Smarty pants: Social, emotional and cerebral education for gifted children
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
See the big picture: The Center for Gifted serves children Pre-K through eighth grade. Kids are engaged with classes such as: If It Flies, We’ll Build It; Computer Design and Animation; Electronics and Robotics Lab; and Filmmaking. | SUPPLIED PHOTO
Schools that are designed specifically with the gifted child in mind focus on helping the complete child. Academic achievements are important; however, intellectual abilities are not the only predicting factor for life success. Social and emotional development — work behavior, imagination, personal drive, compassion and a connection with the world all around — are just as important when shaping and teaching gifted children.
“In addition to foundational topics and subject matter, an emphasis is placed on exploring non-traditional subject areas while cultivating their creativity and high-order thinking process,” said Scott Etters, head of school at Da Vinci Academy, a school for the gifted in Elgin. “The pacing is faster, which allows acceleration in various subjects while providing an opportunity to go deeper. Typically, these are children who possess a natural hunger for knowledge and the challenge that comes along with it. It truly creates a unique and exciting learning environment.”
How do parents know if their child is gifted? While no hard and fast rule exists for the kaleidoscope of aptitude levels, some of the characteristics in gifted children are: being obsessed in a specific subject, quick problem solving, early reading comprehension, stellar writing abilities, advanced vocabulary, asking complex questions, strong artistic or musical abilities, intense periods of concentration and the list goes on.
“Many parents strive to have the label ‘gifted’ applied to their children, but it is a term that is largely misunderstood. Being smart and advanced is only one piece of the gifted puzzle. While these children are intellectually ahead by several years, they can be emotionally immature,” said Lauren Callaway, a board member of the Chicago Gifted Community Center. “They often have sensory issues, difficulty interpreting social cues and delayed fine and gross motor skills. Parents may pick up on signs of giftedness at an early age: babies tend to be colicky, sensitive to fabrics or particularly interested in textures.”
Callaway is also the owner, director and head teacher at Sprout, an after-school program that focuses on socialization for gifted children in a welcoming environment. Kids at Sprout work on a different project each week, get help with homework and then have time for individual projects and games.
“Working with gifted children is an amazing experience. Five-year-olds might want to discuss Greek mythology — and you quickly realize that they know much more about it than you do!” said Callaway. “The best part of what I do is put these children together with peers.”
“I remember one child who was an amazing artist but was crippled with perfectionism,” Callaway continued. “Her friends at Sprout were so encouraging that she stopped ripping up her pictures or saying they were ‘bad’ and eventually she filled an entire wall with her artwork. She was proud of herself and that pride translated into other aspects of her life. She was more willing to try new things and able to complete her school work without the constant struggle for perfection.”
Another after school option is The Center for Gifted, which serves children Pre-K through eighth grade. Kids are engaged with classes such as: If It Flies, We’ll Build It; Computer Design and Animation; Electronics and Robotics Lab; and Filmmaking.
“All of our classes and activities reflect creativity, problem solving, inductive reasoning, critical thinking and analysis, which children respond to with immediacy,” said Joan Franklin Smutny, director of The Center for Gifted. “Over 500,000 gifted children are born every year. We touch a fraction of what we could be doing for these children, beginning in early childhood.”
Students at Quest Academy in Palatine benefit from challenging instruction, accelerated by at least one year, which is designed in an intellectually complex structure.
“Students are encouraged to make connections within their learning, allowing them to relate their learning to conceptual and enduring understandings,” said Benjamin Hebebrand, head of school at Quest Academy. “When we teach comma placement, we first allow children (by a process of student-driven inquiry) to grasp that written language is facilitated by a universally agreed-upon code of punctuation. Once they grapple with this concept, they want to learn the specific code of punctuation, including comma placement. Gifted students have the need to think in abstract and conceptual modes so that they can put the specific knowledge in contextual patterns.”
As Hebebrand suggests, if you find that your child is not being challenged by current school curriculum or that your child is verbalizing boredom, you should look into alternative educational options to help your child better themselves and grow intellectually.
“Learning is always a possibility and never finished,” Hebebrand said.