Saturday, August 9, 2014

Shakespeare in the Park

Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished...But if at school they had been inoculated against him, they will never be able to enjoy him. [...] Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences...
  • Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World (1951), p. 201.

Anyone who has watched David Tenant's 10th Doctor on Doctor Who will remember the episode when he meets William Shakespeare.  The Doctor uses "psychic paper" as an identification because it caused the viewer to see what he wants to see. If the Doctor is trying to get into an army warehouse his psychic ID will show him to be a five star general.  The ID doesn't work on William Shakespeare because you can't fool a genius.

William Shakespeare. The bane of all high school teenagers.  The thick verse. The strange words. The "I just can't understand it!"  "I hate Shakespeare."  "What the heck is iambic pentameter??" Well, you don't hate Shakespeare.  You just haven't been put in a position to appreciate it because no one exposed you to it correctly.  Shakespeare invented 1700 words and phrases that are now in our English language.  You'd be surprised to know that bedazzle, addiction, gloomy, swagger, and rant are his inventions.  He also coined phrases such as "break the ice," "in a pickle," and "neither rhyme nor reason."  (here's a cool page...A list of Shakespeare's words and phrases.  It's not an exhaustive list of course).  The greatest disservice to Shakespeare in high school (and forgive me if I irritate some school teachers here) is that Shakespeare is read, not seen.  I think every student should WATCH a production of a play and then read the text.  I wonder if this would have a better outcome and make the plays less frustrating.  **Here's a handy little tip. The more you read or listen to Shakespeare the easier it becomes to understand.  You might find yourself a little lost for the first 15-20 minutes but most people start to fall right into the language.  It's not so different from our language today. Fear of the verse is what seems to make people deaf.

Claudius and Hamlet
Shakespeare is the muse that inspired popular adaptations of his most famous works:  West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet), The Lion King (Hamlet), Ten Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew),  Scotland, PA (Macbeth), Ran (King Lear), She's the Man (Twelfth Night), O (Othello), Forbidden Planet (The Tempest), Warm Bodies (Romeo and Juliet), and My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV and Henry V).  Shakespeare's stories are universal and timeless and children should be taught to at the very least appreciate the Bard's contribution to the English language and theater.

Many cities have Shakespeare in the Park type productions. Often these productions are free to the public, or are staged for a nominal fee.  Many of these companies subsist on donations and grants (bring a couple of singles with you and drop a few dollars in the bucket when it's passed around). Many people don't how much time and effort goes into a production of a work of Shakespeare.  It's not easy.  I can barely memorize a stanza or two of a poem.  Can you imagine having to memorize (and act out) several thousand lines of Shakespearean English? But why go through all of that for a play?  Simply, these plays are that important to society...all society.

((**Note: Shakespeare is not Old English or even Middle English.  For all intents and purpose Old English is virtually unreadable for the average person and Middle English is the language in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare is Modern English. You heard it right. MODERN English.))

 How to NOT Make Going to See a Shakespeare Play a Chore

Start young.  Take your children to see outdoor productions.  Remember this part...this is important...watching Shakespeare as a child is NOT NOT NOT about understanding every word.  It's about exposure.  Let your child hear the words, see the action, people watch the audience.  What kind of people go to Shakespearean plays?  All sorts of people.  People like you and me. The greatest Shakespeare scholars to the person who's never seen a play in his life.

Nope. Not asleep.  Relaxed and enjoying...the strangulation scene?
As much as the bachelor of English in me resists the idea, read a copy of the play using No Fear Shakespeare if you aren't well versed in Shakespeare and want to walk into the play knowing the plot  (No Fear Shakespeare is a reading aid where the play in its original words is presented on one side of the page and the current English translation on the other page). In no way to do I advocate the use of this sort of aid if you are currently in an English class or Shakespeare class.  Keep yourself honest and read or view the plays on your own. That is the point of studying Shakespeare. In the case of a first time viewing while at the same time trying to help a child understand a basic plot, go for it.

And example of a page from the No Fear Shakespeare collection
Make it a special day.  This year's production was Othello.  My daughter and I decided to pack a picnic lunch as we did when we saw The Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra play the score to Star Trek: Into Darkness live at the Mann Music Center (there was a lawn for picnics).  She helped make the sandwiches and decide on snacks.  We packed up a large blanket, parasols (it was an afternoon production), and our lunches.  We also packed her best friend and her best friend's mom (OK, so she didn't pack her...we invited them to come with us!).  A friend makes things better.  They can share an experience.

See if you can find a modern visual interpretation.  Many of the movie productions move out of the typical Elizabethan settings and clothing opting to reinterpret the plays using a modern backdrop. And it's very easy to do so.  Shakespeare's plays are timeless.  Ian McKellan's Richard III takes place in WWIIish Britain.  The story transfers easily.  The Kevin Kline version of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place during the turn of the century as opposed to Ancient Thebes.  The Othello we went to see today was set in the backdrop of WWII.  Period costumes and music were used.  My kid is a history buff as well so she actually recognized the music.

