Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Traditions!

Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a Fiddler on the Roof!

What traditions will your kids remember next year, in 20 years, for a lifetime? Will he remember the piles of presents, or that Grammy and Grandfather took all the grandkids to the theater every holiday? Will she recall that "perfect gift" you bought for her when she was 3, or 10, or 16, or will she remember the year Daddy's gingerbread house was a train station with the town clock on top (it's always 5 o'clock somewhere!), or the year she created a wonderland gingerbread castle that looked a little like Hogwarts, in red and black on a shimmering lake of silver nonpareils?

Traditions create memories.

What are your holiday traditions?

Ours are simple. Every year, on the Saturday before Christmas, Grammy and Grandfather take all the grandchildren to the matinee of the Holiday Panto at our local theater. Each year, the kids search excitedly to see what this year's Panto will be, and what role their favorite actor will play. They have to see Mark Lazar!

Then when they return, we have the family traditional dinner in the oven: Hot Cheese Monkey. One of the kids is sent down to the "dungeon" to catch the Monkey, and we all enjoy this traditional egg, cheese, bread and sausage or ham casserole, served with cooked and raw carrots for the veggie, and pickles on the side, because... well, because it's a tradition, this one passed down from my husband's grandmother, Gran. For some reason, no one seems to need dessert.

And we decorate gingerbread houses. This tradition is old enough to have taken on a life of it's own. The extended family, and now boyfriends and girlfriends, all join us for gingerbread houses, each with his own house and her own theme. And each year their Dad creates his "secret" project. No one knows what it will be until he's done. Grandfather helps the little ones, while Grammy creates amazing snowmen and other hand-built decorations for whoever wants them. As the kids are growing up, sometimes she even decorates her own house!

We collect the decorations for weeks beforehand. There are always graham crackers for constructing add-on porch roofs or school bell towers, ice cream cones for church steeples, and Necco wafers, Christmas colored nonpareils or frosted shredded wheat for roofing materials. There are gummy lifesavers to turn into wreathes, and licorice allsorts that become stepping stones or window candles, roofing materials or presents under Peeps Christmas trees.

And then there are this year's unique candy finds, those special decorations that we've never seen before. These new decorations delight and inspire! A few years ago, it was chocolate "rocks." They turned into a rocky hillside a garden path, and a rock garden for the turtle. No one knows what new surprises are in store for this year!

One year, we had a Jewish gingerbread house and a Muslim gingerbread house. The kids researched to be certain to provide thoughtful decorations, and they learned about different cultures in the process. Gingerbread as social studies!

Another year, we had a spring house with beautiful spring flowers, a lake and a garden path. And another saw a Halloween masterpiece. One year was a "foil" theme - kisses wrapped in various colored foils were stripped and the foil used to roof and decorate. Last year included an attached garage with a lift-opening door and a candy car stowed inside, at the end of the gingerbread house's driveway. I'm told a black-and-white theme might be featured on one house this year; I can't wait to see it!

Like most traditions, this one isn't quite so simple. We collect candies for months before, making certain we have fruit-striped gum and gummy bears to become sleds and their passengers, holiday M&Ms, and plenty of coconut and mini marshmallows, so everyone can have their "snow of choice."

The gingerbread must be made in advance, and even that's another fun family tradition. We've discovered new gingerbread house molds over the years, including last year's coup thanks to a new boyfriend: a gingerbread train mold! eBay is our friend, for buying out-of-print gingerbread molds. We've mastered forming the dough and then peeling it out onto baking trays to speed the process, but baking 12+ houses is still a two-day adventure. We have egg-white powder to make Royal Icing, and we assemble all the houses at least a day in advance of decorating. We learned the hard way that Rome was not built in a day, and Royal Icing needs a day to set firm!

It's worth every minute of the prep to watch our kids and their cousins, and parents, too, sitting around the tables, passing candies back and forth, sharing ideas and keeping secrets until the big "reveal," and making tons of great memories.

And year after year, the question is always the same... not when will we shop, or what am I getting, but what day is the Panto and Gingerbread Houses?


If you still need a little something to wrap, visit Hoagies' Gifted: Smart Toys and Games. You'll find tons of toys and games for gifted kids and families, all reviewed by gifted kids for gifted kids. These are the toys and games that last more than one day or even one play, bringing years of joy, without driving gifted parents completely batty.

