Friday, November 20, 2015

How to talk about your gifted kid

In the 10th anniversary post, I wrote that we'd be re-visiting some of the topics that sparked the most discussion over the years. One of those questions was how to talk about your gifted child.

Parents want and need to talk about their kids. I'm sure this is somewhat annoying for people who don't have kids, but parenting consumes a lot of time, and most of us want to do a good job at it. Consequently, kids becomes a frequent topic of conversation. Likewise, kids want to hear you talk about them. My 8-year-old was in a play last night (he delivered his one line with great enthusiasm). In the car on the way home, he said things like "Tell me more about my performance." I guess it's good to ask for what you need!

I was happy to tell him that I was proud of him, and that he'd done a good job remembering his line, and I was proud that he was not nervous in front of the crowd.

But that's a different matter from public conversations. For many parents of gifted children, I've heard from readers of this blog, conversations with other parents can become fraught. Parenting conversations on the playground or birthday parties or school pick-ups require some portion of shared issues. A parent whose kid is really struggling with math doesn't necessarily want to hear about how many grade levels ahead your kid is working. I never like the "misery Olympics" of some parenting conversations (over who has it worse) but even if everyone's talking about the wonderful things their kids did, a parent whose kid got his first B+ on a math test may not want to hear about another child's proof he dreamed up in his bedroom at night for fun.

So what do you do? Obviously, other people's comfort is not the only important consideration in life, but when you're in a community for the long haul, it helps to nurture connections. This is one reason that forums for parents of gifted kids are so important (I'll put a plug in for the Davidson Institute's programs here!) Such discussion groups can be safe spaces for parents to chat with other parents who understand. It lessens the weight of having only the people who are there in person.

Some parents go ahead and talk about their kids and figure if it's said from the perspective that you're proud of your kid -- because you are! -- and not implying that this is because you are better at this parenting thing than other people, then it's all good. Let the chips fall where they may. If other people have a problem, they have a problem. Other parents elect to talk more about extra-curricular activities, where everyone's into different things, and there's less straightforward academic competition. I'm curious what strategies Gifted Exchange readers use.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When to skip a grade, when not to (plus DITD program info)

I had a conversation with a father recently whose highly gifted son had needed more challenge. The school recommended accelerating him a grade. The family didn't want to do that, and wound up putting him in a private school where they thought he could get more individual attention and flexible grouping (there were smaller, multi-grade classes).

Obviously, any situation has its own particular complications. But it got me thinking about when skipping a grade is the right choice, and when it might not be.

My first thought was that this boy's school was pretty rare. Educators in general do not have a positive view of full-grade acceleration. This is why it is a massively under-utilized option, compared to the situations in which it would be useful. Acceleration does not cost anything. It may save taxpayers money! It can be done in different doses (one grade, two grades, etc.) People are often worried about social outcomes, but the A Nation Deceived report addressed those pretty well. There aren't many to worry about. In any case, a quick view around a 6th grade class will show that people mature at incredibly different rates anyway.

That said, it's not perfect for every situation. A child who has extreme gifts in one subject (e.g. math), but is more toward grade level in everything else, would not be made whole by a whole grade acceleration. That child needs an individualized study in math -- perhaps the ability to take college classes early -- and could likely be accommodated in his/her age-grade the rest of the time.

A child who is highly-attuned to fitting in and being like everyone else may rebel at the idea of a whole grade acceleration within the same school. Parents have to make the ultimate decision, but the child's thoughts and feelings need some consideration too. A grade skip may be better done when people would be switching schools anyway, or moving.

Finally, the question is what the other options are. If there is an alternative school available -- a gifted magnet school, perhaps, or a feasible private school that could offer individual attention -- then those options can be thrown into the mix alongside whole grade acceleration.

When do you think skipping a grade is a good option, and when not?

In other news: The Davidson Institute, which sponsors this blog, has several programs with deadlines coming up. Please see below.

2016 Davidson Fellows $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 Scholarships

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers high-achieving young people across the country the opportunity to be named a 2016 Davidson Fellow, an honor accompanied by a $50,000, $25,000 or $10,000 scholarship in recognition of a significant piece of work in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Music, Literature, Philosophy or Outside the Box. Applicants must submit an original piece of work that is recognized as significant by experts in the field and that has the potential to make a positive contribution to society. The scholarship may be used at any accredited college or university. The deadline to apply is Feb. 10, 2016. For additional information, please visit

2016 THINK Summer Institute – Three-Week Academic Residential Program

The Davidson Institute is seeking gifted teens to attend the 2016 THINK Summer Institute. THINK is a three-week residential summer program on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno where students can earn up to six college credits by completing two university courses. The 2016 THINK Summer Institute will run from July 9 through July 30. Tuition is $3,500 and covers course credits, books and materials, room and board, and the cost of planned activities. Need-based scholarships are available. To qualify, students must be 13 to 16 years old during THINK and must submit a SAT or an ACT score report. The application deadline is April 1, 2016. To learn more about THINK, please visit

