Monday, December 17, 2012


Each individual is accountable for his or her own actions; however, society is responsible for not teaching a generation how to be personally responsible. It's okay to let your kids fail and teach them how to overcome. It's okay to let your kids be sad and teach them how to be resilient. It's okay to let your kids go without and teach them how to be resourceful. And, it's okay to let your kids have problems and teach them how to solve them.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gifted or Bright Child

Many parents wonder if their child is a high achiever or truly gifted.  The following list (compiled by Janice Szabos) provides a wonderful guide to help you as you assess your child.
Some Things to Consider...

Knows the answer.
Asks the questions.
Is interested.
Is highly curious.
Is attentive.
Is mentally and physically involved.
Has good ideas.
Has wild and silly ideas.
Works hard.
Plays around, yet tests well.
Answers the questions.
Discusses in detail, elaborates.
Top group.
Beyond the group.
Listens with interest.
Shows strong feelings and opinions.
Learns with ease.
Already knows.
6-8 repetitions for mastery.
1-2 repetitions for mastery.
Understands ideas.
Constructs abstractions.
Enjoys peers.
Prefers adults.
Grasps the meaning.
Draws inferences.
Completes assignments.
Initiates projects.
Is receptive.
Is intense.
Copies accurately.
Creates a new design.
Enjoys school.
Enjoys learning.
Absorbs information.
Manipulates information.
Good memorizer.
Good guesser.
Enjoys straightforward, Sequential presentation.
Thrives on complexity.
Is alert.
Is keenly observant.
Is pleased with own learning.
Is highly self-critical.
By Janice Szabos

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Teaching Advocacy

Advocacy is “the act of arguing in favor of something -- an idea, cause, or policy.”  (NAGC)  Each of us, then, is an advocate every time we stand up for our beliefs, hold our ground in a discussion, or express a point of view in defense of an issue.  So why is advocacy, in general, important for parents of gifted children, and why is it important to teach our children to be advocates?  According to the State of the Nation in Gifted Education (2011):

12 states require districts to hire gifted and talented administrators, but only 4 states require them to have certification in gifted and talented education.
Since the last State of the States report, 14 states have reduced state funding for gifted education.
20 states do not monitor district programs for gifted and talented students.
The only federal program for gifted students was cut in 2011, taking away every federal education dollar from the learning needs of our nation’s most advanced students.
Only 6 states require all teachers to receive pre-service training in gifted and talented education.
Only 5 states require annual professional development for teachers in specialized gifted and talented programs.
Only 7 states permit students to enter kindergarten earlier than the state cut-off age.
Only 8 states have state policies that specifically permit academic acceleration; the rest leave the decision to the local school district.

In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that the average elementary school classroom size in the United States varies from a low in Vermont of 17.0 to a high in Michigan of 25.1 with an average class size of 20.3 (2008)

Given all of these facts, it is clear that gifted children are not guaranteed an educational environment in which they can flourish.  It is imperative that both parents and children are able and willing to speak up for what is necessary for these children to receive an education commensurate with their abilities in a safe and nurturing environment.

When it comes to advocating for gifted education, parents may advocate for programs, for children’s inclusion in those programs, and for services. But, it is important also for children to learn to self-advocate rather than reporting every situation to the parent who then can step in to solve the problem.  Consider:

Rescuing your child repeatedly causes anxiety because it sends the message to your child that he is fragile and cannot advocate for himself. (Marano, 2004)
Children do not learn life skills like self reliance, sharing and conflict resolution when parents hover. (Strauss, 2006) If the child learns to rely on a parent to rescue him every time he is unhappy, he will not learn the skills necessary to develop a sense of self-efficacy and independence.
Parents are not always around when an issue arises.  Students are on the front lines.  If they know how to request a different book, explain what they know, and understand when doing so is appropriate and when it is not, they will probably be successful at navigating the waters of childhood.
It is a lesson that they will employ in a myriad of situations throughout their lives.  How many adults are unable to approach an employer to discuss a promotion?  How many adults are hesitant to tell a friend that something the friend is doing is hurtful?  How many young adults frequently call mom and dad asking for advice on issues they should be able to handle themselves?  Teaching children while they are young to know what is important to them and to respectfully fight for it is critical.