Click Next Blog to continue to the next blog in this month's loop, all featuring wonderful ideas for holiday "giving"... Let's say Bye-Bye to Buy-Buy this holiday season, and make memories our kids will remember for a lifetime!

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Holiday Gifts: Bye-Bye to Buy-Buy. Click here to visit the Blog Hop page, and find all the blogs PLUS a bonus Pinterest Link! And from here, you can visit all the great past Blog Hops, including Gifted Advocacy, Gifted Friendships, The "G" Word, and lots more...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Be sure to adjust your own oxygen mask before assisting others...

We've all heard it, whether on a plane or in a movie. In the unlikely event of a change in cabin pressure... Please be sure to adjust your own mask before assisting others. It's good advice. If you try to help others first, you may lose consciousness from lack of oxygen yourself, and be unable to help the other person anyway. It's really good advice.

...Good advice that we rarely listen to in our own lives. Are you the parent of a gifted child? Are you overwhelmed, exhausted, or just plain "spent," trying to keep up with your own life, and your kids? Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist those around you!

But what does this mean??

As with everything else in this crazy parenting journey, the meaning varies with the individual. For some of us, it means going out for a run, whether around the block or 26.2 miles, a marathon. For some of us, it means spending an hour in yoga or meditation; for others it means spending 5 minutes by yourself, alone, in the bathroom. At least for a few years. But even those 5 minute time-outs count.

For many of us, the last time we spent ANY time for ourselves, doing what we wanted to do, has faded into a distant memory, a mirage on the rear horizon. That's not a good thing.

Whatever we do to take care of ourselves, it's important that we actually DO it. It's important to take care of ourselves before we try to take care of our kids and spouse (in no particular order). It's even more important for our kids to see us taking care of ourselves--our minds, bodies, eyes, relationships--they need to learn to do the same thing for themselves.

Whatever you do for to relax and rejuvenate yourself, keep a few things in mind. First, keep your eyes in mind. Our eyes require exercise, particularly, they require changing focal length to keep their flexibility and youth. We laugh at the ads for Presbyopia on the TV or in magazines, but our eyes do age and harden, and the more we exercise them, beginning in early youth, the better. Do you spend your days working on a computer? Take 2 minutes every hour to focus on something outside your window. Better still, GO outside the window and exercise your eyes, lungs, and skeletal muscles all at once with a few minutes walk.

Next, keep those muscles in mind. What we eat is important, but we could consume the best diet in the world and without exercise, we would not be healthy. Exercise doesn't need to mean distance running or lifting weights; it can be walking around the garden and pulling weeds. Winter doesn't mean that you can't go outside to exercise. Put on your heavy coat and gloves and get outside to admire the ice on the trees, the snow on blades of grass, or the view from the top of the ski slope. Summer where you are? Go for a walk around the mall or the library, in the nice cool air conditioning.

Don't forget to exercise your brain! Use it or lose it turns out to be sage advice for more than just our bodies. Recent research suggests that for many older adults, the decline in mental facility is related to their choice to use or stagnate their brains. In other words, learning, solving puzzles, and keeping mentally nimble is as important to offset the effects of aging as exercise and stretching is to offset the effects of aging on our bodies. Yes, the crossword puzzle or Words with Friends really is our friend!

I'm as guilty as the next person. I spent years of my life in the same routine, day in and day out. I sat in my car commuting to work, where I sat and stared at the computer for hours on end. The only thing I exercised was my fingers... typing. I didn't even have a window anywhere nearby to look out and refocus my eyes. Then I came home and played with the kids, but by then it was usually board games... it was dark out. Cooking, shopping, that was a little exercise, but something for my sanity? Not so much. And I must admit, it's slightly easier to do things for myself now that we are officially "empty nesters," though not nearly as much easier as I expected.

We also need emotional "exercise." For those of us with spouses or significant others, this means spending time together. Preferably together alone. For those of us without significant others it may look different, but it's still spending social time with others who do NOT need their diapers changed, their shoes tied, or their homework supervised. You know, other grown-ups. Not just working in the same cube-farm with others, but spending enjoyable time with them, perhaps dining, talking, book club, or many other forms of adult social interaction.

A few years ago, my husband stumbled on it. He found something that gets us outside and has us exercising our eyes in close and distant viewing. Something that exercises our brains in puzzle solving, observation and learning. Something that exercises our bodies, a little at a time (that's all I can handle; I have limited mobility), but for those who are able, offers miles of hiking, biking and even a little diving and climbing, if you're so inclined. And better yet, something that has us spending time alone together, talking, working on puzzles together, then at other times has us socializing with other adults who share our interest. What is it?