Davidson Young Scholars Application Available

The national Davidson Young Scholars program provides FREE support, information and resources to families of profoundly gifted students. Through an online community and annual event, Young Scholars have the opportunity to meet others with similar interests and abilities, and utilize their talents to maximize their educational potential and make a difference in the lives of others. Parents collaborate with a team of knowledgeable Family Consultants who provide individualized services based on each family’s unique needs, including educational advocacy and planning, social and emotional development, and enrichment opportunities. Once enrolled, Davidson Young Scholars can access exclusive opportunities such as online courses and a summer camp for 8 to 12 year olds. The Davidson Young Scholars application deadline is the first of each month. Please visit the website to learn more:

The Davidson Academy of Nevada - Apply for 2016-2017 School Year

The Davidson Academy of Nevada, a free public day school for profoundly gifted pupils located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, is now accepting applications for the 2016-2017 school year. Classes at the Academy are not grouped by age-based grades, but by ability level, providing profoundly gifted young people an educational opportunity matched to their abilities, strengths and interests. To attend the Davidson Academy, students must be at the middle or high school level across all subject areas and score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ or college entrance tests, such as the SAT or ACT. For admission details, please visit Applications are reviewed on a monthly basis with a final application deadline of April 1, 2016. Interested families can meet current students and parents, faculty and staff, network with others and ask questions at Academy tours. For upcoming tour dates and to RSVP, visit .

Thursday, October 22, 2015

But it's optional...

Homework is a source of friction in many families, and we are not immune to this. Let’s just say that learning to be organized about the homework’s location and completion is a skill that takes time to master.

But one source of friction I hadn’t really anticipated is what to do about optional problems.

My oldest son’s teacher gives weekly homework assignments, and often they have optional harder math problems. In general, my kid likes a challenge. However, when he handed me the homework this morning to sign, I noticed that he’d done all the required problems and none of the optional ones. I asked him about it and, as he has done in the past, he acted like I just didn’t get it. “Mom,” he said. “They’re optional.”

Which is true. Optional does mean that you don’t have to do them. Of course, I was the kind of kid who would have done the extra problems. My husband claims he would have made up extra problems beyond the extra problems just to do them. So what do we do when our kid wants to do exactly what is required and nothing more?

On one level, I get it. Homework isn’t particularly fun, and the problems aren’t so challenging that he really has to struggle with them. He creates his own challenges in terms of dreaming up characters and then creating whole timelines for their lives and their extended families’ lives. Indeed, in his timelines, he’s writing about someone who lives from 1837-1904, and will tell me how old this person was when various life events occurred, which is basically what the extra problems are too (3 or 4 digit subtraction).

I also recognize that my husband and I might benefit from chilling out a bit on the “above and beyond” front. I explained this situation to a fellow parent at a birthday party and she pointed out that my son was already well-versed in the 80-20 rule.

That said, I also told my son that doing none of the extra problems sent a message that he was simply not interested in efforts to do more challenging things. Whereas doing at least a few of the problems would be a show of good faith. It’s more a social message than anything else. We compromised on him doing 5 of them quickly at the breakfast table this morning.

What would you do?

Friday, October 09, 2015

What should you tell your kid?

As promised in my 10th anniversary post, I'd like to re-raise some of the issues from the most-discussed posts of the past. A particularly thorny issue for many parents is what to tell their kids about giftedness.

Parents always have to figure out what's worth sharing with their kids and what's not. I generally don't tell my 4-year-old daughter about playdates until shortly beforehand for a few reasons. One is that she has little concept of time, and so every day I would have to keep explaining that no, it's not today, and deal with that disappointment. Also, sometimes kids get sick or have to cancel, and she'd be devastated by that. So while, as an adult, I know that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the happiness gleaned from an event, I generally make a strategic choice that she will have less anticipation but also less disappointment by not knowing far ahead of time.

Playdates are one thing. But what do you tell your kids about their own giftedness? Kids pick up on many things. Children may hear other adults say "you're so smart" or realize that adults treat them as curiosities when they do something advanced for their age (like write words in sidewalk chalk as a 3-year-old). If there are lots of meetings with teachers about appropriate challenges, they will pick up on that.

If you have them tested, that will introduce a whole new set of questions. There is nothing normal about going to sit in a psychologist's office to take the WISC. You have to figure out how to explain that one, and then how to explain the outcome. And many children will want to know the outcome. If the child figures out it's a test with numerical outcomes, he might want to know that. So, would you ever tell a child his IQ score?

I'm very curious how Gifted Exchange readers have addressed these issues with their children.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Gifted Exchange turns 10!

Believe it or not, this blog turns 10 years old this week (on the 23rd, exactly). If it were a kid, it would be a 4th grader -- or perhaps an accelerated 5th or 6th grader.

My own interest in gifted education came from my experiences in school. I wound up writing about the topic for USA Today, and then Jan and Bob Davidson hired me to help write their book, Genius Denied. I learned a lot in the process.