Teaching the gifted child to distinguish what is worth fighting for is not always easy.  Their sense of justice, their propensity toward overexcitability, and their ability to synthesize facts, analyze a situation, and arrive at a logical solution often before the decision-maker can be stumbling blocks.  Additionally, all successful advocacy depends, in part, on relationships built over time that engender trust.  Sometimes built-in credibility speeds the process, but generally it takes time to develop a trusting relationship between advocates and decision makers.  (NAGC 2011)   If a child is to advocate for himself, then, in academic or social situations, he first needs to establish a trusting relationship with those involved.  He can do this by employing a strategy that utilizes specific tools:

(1) know your facts;
(2) know your audience;
(3) know your preferred outcome, and;
(4) maintain a respectful attitude.

If we are going to teach our young children to advocate for themselves, we need to first teach them what that means.  It does not mean whining about homework because you already know how to do the work, or complaining about an assigned project being too simplistic.  It means knowing what you want, assessing the situation to ascertain whether or not your desired outcome is feasible, thinking about the best way to approach the person who can make the decision, and arming yourself with evidence to support your position. It means being careful not to let extraneous issues distract you from your intended outcome.  It means choosing your issues wisely rather than railing against every perceived injustice that is aimed your way.

Complain or Self-Advocate?

As a parent, you could role play situations in which a child would have a choice whether to simply complain or to self-advocate for a desired outcome:

The class is studying pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.  The teacher has assigned The First Thanksgiving by Jean Craighead George.  Johnny has a real interest in pilgrims and has already read that book.

 (complaining) “I already read that book, teacher.”
 (self-advocacy) “I already read that book, teacher.  May I please go to the library and find another book to read on the pilgrims?”

The teacher begins a lesson on the basic needs of farm animals, including shelter and living spaces.  Susie has visited her uncle’s farm every summer since she was born.

 (complaining) “I know all about this already.”
 (self-advocacy)  “I know all about this already from visiting my uncle’s farm.  Would you like me to bring in some pictures and video to share with the class?  I could interview my uncle and ask him for some fun facts that aren’t in our textbook.”

David played baseball last season but wasn’t very good.  Wanting to get better, he attended a summer camp and really practiced hard.  The next season, disappointed to have him on the team, his new coach decided to bench him for the first game.

 (complaining)  “I hate baseball.  I never want to play again.”
 (self advocacy)  “Coach, I know that I didn’t play very well last season but I went to summer baseball camp and I have been practicing really hard.  Could I show you what I can do now?  I want to help the team to win, not sit on the bench.”

Julie’s younger sister is playing with Julie’s favorite toy and Julie doesn’t want her to damage it.

 (complaining)  “Give it to me!”  Julie grabs the toy, making her sister cry.
 (self-advocacy)  “You don’t want to play with that old toy.  Here’s another one that is way more fun.  Let’s play with it together.”  She then gently takes the toy and plays for a few minutes with her sister with the new toy.

Anywhere from 60% - 90% of students in the general population had been bullied, and around 20% of students were bullies. (Peterson & Ray, 2006)  By eighth grade, 67% of gifted students had been victims of bullying, 16% defined themselves as bullies, and 29% had violent thoughts.  11% of bullied gifted children respond with violence.  (AP/MTV, 2009)

(complaining) You call me names because I’m smart.  Well, you’re stupid.
(self-advocacy) You call me names just because I’m smart.  Well, I’m smart enough to know that the names don’t mean anything.

In some schools, adults (e.g. administrators, teachers) become the bullies by repeatedly telling children who are gifted that giftedness does not exist, does not matter, should not receive any special consideration, and children who are gifted should not receive any services. (Cross, 2001)

 (complaining)  “It’s not fair!  I know everything and school is boring.”
 (self-advocacy)  “I know that I have a lot to learn, but I do already know what we’re studying.  May I please go to the library and get a book on the subject to read quietly while the class learns about it?”

If we diligently model behaviors for our children that show them how to respectfully and politely express their needs, we will be leading them down the path to independence with the ability to achieve their dreams and fulfill their potential - academically, socially, and emotionally.


AP-MTV (2009). A thin line: 2009, AP-MTV digital abuse study. Retrieved from

Cross, T. (2001). The many faces of bullies. Gifted Child Today, 24, 36-37.