The set for the 2014 production of Othello in Allentown, PA (8-9-14)

Watch the following video before you go see any Shakespeare play. No. I'm serious. Watch this. You will laugh yourself into stitches (that's from Twelfth Night...see what I did there??!)  It's kid friendly with the exception of the Punch and Judy scene. You might want to mute it (it's a wee bit racy).  Mute from 1 hour 15 minutes until 1 hour 17 minutes. 

How about Moonlighting's version of The Taming of the Shrew?  This one will also have you in stitches.  Quite a few modern references.

If you make it OK to like Shakespeare your child may grow to love him as I hope my child will.  Remember that you are the greatest influence in your child's life.  If you squish your eyes, wrinkle your nose, and say "I hate Shakespeare" chances are that's the exact same position your child will take. If you don't care for Shakespeare (or don't understand it) go on a journey together.  If you have to read the "No Fear Shakespeare" version of the play before you see the play do it. Do what you have to to enjoy it.  Maddie said to me after Othello, "you know when you see it it makes more sense."  So it does grasshopper. So it does.


Curtain call for Allentown's SitP's production of Othello
*Personal photographs taken by Karen Schlipp and posted with permission
*Allentown Shakespeare in the Park Facebook Page
*The Allentown Shakespeare in the Park Company: Fractured Atlas
*My apologies to my beloved Shakespeare professor Dr. L. Fletcher if I mucked up any information.

I had to throw this in...sorry.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We didn't start the fire! Little history lessons!

We were listening to the radio while out and about doing errands.  One of my favorite Billy Joel songs came on: We Didn't Start the Fire. After some thought, and time teaching in 9th grade, I realized that the majority of kids out there couldn't give you even a one sentence description of the events Billy Joel highlights in his song.  Maybe someone might know who Marilyn Monroe is but Panmunjom? Not a chance.  Probably not even in 12th grade seeing the way education is going in this country.  Ding ding ding! Opportunity knocks!  When my daughter gets to middle school and above I want her to know the basics of current world history.  That way when she gets to class she won't have that vacant stare I've seen so often when I mention something like "the Russians were in Afghanistan first." (she never has a vacant stare...if was just an example LOL).  So here's what we did.

1.  I printed out the lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel.  I purchased a big piece of poster board and transferred the world events highlighted in the song.

My hand hurt after writing.
The song starts with events from 1949 and ends in the mid to late 80s as it was first released in 1989.  So much has happened since them.  I cruised around some world history websites and picked some of the major events from the 90s and up.  Since this was all discretionary you can choose your own events.

What events to you think are important?

 2. We bought a notebook. Please excuse my coffee table.  It's "craft central."

We used a simple composition notebook. Anything works.

3. One of our summer projects is writing out information on two subjects a day.  An essay isn't necessary. In fact, just a few sentences in summary. Sure there are a few subjects that require more, but I'm interested in exposure, not research papers.  If Maddie enters a world or American history class in 9th grade and has already been exposed to the Rosenbergs she's ahead of the curve. She already knows the basic story.  This notebook is actually something she can even take to school with her and work on when the students have free (computer) time, though it would be great for her to research these subjects from actual books!

She now knows who Eisenhower is.

I admit there were several events that I didn't know...and I'm pretty well versed in world history, more than most.  I found a great little site discussing, just as I highlight in this post, each point in the song.  It's a great cross reference or someplace to go if you, yourself wants to review.

Happy history everyone!

*All rights to the title and subject matter to Billy Joel of course.  No copyright infringement intended or implied. I think I've made is really, really, really clear that this is his song and he wrote it. :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't Be Afraid of the Big White Machine: Using a Sewing Machine

Honestly, it's not that scary.
I sew...a lot.  Of course I have taught my daughter to sew, but only with a needle and thread.  I figured when her feet could touch the floor while sitting at the dining room table she'd be ready to learn to use the sewing machine.  Today she sewed her first project: a pillow.  And not just any pillow, a little patchwork pillow.  To make it truly hers I made sure she picked out her own fabric at the store.  I helped her a bit with color coordination, but in the end it was all her choice. She picked two nature scenes: a deer fabric and a pheasant fabric with a solid brown back.  It was very easy and can be made without a real pattern. I helped her make the patchwork pattern from regular paper.  There are certain areas of this project where my help was essential for safety reasons. I'll note them as they come up.  This will be a 2x2 patch pillow with a solid back.

If your child has never used a sewing machine before give her scrap fabric and let her just sew lines. Don't expect a straight line.  What she needs to get used to is not only sewing straight, but getting used to the foot pedal.  She needs to learn the speed she finds comfortable.  Sewing too quickly can lead to all types of errors, torn fabric, clogged bobbin thread, broken top name it. 

Step One: Making a pattern.  I give all of my projects a one in seam allowance (half an inch on each side) so to make a finished square of six inches we made a seven inch square. I made it on regular copy paper. It's thinner and easier to pin to fabric.

Step Two: Pin the pattern to the fabric.  In most cases you can fold a piece of fabric in half to cut two pieces.  We did that on the pheasant fabric because it was the same.  For the deer fabric Maddie pinned and cut out pieces individually so her favorite animal was featured.  When you pin a pattern down on fabric make sure the pins run perpendicular to the cutting edge.  My mother taught me one of the most important rules of sewing: pin pin pin pin pin.  Use your pins.  It keeps the fabric still and it makes for better seams and cuts.