Years later, my interest in this topic has broadened to raising my own children -- kids who ask questions for which I have no answers, and who must sometimes be distracted in church by asking them to calculate how many seconds are in a week (that occupied a reasonable amount of time with no calculator).

The folks at the Davidson Institute helped pull some examples of the most-read posts over the past 10 years. All of these topics are still ripe for discussion, and I hope to start new posts related to these topics over the next few months. In the meantime, have fun perusing the archives!

Sept. 29, 2011: The Case Against Delaying Kindergarten

Dec. 3, 2007: Gifted Kids, Bad Behavior

Sept. 26, 2005: The Magic of Boarding Schools

Jan. 11, 2006: The Life and Death of a Prodigy (The New Yorker)

June 13, 2012: Summer reading time

August 3, 2010: Take a test, skip a grade?

September 20, 2009: Gifted Children and Sleep

June 15, 2009: Should Gifted Kids Know their IQ Scores?

September 2, 2008: Are 20% of high school drop-outs gifted?

December 22, 2011: Are Legos for girls?

June 20, 2008: Did NCLB hurt gifted students?

July 25, 2010: Time: The Case Against Summer Vacation?

June 24, 2010: How do you talk about your gifted kid?

June 4, 2009: Why do gifted kids drop out of college?

March 26, 2009: The Importance of Preschool

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Intel and the Intel Science Talent Search

Years ago, I had a gig with Scientific American writing a weekly column for the website called "Where are they now?" This recurring feature looked at past finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, later called the Intel Science Talent Search. It was a fun gig for me. Armed with a list of names of finalists since the 1940s, I'd Google them and see who I could find. Some people were easy to find (e.g. Ray Kurzweil) -- others were more obscure. I'd write about their high school projects, and their current careers. I was so taken with some of the stories that I later went back to several people (including Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann) to interview them for the career section of 168 Hours. I attended the finalists event in Washington DC once, where Colin Powell was the guest speaker (that was kind of cool).

Anyway, from a PR perspective, it always seemed like a pretty good deal for Intel. Every one of the 40 finalists would be featured prominently in their local print and broadcast media. Many major national outlets (like the New York Times) did close-to-annual features as well. From a recruiting perspective, it probably didn't hurt to have 40 of the top young scientists have a very fond, perhaps even evangelical view of the company. All this for the price of the scholarships and administration -- a small chunk of change to a Fortune 500 company.

So I was somewhat surprised to learn that Intel has decided to stop sponsoring the contest. According to this story in the New York Times, they're continuing for the next year or so, and then will be stepping back. No particular reason was given for why it's no longer seen as the right move for the philanthropic side of the company.

It's possible some other corporation will step up (the Times article speculated about Google). I hope someone will. While there are other contests out there (for instance, the Davidson Fellowships!) it's never a bad thing to have young scientists rewarded. The existence of prizes and prestige encourages high schools to step up their scientific game, and give kids a chance to do independent research. Indeed, a number of high schools have established research programs precisely to get kids to become finalists in Intel and other programs such as the Davidson Fellows. Here's hoping this is a good thing that will continue.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The skill of performance

My 5-year-old starts "real" kindergarten later this week. Long-time blog readers know that our district is perfectly fine with letting you hold back your child for a year, but his late September birthday means getting around the Sept 1 cut-off involves jumping through a lot of hoops. We chose not to push it. He's a pretty relaxed kid, and indeed, we have friends who just made the cut-off who've decided to repeat kindergarten, partly because so many kids are red-shirted. If you turn 5 in late August, you are literally a year and a half younger than many kids in the class.

He did a full-day kindergarten program at his pre-school last year and is now in "real" kindergarten for half day. The other half he'll attend a kindergarten enrichment program. I think it will be a good fit. He's been on the cusp of reading for a long time. I'm pretty sure he can do it, but doesn't want to. I'm hoping the peer pressure will push that over the edge.

But one thing I was interested to see he's developed recently is some fairly serious skills at performing under pressure. Both my boys tried out for swim teams this summer. The 8-year-old's is a real team, but the 5-year-old's development team try-out was no less nerve-wracking, at least for me. What I didn't realize going in is that it's not just about whether you can swim -- that at least is fairly straightforward (he can do a passable crawl and backstroke). What the coaches were looking for is whether your kid, as a 5-year-old, can leave you, take instruction from a coach he just met, and jump into the pool in front of everyone and do what he's told.

I watched as my 5-year-old calmly listened for his name, went to the edge of the pool, and jumped in when the coach said to jump. Then he swam just as he'd learned in front of everyone. No nerves. He told me afterward he felt very confident about the whole thing. "Of course I can swim, Mommy!"

In life, I think this ability to perform under pressure is an important skill. I'm doing a lot of public speaking these days, which involves similar thinking. You need to be able to get up in front of any crew and talk in a relaxed, engaging manner. It is not in any way natural for me, but if my 5-year-old is already able to just roll with it, he'll do fine.