Fertig, C. (2008). Overprotection of gifted students. Prufrock Press Gifted child information blog @

Jacobsen, M.E. (2009). If only I had known: Lessons from gifted adults. Duke TIP, Digest of gifted research. Winter 2009.

Marano, H.E. (2004). The pressure from parents. Psychology Today. March 1, 2004.

NAGC (2011). Executive summary. State of the nation in gifted education: A lack of commitment to talent development.

National Center for Education Statistics (2008).   Average class size for public school teachers in elementary schools, secondary schools, and  schools with combined grades by classroom type and state: 2007-08.  Retrieved from

Sword, L. (2001). Psycho-social needs: Understanding the emotional, intellectual and social uniqueness of growing up gifted. Retrieved from

Strauss, V. (2006). Putting parents in their place: outside class. The Washington Post, March 21, 2006.  Retrieved from

Monday, July 23, 2012

Heterogeneous Classrooms

     In our zeal for political correctness, we have hurt everyone (the children and, by extension, the adults they will become).  Children know in a heterogeneous classroom who is coasting and who is struggling.  We may pretend that by "mixing" all of the children into one class we are saving their feelings but, in reality, we are making it harder for all of them.  The children who learn faster are often bored and angry, sometimes being misdiagnosed with ADHD or behavioral problems.  The children who are struggling often feel like failures by daily comparison to their more advanced peers.  
     In "the olden days", when children were grouped by ability, there were leaders in all classes.  Children learned at a pace commensurate with their ability and felt successful.  How can we possibly consider what we have done to be progress?  Just look at our national statistics compared to students in other industrialized countries.  The United States is falling behind - and it isn't for lack of funds.  In my opinion, it is because we are setting all children up for failure. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Behavioral Foreshadowing

     As I was watching “The GoldenGirls” today, Rose said that when she was scared, her mother would sing to her.  Thinking that it was some calming lullaby, Dorothy asked, “What did she sing?”  Much to everyone’s surprise, Rose began singing “Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, the drums drum drumming everywhere.  So beware so beware.  Send the word send the word over there.  We’re coming over.  We’re coming over, and we won’t be home ‘til it’s over over there.”  
    This made me think of the songs that calmed my own children.  For one it was sitting in the rocking chair gently rocking as I sang “Irish Lullaby” and “Unchained Melody”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Silent Night”.  For the other, it was marching up and down the hallway singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  Gentleness soothed one while rhythmical movement soothed the other.
    What calms your children?  We all come to know each child as an individual, know what is reassuring to them as infants.  As they grow, though, sometimes we forget that those instincts for calmness, movement, loud or quiet sounds follow them.  The same child who was calmed by quiet, soothing lullabies grew to be a peacemaker in the family, calmly discussing everything, understanding everyone’s point of view.  Discipline for him was a rational discussion of the rules and consequences.  It worked because it suited his personal style.  I discovered this one day when  he had angered me and I spanked him on his fanny.  He looked up at me through clear, three- year-old eyes and asked, “Mommy, do you feel better now?”  Never again did I spank him.  The other child, the baby lover of rhythm, grew to be first a drummer and then a guitarist and singer.  Rhythm continues to be a part of his life.  Rational discussion never worked with him as discipline.  He needed shock and awe - metaphorically.  An occasional harsh “No” and pat on his fanny was all that modified his behavior.  
    So, as your children grow, remember to look back to those first cues of the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, or smells that soothed them.  The people they were foretell the people they will be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Photographic Project