Step Three: Cutting out the fabric.  Teach your child proper scissor technique.  First, purchase good set of  fabric scissors (the retail at around $10-20).  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use fabric scissors for anything but fabric and thread.  One of my relations once picked up a pair of my sewing scissors to cut paper.  Please see the following video for my reaction:

It's important to cut properly.  Make sure you cut on a hard surface and keep the bottom of scissors on the table.  Don't lift up your fabric and cut it while holding it.  Chaos will ensue.  Open the scissors completely and cut until they are closed, then open and continue. Cut out two square each of fabric.

You can trim away extra fabric to make cutting easier
 Step Four: Pin the edge of one of each pattern together good sides faced together.  Do the same for the other two but make sure for the second two the sewing edge is on the opposite side. This means the pattern will be "every other."

Step Five: The big white machine.  Since this was Maddie's first sewing project I didn't expect or ask her to take care of some of the more difficult aspects of the machine.  I threaded the machine myself (this seems to be responsible for the majority of sewing anxiety.  New machines actually number the steps on the machine itself).  I also loaded the bobbin, threaded the needle, and pulled the bobbin thread up.  On my machine I have a piece of black electrical tape that marks off the 1/2 inch seam allowance.  It's a handy guide and it was an immeasurable help to Maddie.  Lifting the foot (there is a small lever behind the needle) Maddie put the fabric in. Lowering the foot holds it steady.  It's important to "lock stitch" the beginning of your stitch.
All this means is going forward a bit and go backward over what you sewed.  It prevents the seam from pulling apart at the edge.  This involves pressing the pedal, holding down the reverse lever, and moving the fabric all at once. I did this.  Once the lock stitch was finished Maddie took over.

Step Six: Once you have sewn the two sets together, open them up and put them one on top of the other to check the pattern.  Nothing is worse than sewing a seam, opening it up and realizing the fabric is upside down.  Then pin the two sections together along the long seam, right sides together.  Sew the long seam together and open.

Step Seven: With right side down, pin the patchwork down onto the solid back fabric (unless there is a specific nap or finished side to the solid, it doesn't matter which side).  Sew around leaving one section open. You will use this to reverse the pillow as well as use it as the whole for stuffing.  Take this time to press the wrinkles out.  Parents: This is your job.  Typical cotton fabrics need the highest setting and it is unsafe for kids to use irons at that setting.

The thread was light to show the portion not sewed. 
Step Seven: Turn the piece right side out.  Getting the corners to turn out is usually very difficult. To that end I use a seriously high tech tool: A chopstick.  Using the larger end poke into the the corners to turn them out. Don't force it.

Step Eight: Stuff.  Use the high tech chopstick to help push down the batting into the corners.  Use small tufts of batting as opposed to big chunks.  It makes judging the softness easier.

Step Nine: When your pillow is stuffed to your satisfaction sew up the small opening with a needle and thread. You can do it with the sewing machine but it's bulking and will be difficult for small hands. Pin the two pieces of fabric together, thread a needle and knot the end, and use a simple whipstitch.

Pinning the opening together

Whipstitch. Make sure to knot the end

Final hand stitch
Step Ten: Enjoy your creation!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Gifted Children

Being gifted needs courage.
~Georg Brandes

This is a two part post.  This section deals with the basics of gifted kids and gifted education.  It is meant as a primer to give parents tools and information to open a dialogue with school administrators, teachers, other parents, and/or medical professionals. Part two will deal exclusively with emotional concerns for parents and kids. I have consulted gifted children themselves, parents of gifted children, and adults who are gifted to try and bring a unique perspective from inside the gifted world.

Exactly who is gifted?*

 The Federal definition of gifted students is as follows: “The term 'gifted and talented' when used in respect to students, children, or youth means [those who show] evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.”
— P.L. 103–382, Title XIV, p. 388

