of this crap. One guy’s daughter got really into photography, and started shooting and selling prints of horses, which then she used to pay for buying real horses at the glue-factory auction and found them “forever homes” at places where maybe they couldn’t afford to do that. Very cool, all starting off a creative pursuit. Even if the creativity ends up taking hold as a hobby, so many people (Most?) don’t even have that.
Teach them a Growth Mindset versus a Fixed Mindset
Gorilla Mindset talks about this as well, but essentially fixed mindset assumes our intelligence, creativity, and character are inherent and can’t be changed, while a growth mindset consider challenges and failures to be part of process for improvement and serves as a springboard to stretch ourselves. Saying “you’re so smart!” reinforces a mindset that things are set in stone. If they fail a test, it’s because they aren’t smart enough (inherent), versus that they didn’t work hard enough (ability to improve). Scientific American talks about how a failed grade will be a tool to study harder for those in the growth mindset. And that’s what we have to try to instill in our kids too.
So as a parent, you should be modeling as much of these behaviors as possible. Kids look at you as the leaders and example setters, so the better example we set for our kids, the more likely they are to digest those beliefs and behaviors into their persona.