1. Understand Your RightsIt always amazes me how one of the richest countries of the world is so split when it comes to education. Gifted educational policies vary widely from state to state and even from district by district in our state of California. Yellow is actually not that bad – it means that while gifted education is not mandated by state, “some” gifted funding is available. As a parent, you can check the status for your state gifted education policy and, as a voter work on having it changed. One of the problems with California gifted program is that it’s only available starting from the third grade. For the first three year our school was not obligated in any way to provide gifted differentiation to our children, which brings me to the next point.
2. Ask Questions During Back to School NightIn our school back-to-school night usually happens about 3 weeks into a school year. Hopefully in these three weeks your child shared some first impressions about his or her classroom and a teacher, and teachers had enough time to at least get the first idea of the strengths and weaknesses of students in their class. Don’t hesitate to ask some questions during school night about differentiated instruction and group projects. We wish we asked those questions last year, which would allow us to act sooner on some of the challenges we encountered.
3. Get to Know Your Child’s TeacherIf your district does not mandate gifted programming, a lot will depend on your child’s teacher. For the first two years of her school life Smarty had the same teacher (she was in a combo class for two years in a row). That teacher was very devoted to success of her students. She was working hard to ensure that each child gets “a full year of learning” regardless of where that child started in comparison to “expected results” for the year. In the second grade we were not as lucky. This second grade teacher was aware that Smarty is reading on high school level or is capable of doing 5th grade math, but she was still required to do the same worksheets and same homework. We met with this teacher for 1:1 conferences more than once, but every time her promises changed into implementations that penalized Smarty for finishing early rather than encouraging her to learn more. One lesson that we learned from the last year is not to wait for so long to bring the matter to the principal.
4. Negotiate HomeworkHomework was another area where we learned some lessons that we plan to use during the third grade. I don’t mind the idea of homework, but I detest the idea of busywork. Our children were receiving pages and pages of homework every week and sometimes an extra “homework for parents”, where homework could not be completed without some sort of input from parents. I find “homework for parents” insulting and unfair to students with parents who for various reasons are not able to stay on top of the tasks that are given to them by school. We found out from talking to other parents that some of them renegotiated the amount of homework that their children would do at home. We will be doing the same this year or asking the teacher to differentiate homework.
5. Do Not Correct Your Child’s HomeworkIf you are reading my blog, you are probably an engaged parent. It’s common for us to check our children’s homework and very tempting to correct it. Do not correct your gifted child’s homework! They need to learn to make mistakes and to know that mistakes are not the end of the world. Moreover, many mistakes of gifted children are not the result of not knowing a subject, they are the result of being overconfident and not paying attention. Getting a corrective feedback from the teacher is something that might help them a lot more than your well-intentioned attempt to catch their slips before they get in front of their teachers.
6. Offer Help in SchoolMost schools welcome parent volunteers. If you have experience, you might volunteer to tutor kids who need extra help or, perhaps, organize a club where you and other parents can mentor students in an area of your strength. Last year a group of parents invested a lot of time and energy into our school’s garden, and children learned a lot about winter and summer gardening in California, about native plants and natural pest control from working in the garden every week. For a short period of time I had a once-a-week math club for second graders with advanced math skills – unfortunately, 30 min a week given to me and inconsistency of whether this class would even happen were really “too little too late”. Perhaps more luck this year!
7. Do Not Overschedule Your Gifted StudentIt’s so tempting to “fulfill our children’s potential” by signing them out for a variety of after school activities. Resist this temptation. Our children already spend a lot of time in scheduled activities, and they need unstructured time to dream, play and do things of their own choosing. We don’t mind for our daughter to go once a week to after school classes of her choice during the time she would normally spend in her after school Y program, but otherwise we try to keep her schedule as clear as possible, especially on weekends.
8. Expose Your Children to Something NewOur children might have some deep interests already, but it’s important to get them out of their “box” from time to time. This is why we keep weekends for trips, museum visits, science experiments, cooking food from different countries, etc. It’s great if you have friends or relatives that can take your children to their workplaces or introduce them to different jobs and skills needed for those jobs.
9. Focus on Life SkillsSometimes our gifted learners are so preoccupied with academics and their other activities that there is no time left for them to learn critical life skills – such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or learning first aid basics. In our society that is so preoccupied with high achievement and extracurricular accomplishments, we all could do better preparing our children for independent life whether they are above or below average in their academic skills.
10. Don’t Stop Advocating for Your ChildThere are all kinds of labels given by our society to the parents of gifted children. Nobody objects when parents of children with special needs are fighting for their children rights’ for individualized instruction, but many people think that “gifted children are already ahead”, gifted children are “children of rich helicopter parents wanting their class advantage perpetuated by taxpayers’ money” or that “everyone is gifted”. As a hero from Disney’s Incredible said, If we say that everyone is special, it means that nobody really is. Gifted children have very real needs, and it’s up to us to work with schools and other parents to ensure they are met. I will continue this work this year despite my overall reluctance of being “a thorn” – my efforts are needed not only for my daughter, but for other gifted children out there.
More Articles About Gifted Children From This Blog
- Friendship 101 for Smart Kids
- The Games Our Children Play
- Book Series About Gifted Children
- Supporting Advanced Learners at Home (my guest home at Teach Mama)
- Selecting Books For Advanced Readers (guest post at Pragmatic Mom)
- Game Recommendations for Brainy Kids