            Unlike special education which is protected by the Federal mandate called The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), gifted students, while being considered special needs learners, are not covered by IDEA.  There are Federal recommendations on what services a gifted child should receive, but since is no mandate, the services for gifted children are determined by each state individually and are funded (or not funded) by the state as well.  This represents one of the greatest disservices to gifted children who are, without services, ignored, left to fend for themselves, and dismissed as being smart enough to handle everything on their own.  One woman in my gifted parenting support group said, when she requested an interview about her son’s giftedness, the superintendent of her school district said there was no such thing as a Gifted Individual Education Plan (GIEP) and one will not be provided for a child who performs above the curve. The man who is supposed to be an advocate for every skill level of every child was unimpressed with the idea of a GIEP and dismissed it as a drain on my school district’s resources.  Some advocate.
            My 10 year old daughter is smart.  I tell people she is scary smart, not just average smart. Dealing with a gifted child is difficult because, unbeknownst to many people there are many problem areas for gifted children, the most common being emotional, educational, social, and intellectual difficulties.  When gifted children are ignored one, many, or all of these problems can manifest and your child may act out, become emotionally unstable, be bored, or give up on education.  There are ways to combat these problems, by yourself if you have to. Remember, YOU are your child’s only true advocate.  No one but you would give up everything for her to have a happy life. 
            My daughter was identified as gifted in first grade.  In kindergarten one spring afternoon I was asked to stay behind after class when picking up my daughter.  This was not an unusual request.  Madeline had been a student at a Piaget modeled daycare/kindergarten school for about three years and she constantly shocked the teachers with her advanced cognitive functions, perceptional reasoning and advanced reading level.  She was 5.  I was told to have my daughter tested for gifted.  I remember I wasn't tested until I was in third grade.  She was in kindergarten.  Her kindergarten teacher said, "No. Test her as soon as she starts first grade."  She was serious.
            In the Commonwealth of PA, as parents we have the right to ask the school to assess our children for learning support or giftedness.  The school district must accommodate us in a reasonable amount of time at no cost to us.  That is one of the first things you need to investigate in regard to your district.  In regard to testing, what rights do you have? The best place to start is with your class teacher.  If he/she does not know, move on to the principal.  If the principal is unsure contact your administration building. 

      A test is a test is a test?          

            As a gifted individual myself, the gifted aptitude tests are now very different from when I took them 35 years ago.  When I was a child I remember being given shadow shapes and blocks and being asked to reproduce the shape by putting the blocks together.  I remember being asked to do mazes.  Apparently I did them backwards which is the sign, at least 35 years ago,  of advanced cognitive function.  I was told by my mother that I was given an IQ test and I tested, obviously, quite high.  And that was it (well, that's what I remember. It's fair to say there might have been more to it).  Big rubber stamp on my forehead: GIFTED.  I was given a GIEP and placed in a classroom with other higher learners.  I was taken out of the classroom and put in a gifted resource room once every couple of days to do special projects (which I now know was cognitive enhancement).  That was it.  No additional services.  No psychological services. No counseling. Nothing.  Nada.  And I sure needed more looking back now.
            When my daughter was tested the process was quite different.  She was given what is called a multidiscipline test.  In other words, she was observed by many people, including her father and me.  She was observed in a classroom setting by our district’s gifted itinerant (a specialized teacher who deals exclusively with gifted children).  Her classroom teachers filled out questionnaires.  We filled out questionnaires.  She was given a IQ test. The test she took is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). This test measures her cognitive ability (brained based skills required to understand and carry out tasks) and her Perceptual Reasoning Index (which measures fluid reasoning, ability to learn new information, and spacial processing). Her previous teachers were interviewed.  The results of this test indicated that she was highly gifted and talented (often referred to as GT) and needed to be in a program that would help her educationally, emotionally, and intellectually.  During my years as a gifted student the emotional aspect of being gifted was overlooked.  Only now do we see that emotional support is very necessary for smart kids. Gifted children don't think the same way normal children do.  Their brains work in different, more efficient ways in many cases, but the way in which information is given to gifted children, or the processes which they are taught to use sometimes don't make sense. They process information quickly and their brains are hypersensitive to stimuli. Regular teaching models are inadequate for their minds and they can become frustrated and hard on themselves causes emotional pain. We must see to all aspects of their brains. The holistic model of care is the most appropriate. 

Here is a fascinating article from Johns Hopkins University on how a gifted brain works: Johns Hopkins University: Brains on Fire
      Gifted testing tests three specific areas: verbal reasoning (understanding and reasoning with concept framed in words), quantitative reasoning (the application of mathematical concepts and skills to solve real-world problems), and non-verbal reasoning (the use of mental strategies to solve problems). Because there are several different ways of thinking children don't necessarily test gifted in all areas which means children can be gifted in one area, regular track in another, and even special needs in yet another.  I taught in a 6th grade special education resource room for five years. On several occasions I had children with a GIEP in math and an IEP in reading.  Their time was split between gifted cluster math, a reading resource room, and regular tracked history and science.  The mind is a strange and wonderful thing.

What is this GIEP thing?

      A GIEP is a individual learning plan for your child. All IEPs, whether for special education or gifted students, are written for each individual child. While the form is generic, the information entered is intended only for your child. There are several sections to an IEP.  First, the IEP includes the letters and communication between parents and teachers to set up appointments and the parent's acknowledgments of their rights as parents.  It includes a section indicating parties invited to participate in an IEP meeting by listing each and asking for a signature if they are in attendance. This list often includes the parents, the current teachers, the principal, the gifted itinerant or school psychologist, and the student.
     The second section of an IEP includes information on the child. This includes test results, academic and cognitive strengths, concerns (both parents and teachers if applicable), progress on goals as of the meeting date, aptitudes, interests, specialized skills, and products and evidence of effectiveness in other academic areas. It also may include special services already in place or recommended for the child (such as speech therapy) or any health diagnoses (anything from "student must wear corrective lenses" to "student exhibits Asperger's Syndrome").
     The third portion of the IEP outlines the actual education plan.  An example on my daughter's GIEP is as follows:

Annual Goal: Given advanced language arts curriculum, Madeline will develop high-level reading and writing skills.

