Educating the Whole Gifted Child
At Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG), our gifted summer program, the social and emotional components of our programs are as important as the academic and intellectual components of our program—in other words, very important! After all, if one is not happy, self-assured and at peace with who one is, personal fulfillment will remain elusive.
There are many reasons why the social and emotional development of gifted students is critical to include with academic endeavors. The very nature of giftedness states that these young people are different. Their asynchronicity places them on different tracks and different modes from the rest of the population, creating a need for different treatment as students and as individuals. Advanced cognitive strengths and intense sensibilities create experiences for gifted students that are qualitatively different from the norm. Their uniqueness requires modifications in how we teach, parent, and counsel them so that they will develop their maximum potential in a culture that may have ingrained and different expectations from what gifted students need.
One problem gifted students may face is isolation from a peer group. They may feel different from those around them, and not valued for who they are. Adults may value their gifts, but also sometimes subject them to ridicule or try to make them conform to cultural or system standards that do not fit them. Young children may begin to doubt their worth or feel sad, anxious, or angry. Profoundly gifted students rarely have an intellectual peer in their daily interactions, and can experience an even greater level of isolation, frustration, and unhappiness than moderately gifted students.
Another problem can be precocity. Intellectually advanced students may experience boredom in school due to their advance level of knowledge and may cope by engaging in behaviors that are unacceptable to teachers, such as moving ahead, doing other projects of interest, or acting in socially challenging ways.
Perfectionism can be a problem for students who may avoid risk-taking activities and lose out on opportunities to develop their potential, due to fear of failure.
Creative children can be isolated through their uniqueness, as they are increasingly subjected to conformity as they get older and as their friends and teachers do not understand them.
There are many other areas of concerns affecting the emotional development of gifted youth, including gender role expectations, heightened sensitivities about moral and ethical concerns, and intense self-scrutiny.
These are just a few of the reasons why we take the social and emotional components of our programs seriously. At SIG residential programs, through our Counselor groups, we encourage bonding and sharing in our activities and discussions. Friendships happen naturally as a rule, but our counselors and residential staff are great at establishing a positive setting for acceptance and interaction with new peers. In our recreation activities in both day and residential programs, we encourage students to work and play together, share their unique interests, learn more about people from other states and countries, support and encourage each other, and have fun. One of my most favorite things to do at camp is to observe a talent show and see the amazing display of support and appreciation that students give each other.
In our academics, we encourage students to take intellectual risks, to study topics of interest to them within the courses, and to challenge each other with questions and suggestions. We also encourage them to let us know what they like or don’t like in a course and how we can help them meet their needs through our programs. Some are reluctant to speak out at first, but hopefully will have enough trust in our concerns for them to give us that feedback early in their session. Additionally, we strive to help them engage in self-assessment as they create their own objectives and learn to trust their ability to self-critique—a great life skill.
And of course, we highly value creativity and creative thinking. In fact, the theme for our summer staff training is Cosmic Creativity. Creative thinking has always been at the core of what we do and promote at SIG. This theme reminds us that program possibilities are cosmically endless. We want our students and staff to think big, ask monumental questions, pursue endless interests, and have gigantic fun in the process.
We celebrate our student’s differences, appreciate their asynchronicities, and value their contributions at every level. We hope you do too in all the ways that you have the opportunity to work with gifted students. If you have exciting ways that you educate, or parent, the whole gifted child that have worked well for you, do share with us so that we can all learn and celebrate your successes with you.
All the best,