   Several of my friends who live all over the world have been conducting photo projects for the past couple of years.  We choose a 30-day period of time and the goal is to take a single photo each day for 30 days.  We post the photos on a Facebook page created for each project, accessible only by those who are taking part in the project.  Each person posts each day, critiques others’ photos, asks questions, and provides information on photos and photo subjects.  During the several projects in which we have taken part, we have learned about faraway lands, local customs, nature, environmental issues, geography, history, and each other, to name a few areas about which members have informed us.  
    How do we decide what we will do?  As we are setting the parameters for each new project, we decide by consensus what our focus will be.  Will we simply take pictures of whatever strikes our fancy?  Will we assign different subjects for each day?  Will we establish a general photographic subject for the 30 days and see how many ways we can interpret it?  Over the past two years, each of us has asked others to join us, expanding our circle of friends and adding new perspectives.  We have learned each other’s favorite subjects - trees, flowers, children, animals, architecture, rain, skies, storms, etc.  
    Okay, so this is the background.  But why am I telling you about this project here?  I am describing the project because it would be a wonderful activity to introduce to your children, whether you are thinking of involving your own children or a class of children.  Creative kids would really enjoy this outlet for their creativity, and they don’t need an expensive camera.  In fact, I would not recommend getting them an expensive camera.  After all, they are children and it probably will be lost or broken at some point.  In fact, some of the most interesting photos we have seen in our photo project have been taken with telephone cameras and even those single use cameras we often get at weddings.
    A few things to remember if you decide to undertake a 30-day Photo Project with your children:
  1. Discuss what sorts of pictures will be taken - will you assign a topic each day (flower, tree, favorite toy, etc.) or will you give children carte blanche?
  2. Be willing to take cameras on outings to fun places where photo subjects may be (park, playground, lake, ocean, pool, zoo, museum, backyard, etc.).
  3. Set up a separate file for digital pictures so that you can keep track of pictures that are being taken.  
  4. Critique photos each day.   Ask questions such as: (a) what appealed to you about this subject? (b) why did you take the photo the way you did? (c) did you consider other subjects for today? (d) is there anything you would like to know about your subject? (e) what can you share about your subject to teach others?
  5. While the project can be fun with one or two children, the more the better.  Maybe you can persuade a group of parents and their children to take part.  
  6. You can establish a Facebook page that is only accessible to its members where your children’s photos can be posted and where they can comment on each other’s pictures, ask questions about them, and learn.
  7. Make sure that children understand the parameters of what is acceptable to you and the other parents in terms of photographic subjects, types of comments, how to critique without hurting anyone’s feelings, what constructive criticism is and how to provide it.
  8. Be willing to step back and let your children take the lead, selecting their own photos.  If they are to learn from and enjoy the project, your job is to provide technical assistance, perhaps research lessons, but to let them be the creative directors.
  9. Maybe you and the other parents would like to create your very own photo project so that you can model how to select a subject, different ways to look at something, how to provide that constructive criticism, and how to provide information about your photo (uploading youtube videos, articles, or photos from websites to further explain your own photo).
  10. HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do As I Do Not Just As I Say

     Children learn by observing those adults in their lives who are important to them.  A baby watches its mother’s face intently for cues.  A toddler will reprimand a little friend with, “No.  No.  Don’t do that,” something the toddler hears often as he or she explores the world.  
     Back in 1954, Dorothy Law Nolte was onto something when she wrote the classic poem, “Children Learn What They Live.”  A book by the same name later appeared (1998) with the subtitle: “Parenting to Inspire Values”).
     Research tells us how important modeling is to children, yet many parents think that they can tell their children to do one thing while they, themselves, do the opposite.  Even the best parents have inadvertently said or done something that models negative behavior.  After all, parents are only human.  
     The difference between a positive and a negative role model, however, is using adult negative behavior as a positive reinforcer for your child.  It is okay to say to your child, “Mommy just lost her temper and said a bad word.  That was wrong.  Sometimes Mommies do wrong things.  But I know it was wrong and I am sorry.  I will try not to do that again.  I tell you what: if you hear Mommy say that word again, it is okay for you to give me a time out, okay?”  By so doing, what could have been negative modeling becomes an opportunity for positive modeling.
     You’re probably saying, “Oh, sure.  Every time I slip up and say something I shouldn’t I’m supposed to turn around and apologize to my child?  Are you crazy?”  No, I’m not.  You would be surprised how easy it is to do.  As someone cuts you off in traffic and you get angry and curse at the driver with little Tommy in the backseat, it’s pretty easy a few minutes later when you calm down to look in your rearview mirror and simply say, “Oops.  Mommy should have had more patience with that driver, huh?”  By so doing, you are not sending mixed messages.  You’re not telling Tommy to have patience with his little sister, while you don’t have to have patience with another driver.
     As Kirstie Spiers Neumeister said in Perfectionism in Gifted Children, “Children need to observe their parents and teachers taking on challenges, making mistakes, and experiencing failures once in awhile. This is how they will learn to appreciate mistakes and failures in a constructive fashion, rather than feeling crippled by anxiety and self-blame.”
     So the next time you mess up in front of your child, try acknowledging it.  You might be surprised by your child’s reaction.