Short Term Learning Outcomes for this Goal: 1. Given an inquiry focus question, Madeline will write a response and then revise that response after analysis of the groups' discussion.   

Objective criteria: Relevant written responses before and after every discussion (100% of sessions).   

Assessment procedures: Teacher checklist and rubric.  

Timeline: Monthly units of Instruction, quarterly progress reports.  Etc...

The GIEP gives a plan for Madeline's education and makes sure she doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

So Where do we Put Them?

            There are genearlly three options for gifted education in a brick and mortal school. While some are better than others, many gifted parents will take what they get, happy that their child is at least being served in some capacity. 
            The first is the self-contained classroom. This is often the most desired situation for most parents of a gifted student but not always an option (or even the best option in some cases).  A self-contained classroom (or also called  homogeneous grouping) is precisely what it sounds like, a classroom that only houses gifted and advanced students. Sometimes if there are only a few students from each grade, a self-contained classroom will have students from multiple grades. This can be very beneficial because younger students have older students to look to.  On the opposite side of the intellectual spectrum are self-contained classrooms used for special needs learners that do not qualify for certain areas on regular track inclusion.  Self-contained classrooms, whether advanced or special needs often deviate from the standard curriculum and allow the students to advance as they will with support from a trained teacher, a gifted or special education itinerant if available, and sometimes a classroom paraprofessional.  The gifted classroom is not just accelerated. The students' coursework is advanced and supported by their learning materials and their teachers.  Many people think that simple acceleration is the key to teaching a gifted student. This is not the case.  Acceleration without teaching cognitive skills can be the recipe for disaster.  That’s like giving a child a car but neglecting to teach them how to drive.  Gifted children need not only to be given information, but to be taught how to think.  Their reasoning is different from the average child. 
            One of the benefits of a self-contained classroom is that all of the gifted and advanced students are together and they have progressed together.  Within their classroom you will find  comradery and peer support.  They are all super smart.  And they know it.  There is little teasing or bullying, or negative response from other students when one of them wants to talk about how the Theory of Relativity applies when mommy makes dinner.  They don’t laugh at each other and when they call each other nerds or geeks they own the word.  It is not a derogatory term. There is no real jealousy and they all respect each other. Is this the norm? Definitely not in the real world which is one of the cons to this sort of arrangement. 
            One significant problem with the self-contained classroom is the future of a student’s academics if he/she moves to another school that does not have self-contained classrooms.  While moving throughout a supportive district that will test gifted children to put them exactly where they belong academically, some schools don’t accommodate advancement.  Maddie plays the violin and her father and I were seriously considering a performing arts middle charter school because the public school district has seriously and obscenely cut the arts programs.  I called the arts charter school and after about four attempts, spoke to the school counselor.  I asked if they accommodated GIEPs.  They said they did not. They were only required to accommodate special needs IEPs as covered by IDEA.  I asked if Maddie would be tested and placed in a proper academic level, whether it put her in a higher grade or not.  The answer was still no.  They do not accommodate advanced learner.  Would I like an application anyway?  I think not.  This is a typical problem when changing to a school that does not assist gifted students.  Your child could leave one school learning at a fifth grade level only to be returned to a third grade curriculum. Do research before you change schools.
            The second, and most common type of support is called cluster grouping. Gifted and advanced students are placed in a heterogeneous classroom, but as you would expect, clustered together and given additional instruction whether they are pulled out for enrichment periods (such as the Junior Great Books programs), or having a higher level math courses taught while other math classes are going on.  These clusters work at an accelerated pace, learn more complex ideas, higher order thinking skills, and an enriching curriculum. Clustering works well as long as there is a qualified teacher for the classroom and few or no disruptive students assigned in the non-clustered section of class.  In regard to socialization, cluster grouping in a heterogeneous classroom has the benefit of keeping intellectual peers together for support, but gives them access to others in their age group.  Self-contained classrooms can make students seem elitist  and cause social divide in peers of the same age leading to the possibilities of more active teasing and bullying and general social isolation of the advanced students.
            The pull-out or send-out method, or sometimes referred to as the resource room method, is the least desirable of the three accommodations. Many districts follow this model (sometimes because of lack of funding for highly qualified teachers and sometimes because of low gifted enrollment) and this method is better than no method at all. Students are taken out of regular academic classrooms for one or two hours a week where they have special training, receive gifted support, or have special enrichment. Unfortunately two to six hours a week is not enough time to truly provide for the gifted student’s academic or emotional needs, but at least it attempts to give the student skills to use.  For a better look at the pros and cons of all three of these methods, please visit the Duke University Talent Identification Program website at: Duke TIP

            One of the biggest emotional issues with gifted children is pressure whether real or perceived.  It can be a burden to be smart.  You are expected to get things right. You are expected to lead.  You are expected to be profound.  You cannot fail. But then again, if you show your intelligence you are a show off and arrogant.  You can’t win.
            As a parent the most important thing you must do is be very, very aware of your child’s moods and responses to the world around her.  As smart as gifted kids are, they are like every other kid out there…sometimes they don’t know how to say they are upset.  Be aware of certain warning signs:

