SchoolFamily Voices

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Teachers know that much time and energy is focused on making sure a student reaches and stays at grade level for his academic benchmarks. Yet all good teachers know that supporting and challenging an above-level child is equally as important!

Here are ways that parents can help support a child who has already achieved or surpassed grade level requirements:

If your child is a gifted reader:

  • Enhance this skill by helping him identify areas of interest. Then collect books, children’s magazines, etc., that are at his appropriate reading level. You can borrow these from your public library, school library, or from friends with older children.
  • Encourage him to read both fiction and nonfiction stories about the same subject. For example, borrow books regarding the actual discovery of dinosaurs, then mix with some fictional dinosaur stories. With your help, encourage him to compare and contrast the similarities and differences.
  • Combine reading with science, cooking, art, or other “hands-on” experiences. For example, if he loves snakes, let him read both fiction and nonfiction stories about them. Then, roll colored balls of clay into different types of snakes to make his own collection. Let him write simple labels, using index cards, to identify the types of snakes and two or three of their characteristics. Help him set up a place in his room to display his labeled collection.

If your child has advanced math skills:

  • Help her expand her homework. For example, challenge her to write a word problem to explain how she arrived at the correct math answer.
  • Help her practice estimation. Fill a clean, small jar with marbles, or any other small objects. Ask her to guess how many marbles are in the jar. Have her write down her guess. Then open the jar and count the marbles together. See how close her estimation came to the actual count. Do this often with different items,of different sizes, such as pennies, Lego pieces, Goldfish crackers, etc. This will also help her understand how different-sized objects can take up more or less space in the same size jar. 
  • Bring math into everyday life. If she would like to get a certain small toy, have her do two or three simple jobs around the house to earn some money. Count the coins together until she has enough to purchase the toy.

Simple creative strategies like these can keep an above-level student excited about learning!


> Help Your Gifted Child Succeed in School

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Children need to learn how to set reasonable goals for themselves. In the last few weeks, I have worked with several students who were disappointed in themselves and truly upset about how their final grades turned out. Their reactions ranged from tears, to anger, to blaming someone else. After each of us met to discuss their concerns, the bottom line turned out to be that they had set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

In one case, the student wanted to get the highest grades in every subject even though she knew that she was gifted in math and science and not as much so in language arts. Regardless, she was determined that she would also get excellent grades in English. She struggled to interpret the symbolism in the literature, and she placed the blame for that on the teacher and the other students for being too noisy in class. When she got an average grade on the tests and exam, she was angry. When I offered to sit down with her and her English teacher to discuss strategies for next year, she confessed, “I’m not really mad at her, I’m just mad that I didn’t get an A. I have a terrible time understanding the literature, and I really don’t care about it.”

Another student decided that he wanted to move into all honors level classes the following year in the hopes of raising his grade point average. In order to qualify for the higher-level classes, he needed to maintain above average grades in each class. While he was able to do that in some classes, he was not able to do it in all. He was extremely disappointed in himself and felt like he had let others down.

These children had both set themselves up by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Fortunately, we were able together to see that they had actually accomplished a lot this year, and what they were seeing as huge failures, were not really that bad. In both cases, their grades were really good overall.

It is important to help students set goals that can be reasonably accomplished and to clearly determine what steps they need to take in order to reach their goals. Help them determine what they need to do in order to reach their potential. For example, perhaps they need to more carefully complete each homework assignment, make appointments with teachers, or ask more questions in class. By taking these steps, they may be able to raise their grades and have something to be proud of. Trying to raise a grade up a letter grade is much more reasonable than trying to get all A’s. When their goals are reasonable, the end of the school year will be something to celebrate.

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Some students have unbelievable abilities in an area such as art, language, or mathematics. Depending on the educational setting, these students might be labeled “gifted and talented.” There is not one definitive definition for giftedness—in fact, every state has its own definition. Most do agree that these children can do something exceptionally well—better than almost everyone else. Some of these same students struggle in another area and are labeled LD (learning disabled). For example, a student who struggles in reading, spelling, and writing might excel in math. Students who are gifted and LD are called “twice exceptional.”

Twice-exceptional students need support in school, and it may be difficult to obtain services. Often, these students are misunderstood. How can one person be so brilliant in math yet fail in English class? Even experts in special education have a hard time figuring out that a student is twice exceptional, and they are often not identified until high school when their workload is such that they become swamped and unable to succeed. Once identified, schools are not always equipped to provide appropriate programming.

If you think your child might be twice exceptional, talk to the school psychologist or director of special education. Together come up with a strategy that will provide remedial help in the areas of weakness and more stimulating programming in areas of giftedness. It’s a great idea, too, to provide extracurricular activities that relate to their areas of strength.

To learn more about these children, read "Giftedness and Learning Disabilities," written by Sheldon H. Horowitz published by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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Dear 11-year-old daughter,


You are smart, cute, witty, and have a spirit about you not usually found in a girl your age.


Earlier this year when you ran for student government and easily won the “popular” vote for vice president of your elementary school, I was amazed. Fifth grade class subjects glide into your brain like you were born with them. I realize school isn’t always challenging, but I’m impressed with how you deal with the occasional boredom by getting creative. Do you know that teachers (both school and Sunday school) reach out to tell me, “I love having your daughter in class, she has the best laugh.”?


Your art skills are more advanced than most kids twice your age! You have an eye for color and design that makes me jealous. Your desire is to organize your world and increase the beauty around you, and you make me proud to be your mom. 