All my friends are grinning now. They know what I'm about to say. Some are as hooked as we are; others haven't tried it yet, and perhaps think we're a little nuts. Two are personally responsible for introducing us to our new activity. Yes, it's...

Geocaching. A global treasure hunt that over 6 million people are playing today. The perfect geek, er, gifted adult activity. Every geocache is a puzzle to be solved, a treasure to be found. Some are so simple you can park the car, step out and grab them. Others require hours of research and puzzle solving, while still others require hours of hiking and searching outdoors. There are over 2.5 million caches active on all 7 continents, plus one in the International Space Station, but that's a "terrain 5" - specialized equipment required. And among those 2.5 million there are caches for everyone, no matter how mobile you are, or how much puzzling or hiking you are looking for.

Geocaching has taken us to historical places near and far, including many we never knew existed. We've learned geology at home and in our travels. We've solved puzzles, simple and amazing; we've even created a few of our own for others to solve. We've met tons of people, and made many friends. And yes, we've improved our health. Not bad for a treasure hunt game!

Geocaching is just one solution, our personal "oxygen mask." What's yours?

Click to continue to the next blog in this month's loop, all featuring amazing self-care suggestions and success stories...

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Advocacy. Visit all the blogs in this hop!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Advocacy... the story of my life

Advocacy. I always said I wasn't good at it. I talk too much, I'm not good at being "politically correct," and I often put my foot in my mouth... at least when it's about my own kids. I get emotional. I'm not a good advocate for them, though I am persistent. That's a good quality for an advocate.

And yet, it's something I find myself doing time and again. Daily, it seems. A cousin who's second grader is facing the new school year having to "prove" himself again before he can get the enrichment that kept him sane in first grade last year. A friend who's 4th grader is going nuts with the mindless math homework, and needs something to encourage him to bother doing it... like harder homework. Another friend who's 9th grader isn't welcome in Sunday School any more, because the leader is suddenly uncomfortable with her being grade accelerated. Advocacy seems to be my middle name.

So what have a I learned over the years? What can I tell folks to help them make their own advocacy better accepted? And why couldn't I have thought of these things years ago, when I was advocating for my kids? Can't turn back the clock, so I'll focus on the future.

And honestly, that's good advice. Don't focus on the past. What can we do today to improve the gifted child's life tomorrow? There's no point in rehashing the past for minutes and hours. It doesn't help, but it does make folks feel bad; usually folks on both sides of the table. When advocating, let's start with today, and look forward.

Take the other person's perspective. That sounds simple, but often it actually is. Yes, the teacher is making life difficult for your child. But sometimes your child makes life difficult for the teacher, too. And then there's the rest of the things the teacher must be to the kids in her class: teacher, mentor, guide, disciplinarian, food provider, and lots more. All the while she may be worried about her own job, if her students' test scores aren't high enough.

But how can you help these things? They're not in your control. You can't do them for the teacher. Ah, but you can make her life easier, by advocating for options that don't require her to work harder. Like what, you ask? Like homework. It's easy to differentiate homework for one student, and when that student is your child, you're motivated to do it. You can even volunteer to share the differentiated homework with the teacher so she can use it with other children. No, she might not have any other 2nd graders who need 4th grade math homework, but hey, at least you offered!

Another important part of seeing things from the school and teacher's perspective is saying "yes." The teacher is concerned that your child might need more time to develop her social/emotion skills? Yes, I had that concern too. I look at the gifted literature, and found that there's research indicating that excess repetition can actually have a deleterious effect on the gifted child. Let me send bring you a copy (send you a link, whichever you'd prefer) to that research when we're done meeting. Now, I can help you with differentiating for my child by....

And how do you differentiate math homework? Easy! Take your child to the educational supply or the wholesale club, and let her pick out a math book from a grade or two (or more) higher, and buy it. When the homework comes home, replace the grade-level worksheets with similar topic worksheets from the higher level book. The second grade homework is simple subtraction? Replace it with multi-digit subtraction, then add borrowing as soon as your child can handle it. The homework is shapes? Replace with more complex shapes. Telling time to the 1/2 hour? Telling time to the 5 minutes. Easy.

This approach solves many problems. It makes the child far less frustrated with the below-level worksheets for homework. He learns that his parents are working on his behalf, trying to bring more learning into his education. At the same time, the teacher sees what the child really can do, what level he is really working at. And this is his level without any instruction!