Poor School Performance

         When you know the material is at the right level, but your child seems to be doing poorly make an appointment with his teacher.  A lot of schooling comes very easily to gifted kids and they do very well, but there is a little part of them that wonders what will happen if they fail, and sometimes they fail on purpose to find out if the world is going to end.  I know a young man that in the final years of high school, after an illustrious school career, purposefully failed every class.  The world didn’t end.  His mom was pissed.  He moved on with his life.  He knows now that what he did hurt his chances to get into a better college.  Don’t let your child get to that point.  Let them fail in a controlled manner and without pressure.  Identify the problem (your child got a “B” on a math test…and believe me this could be a situation that leads to meltdown).  Make the grade OK (That’s a good grade, honey. I know it’s not what you like, but it’s still really good).  Ask and suggest. Don’t accuse. (It looks like you had a little trouble on this problem? Maybe we can figure it out together.)  Make it OK for both of you to fail and look for help (Well honey, I stink at this problem too.  Why don’t we ask the teacher tomorrow).  And let it go. Don’t focus on it for the rest of the night and when your child returns to the subject, move it along.  Let's talk about something else. Let's talk about something that makes you feel good inside.
             If you are concerned that your child is having trouble at school and you there isn't an obvious reason, ask to have the itinerant or psychologist observe your child. You have the right to ask for this.  My daughter had 5 minute interval observations once because she seemed to be having difficulties in the area of math.  Every five minutes the itinerant wrote down what she was doing…and I mean everything including “finger in her nose.”  We met after the observation and she was able to detect one of two main areas that was causing problems.  Maddie would often start tests and works without waiting for instructions.  While she easily blew through most of the test, she was unable to do the problems that the teacher took time to explain.  She would be on the last question (the one that had instructions) and just after the teacher finished explaining Madeline would raise her hand and say she didn't know how to do the question that was just explained.   A one hour observation saved us from significant problems down the road.

  General Anxiety
         This can be one of the original triggers of poor school performance. Even children who live with no pressure at home or at school can succumb to internal anxiety.  Again, gifted kids know they are smart and they know a lot is expected of them.  Even if you make that “B” OK, they might not feel it’s OK and they may feel as though they let you or their teacher down (even though they haven’t).  Recently my daughter stopped wanting to speak up in class. She said she was afraid of saying the wrong thing and embarrassing herself.  I told her walking into a sign post was embarrassing. The wrong answer isn’t.  But I’ll be honest: that’s only a gifted parent half-truth. Wrong answers are embarrassing to a gifted individual and we obsess over them, sometimes for years. In my Edgar Allan Poe class in college the professor asked the rhyme scene/meter of “The Raven.”  I answered incorrectly even though I realized the correct answer just as the wrong answer was coming out of my mouth.  I am still fixated on it (Trochaic Octameter in case you were interested…I said septameter). The best you can do is reassure, reassure, reassure, reassure.  If the anxiety increases please consult your itinerant or psychologist.  He or she will give you additional symptoms of anxiety to watch for.  Things such as sleepwalking, wetting the bed, crying for no apparent reason, etc...can all be signs that your child is struggling inside. Dealing with anxiety is one of the things that I was never taught. Even at 35 one of my professors said I was “twitchy” when it came to writing papers asking her every other day if this was acceptable, or was that what she meant with that instruction. There is truth in fiction.  During a Simpsons episode the school strikes and Lisa (a gifted child) begins to go a bit crazy when there is no education.  She begs her mother to rate her and grade her because she can’t stand the fact that she isn’t learning and being assessed, something that becomes very important to gifted children.  Marge writes an “A” on a blank piece of paper and Lisa glides away happily.

               This is one of the most common signs that something isn’t wrong.  Most often it means that a gifted child is bored with the curriculum. It is either moving too quickly and they quit or it is moving too slow and they finish their work before anyone else and are left to their own devises, often getting in trouble. This is when a gifted itinerant or school psychologist is worth their weight in gold.  Once again, an itinerant or psychologist observation may be in order to help identify when the boredom occurs. Once identified it can be dealt with.
            One of the ways I've tried to combat boredom in school (which, gifted cluster or not, still happens) is provide my own enrichment materials for Maddie.  With permission from her teacher Maddie has a folder that I gave to her the first day of school.  Over the summer we pick poems of all levels and make a booklet she can keep with her.  We've included Keats, Silverstein, Poe, Tennyson, Eliot, and random poets of every age and walk of life found all over the internet.  Some of these poems are difficult, even for adults. But they keep her thinking and they occupy her mind.  Over the years she has even memorized quite a few stanzas from "The Lady of Shallot" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
             Other ideas are sending your child with a writing journal with pre-written prompts.  You and your child can create these prompts over the summer.  Consider printing copies of great works of art. Include facts about the artist and the piece itself and leave a section for your child to write his thoughts. Pack extra books of high interest.  Word searches. Crossword puzzles.  Rubix cubes.  Whatever you and your child's teacher deem appropriate. Having access to materials such as this can actually be entered into an GIEP if all parties agree.  Your child can quietly get their materials and it will hopefully cut down the pencil tapping, foot kicking, draping over chairs, throwing things at other students, etc...