You make friends with everyone, and everyone wants to be your friend. You are competent in both a large group of differing personalities and in a one-on-one setting with a socially slower friend. And I’ve stopped being surprised when you shine in a dance class and regularly win the “front and center” recital spot (although being short could have something to do with that, I’ll admit.) In gymnastics you excel, and in the schoolyard monkey bars grow out of your arms!


You are a mother’s dream daughter.


HOWEVER. I’m worried. (I’m a mother after all.)


I’m worried about your beautiful confidence blossoming into an ugly shade of pride.


I want what every mother wants for her daughter: I wish you happiness in your 5th grade world and in junior high, high school, and far into college. I want you to love yourself and find profound pleasure within, never relying on others to determine the best in you, but to discover for yourself where and how you will sparkle.


Please cultivate empathy early. When an algebra concept is easy for your brain to attack and you realize that others might be struggling, I hope you’ll ask if you can help—instead of saying out loud. “Gee, that was easy for me, what’s wrong with you?”


When a friend is struggling because she doesn’t understand why her group of gal pals isn’t talking to her, I hope you can see the bigger picture and help her through the trial.


Because putting yourself in others’ shoes is a talent that will help you the most in your life.


I know boys are imminent in your future. And I want you to meet and fall in love with a spouse who will love you and cherish you, and of course I want grandbabies…but not for about 15 years!


I promise you will meet your husband in college (not high school)! High school is for learning about yourself and for figuring out your personal style and your desires. A 16 year old may think she’s in love, but she’ll also think she’s in love at 17, and again at 18, and again and again. High school is for dating! Remember to have fun!


You know I’m your mother and that I worry about every tiny tidbit. Simply said, this is what I most want for you:


While knowing you are incredible with almost everything you touch,

I want you to be mindful of others first and to always remember

to stuff your pride under your pillow!



Your Mother


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Last week I wrote about struggling young readers, and offered some strategies to help these children succeed.  But, what if your child is an above-level reader?  How do you keep an advanced reader challenged and engaged? How do you keep the momentum going?


By the end of January you should have a pretty good idea of your child’s reading level. If unsure, ask your child’s teacher. At this time of the school year, teachers often see student’s reading skills “click,” and reading really takes off.  It’s so exciting to witness! 


Here are 5 things parents can do to support and challenge above-level readers:


  • Ask your child's teacher if there is “open library” time at your child’s school library. If so, ask if your child might get books that are of high interest to him. He might love books about dinosaurs, space or sports. Going to open library would be a perfect way for him to begin “research skills,” such as using encyclopedias and the library computers. All librarians are happy to help eager young readers!


  • Make sure that your child has a public library card. Public libraries are a great, free resource and young children love to choose and borrow books. Take advantage of special events that occur for children at your local library.


  • If you have access to the Internet, or to electronic readers, appropriate level stories can be downloaded, usually at little or no charge. Some public libraries also allow you to “borrow” downloaded books. Once again, your librarian can be a great resource.


  • Don’t forget about writing skills. Reading and writing skills go hand-in-hand, but being an advanced reader doesn’t automatically make your child a good writer.  Buy a small notebook and have him keep a “Reader’s Response” journal. When he’s done reading a story, have him write the date, the book’s title, and author’s name, at the top of the notebook page. Help him summarize the story, including characters, setting and plot. It’s really fun for a child to go back and see all the books that he has completed, and read what he had to say about the stories.


  • Together, at bedtime, read higher-level books to your child. Find books that have chapters and few or no pictures. Read a chapter a night. Before starting the next chapter, have her tell you what has happened so far in the story. Then, have her predict what might happen next.


Activities like these help your child develop a lifelong love of reading. In addition, SchoolFamily.com has a variety of fun printable "All About Books" worksheets. What greater gift could you give your child than a love of reading?!


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We often hear from parents of children with high academic talent how difficult it is to advocate for their children and find the best gifted and talented resources.  That's why the latest news of President Obama's proposal to  eliminate the only federal program for gifted education is disconcerting. Tough economic times call for some very tough choices.  I guess when it comes to education there are no good cuts.  Given this latest news, it's more important than ever for parents of gifted kids to know how support their high potential learners.

Curious to hear how budget cuts are affecting gifted and talented programs in your town and state? Are you supplementing your child's education with enrichment programs? Where and how? Please with other parents. 

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Do you have a child that is gifted? Does your school system have program for talented and gifted children? Judging from all the articles about budget cuts in education, thinking that most of you answered no to this question.

The lack of programs is doing a serious disservice to our future, according to Nancy Robinson, former director of the Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars at the University of Washington. When asked what the long term effects of not having an adequate talented and gifted program she replied:

It's a loss of leadership in the future, of the people who are going to solve our problems, scientists and politicians and even writers and artists. They're just not going to reach the levels of which they're capable....

She offers some great advice and insight to parents of gifted children in this recent Q & A in the Statesman Journal.

Have you successfully advocated for your gifted child in a public school system? What have been your biggest hurdles? Please share your experiences here so you can help others!


Also, check out our gifted and talented resources page.
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What does it mean to be a gifted child? Does it mean that you're lucky? In many ways, yes. But what most people don't realize is the set of expectations and associated stress factors  that go along with being gifted and talented.  Just came across a blog post by Sue Scheff that talks about the stress of being gifted.  Good insight on how your gifted child may be feeling. In this post she also lists some practical tips for parents of gifted kids.

But sometimes parents are at a loss for next steps of ways to engage their gifted child outside of school. What gifted programs, resources and websites are available to you and your child?  Here is a great article that lists the top 9 resources for gifted information

Lastly, we'd like to invite you to join our community and start some conversations about the joys and frustrations about raising a gifted child. Love to hear from you!

Also, check out our gifted and talented resources page.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?