Maddie during a short school program. Her kingdom for a book.

      Troubling behavior in and out of school 

            Behavioral problems which might include violence, severe disrespect, or acting out verbally are troubling for all involved.  This is a step above tapping pencils and throwing spit balls.  In cases such of this you need to do several things. First, evaluate your child’s schedule (which could have too many activities). Kids get tired. Quickly.  And when they are tired they can get angry and act out to show how unhappy they are. The older they get the worse it can become.  Constant enrichment might seem like a great idea, but know when is too much.  Don't take them to symphonies that will conclude after 11PM. That's just smart parenting. Your child needs down time.  He MUST have it.  He has to eat bugs, rub poison ivy on himself to see what happens, and skin his knees.  Don't forget that they are children, not little adults.  Children first.
                Evaluate your child's peer relationships to see if they are troubled or non-existent.  Man is a social creature and being forcefully ostracized is not healthy. It's one thing to choose to be alone. It is quite another to be forced to be alone. If your child is having trouble making or maintaining friends and consult with the itinerant or school psychologist (There is more on this subject coming up).  If there seems to be no known reason or your child is showing extreme or harmful behavior I recommend making an appointment with a board certified child psychologist.  Contrary to popular belief a doctor’s first instinct is not to pump a kid full of drugs.  Psychologists and psychiatrists (medical doctors) assess your child and try to work out action plans which might include therapy, coping skills, changes in diet or schedules, and the worst case scenario of medication.  Don’t be afraid of the medical profession.  It’s there to help.
              There has always been the myth that highly gifted and talented people are tragic and doomed because mental illness is more prevalent due to their unnatural intelligence. It has even been suggested that people are gifted because they are mentally ill, as though creativity is some sort of illness overflow.  There is really no way to prove this theory and if you'll forgive me I'll use a very technical word to describe this idea: hogwash.  Out of 100 gifted people let's say 15 of them are mentally ill.  Wow!  That's a lot.  Well, not really.  Out of 100 average people let's say 15 of them are mentally ill.  Same number. Not as fabulous.  Society likes the cool story, not the average story.  Bob the plumber is schizophrenic.  Meh.  Angela the painter is schizophrenic. Wow! You can see her pain in the painting!  It's all about perception.  Will some gifted and talented kids have mental illness? Sure they will.  Just like others.  In this way, gifted kids aren't different.  People see gifted children as exotic and different so they adhere to their own perception of what is exotic and different, which usually means being mentally ill. To me, it seems likes sometimes people think there is no way a person can be a Sylvia Plath or an Ernest Hemingway without having some sort of special edge, something extra added to the old "normal human" mix.  The skills of these people are almost otherworldly, therefore there must be an explanation.  They have the crazy.  That's got to be it.  Normal people don't write like Virginia Woolf.
               Recent studies do show a correlation between mental illness and giftedness, but one of the primary rules of understanding studies such as this is correlation does not necessarily mean causation. An article in Molecular Psychicatry states: "Anecdotal and biographical reports have long suggested that bipolar disorder is more common in people with exceptional cognitive or creative ability. Epidemiological evidence for such a link is sparse."

 Is bipolar disorder more common in highly intelligent people? A cohort study of a million men.

No one likes me

      Friends are often a touchy subject with gifted kids.  Some gifted kids have only a few friends and this can be exacerbated if there is no clustering, self-contained classes, or gifted grouping at school. Peers in your child's age group may become jealous of your child’s knowledge or be put off by what they consider to be strange behavior (a child who likes to rattle off the Fibonacci number sequence or do the Knight’s Tour by memory for fun).  No one likes a show off, but the problem is, gifted kids aren't showing off. They are being themselves. Sometimes they have strange interests.  Sometimes they have average interests but hyperfocus and talk about one subject often.  Parents of gifted kids understand this.  Gifted kids understand this about themselves.  Other people? Other kids? No so much.
     Gifted kids like to talk.  A lot.  To you. At you. To the wall if people won't listen.  Maddie's kindergarten teacher said her belly was full of words.  My neighbor's son is gifted.  One evening I babysat him and his sister with Maddie with us.  I made dinner and sat them down at the table.  Maddie and ZV (not to be confused with Maddie's girlfriend ZP below) didn't stop talking.  At each other. Talking about two totally different subjects.  I was amazed. Later I told his mother what happened.  She said, "So you have one of those too?"  Ha!  But constant talking is very hard to take if you aren't used to it.  Most kids aren't used to it. They see gifted kids as bossy and selfish wanting only to talk about things they like. It's not that way I assure you. They are just passionate.  But that kind of passion sometimes doesn't make friends, or keep them.  Gifted kids need to find other gifted kids.

Maddie and her best buddy.  Both highly gifted.
Maddie and ZP made up their own language to talk to each other secretly.
  Other children might distance themselves from the weirdo.  Now it’s up to you parents. You need to find the others.  They're there. I promise.

 Gifted children need to figure out where they belong and find people that have the same passions they do.  There are many ways to do this. A child is interested in physics but her science teacher can neither explain it in any way that makes sense to her nor recommend any age appropriate books.  This is when you find a physics teacher or professor in your area.  I guarantee you these men and women would jump at the chance to bring an eager young mind into the fold and be able to not only recommend resources, but be able to answer questions.  You might even be able to ask a high school science teacher to allow your child to sit in on a class.  No one expects your child to understand everything that’s being said.  It’s the impression and the feeling that they belong somewhere, that there are others like them.
            My daughter loves science fiction.  She gets it. Not all of it, but since she loves science as well she can see how imagination advances science knowledge.  A few weeks ago my city sponsored a Comic Book Conventions (often called ComicCons).  My daughter loves Doctor Who and wanted to dress up to go.  I painstakingly made a Dalek costume (one of the series' bad guys) by hand and we went on our way.  At the door she because nervous and didn’t want to go in. She didn’t want people to laugh at her costume.  I told her no one would laugh at her.  Within moments of entering people pointed at her and said, “WOW!  It’s a Dalek!”  Every person who was dressed as the Doctor asked if they could take a picture of her.  She posed for twenty pictures.  With each picture she smiled a bit more. With each picture she got more into character.  I told her that these people were just like her.  5,000 people just like her. I think for the first time she felt comfortable and when people said, “Don’t blink,” or “Exterminate!” she knew exactly what they were talking about. She found other people who understood what time paradoxes were; no one in her school did.  She was one of them.  And that’s all gifted kids want to be: part of a group that can keep up mentally and think the way they do.
New York City Park Chess

            Help your child find his niche.  If he loves to read find or start a reading group.  If she likes science find science clubs or summer science camp programs.  If he likes art and music, take him to concerts and stay around after and let him talk to the musicians, ask them questions about what they do, and find a musician who wants to talk about his favorite composer. If your child likes apples, go visit orchards or attend a gardening club.  Find that passion and go!  Go at all costs and go until they tell you to stop, but only stop to go in another direction.  Let them find themselves and find others like them.  Help them feel comfortable in their skin.  Let them break free of the mold society puts them in.  Society says “you are nice little smart children and you will do well in school and do math and read good books and behave and be the class president.”  No!  You are going to dress up as Nikola Tesla for Halloween even if no one knows who you are.  You are going to compose your own Ode to My Dog.  You are going to argue that a static warp bubble is the only way to travel faster than light and using your imagination, your intellect, and your higher cognitive function you will eventually design a warp engine.  You will paint the next masterpiece. You will write the great American novel because you got the story idea when you were 10 and wrote it down to be finished later when you learned the words you needed to get all your thoughts down. You can and will be everything and anything you choose and your mind will set you free.

What Should Mom and Dad Do?
        Parents need to enrich their gifted children. Period. Even if your child is in a gifted education program, your involvement in key.  It is important to find activities that will enhance their learning and pique their interests. Schools do their best, but they cannot expose every child to every aspect of life.  Art museums are a great start.  Even if you don’t know anything about art considers taking a guided tour.  Many museums have a free admission day.  Go.  Libraries are also important.  Chances are your little learner likes to read.  Get that child a library card and make the librarian your child’s best friend.  A librarian can tease out specific interests from a simple statement like, “I dunno. I kinda like science.”  Next thing you know your child has an armful of youth microbiology books.  Every newspaper has a section for local events.  Find them and go. Film shows, free music performances, lectures at colleges, plays, etc.  There is no excuse to not enrich a child’s life outside of school. All educational programs have deficits.  Find them and fill them yourself.

            Parents need as much support as kids.  It’s tough to raise a smart kid. They are always giving you a run for your money, soaking up every experience they can, easily bored, and just all around great kids with quirks.  There is no better place to get answers and supports than a support group. There are very few face to face support groups but there are many on the internet.  I belong to a gifted parenting group on Facebook.  Every member there has their own stories, ask for help, and brag (yes. BRAG…something that parents of gifted kids are often hesitant to do BUT WE WANT TO DO SOOOOO BAD!!!). There is a wealth of information out there from other parents. Learn from their mistakes. Learn from their successes.  Don't be ashamed to post your mistakes either.  We're all here because we love our kids and we want to give them the best opportunity to be themselves: smart.
     Can't find a support group? Consider starting one on your own. It's not easy, but it is worth the time.  Here are a few pointers:  Starting a parent support group

We currently live in a culture of “dumb,” as I like to call it.  There seems to be little value placed on incredibly smart children and that is a great disservice to society.  By embracing mediocrity and failure, we set up our children to expect to fail resulting in a child’s apathy towards education and success.  This leads to poor academic performance that excludes children from college or technical schools which in turn increases crime, gangs, and prison for many children.  Don’t dumb things down.  

Please consult the following links for more information:
The National Association for Gifted Children
Glossary of relative terms for Gifted Education 

 Part Two of this post will involve interviews with gifted children (their image of themselves, their gripes, and what they like), interviews with parents of gifted children (major difficulties and major joys), and gifted adults (reflections).

*I live in The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The accommodation of gifted education is state mandated.