For my kids, changing out the homework kept them happy for a year or so while we advocated for the next step: subject acceleration, in our case, in math. But these techniques work just as well in reading, writing, science or social studies. For subject acceleration in math, we advocated for several different options, presenting them as a selection for the school to pick from. Some of the methods were more labor intensive at the school (requiring work by the teacher), some required a little scheduling (allowing the child to go to a higher grade for the subject), while others had a cost associated (signing up for a complete online course). We suggested that the online courses would make the teacher's life easier, and our goal was not to make more work for the teacher, but instead, to make her life easier... while still meeting our child's requirements in education.

The next step in advocacy is often a much bigger step: full grade acceleration. But that's a topic for another post.

For more on Gifted Advocacy, visit Hoagies' Gifted: Advocacy page. There you'll find links to research and success stories, and everything in between. Gifted Advocacy guides, Myths vs. Realities, and more.

For more on creating your own Advocacy Support group, read The Care and Feeding of Gifted Parent Groups: A Guide for Gifted Coordinators, Teachers, and Parent Advocates by Wenda Sheard.

Visit the next blog in the Hoagies' Gifted blog hop on Gifted Advocacy

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Advocacy. Visit all the blogs in this hop!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You are not alone! Finding gifted community

In last week's Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop: Gifted Friendships I shared the research on the importance of gifted friendships in Gifted Friendships: You Are Not Alone!. This week, I'll help you find community!

One of the earliest things gifted parents discover is the sense that they are alone. If you're not in a gifted community, you learn quickly that while other parents can share and brag about their kids developmental, sports, and even academic accomplishments, gifted parents may NOT. For other parents, it's just normal, everyday parent conversation, but for us... so many parents think we're bragging, or worse, just making it up. We learn early that everyone can share about their kids... except us.

We are alone.

If parents lucky enough to land in a gifted community early and often, we may be lucky enough to have a place to share about our gifted kids, too. But even there, there are things we can't talk about. Have a kid who's not as perfect as the rest of the kids in the very gifted community? Better not talk about it, or we may be "blamed" for somehow causing their uniqueness. Or worse, we fear we'll be drummed out of the community, the one place where we feel comfortable sharing all the great things our child is doing.

We are alone, even in our own crowd.

The most important thing that gifted parents need to know, and be reminded of early and often, is that you are not alone! Got a gifted kid? There are many of us out here just like you! Live in a rural area, where it seems none of us are nearby? We might not live next door, but we are in equally rural (or urban, or suburban) communities, feeling similar isolation. Have an exceptionally or profoundly gifted child who is still far different from the "pleasantly" gifted child, a child for whom the normal gifted program is like giving individuals blades of grass to a hungry dinosaur... it's good, but not enough for the dinosaur to know you're feeding it. You are still not alone, even if you feel alone in the local gifted parents group. Or you have a wildly diverse gifted child, who is extraordinary good at some things, but extraordinarily weak at others? You, most of all, are not alone. Even if there is no other child exactly like yours (and there likely is someone, somewhere), there are many other parents struggling with Twice Exceptional (2e, dually identified) kids like yours.

Gifted community is the lifeline for all of us. It's the place we can talk about parenting these wonderful kids. We can share the struggles of education, or the resources of homeschooling. We can commiserate on the lack of programs at early ages, and create our own programs with our critical mass and our unswerving need. We can find a place to brag and to beg, to share the past and consider the future. But how can we find these amazing, amusing, accepting gifted communities?

There are public and private, open and closed communities. We share on Facebook and mailing lists, blogs and boards, behind firewalls and in real life. We meet at formal conferences and casual gatherings across the country and around the world. No matter who or where you are, you are not alone!

Electronic communities are a great way to get started. For open communities with tons of participants, sure to be folks who live near you, start with the major mailing list communities. TAGFAM and GT-Families offer mailing lists for general gifted topics for families and teachers, on lists of the same names. If you're homeschooling your gifted kids, TAGMAX is the list for you, with nearly a thousand other subscribers who share resources and ideas for homeschooling, unschooling, deschooling and more. GT-Special is the list for parents of those tricky-to-parent, challenging-to-educate twice exceptional (or 2e) kids. And TAGPDQ is the community for you if you're the parent of a "more than just plain gifted" child, those exceptionally and profoundly gifted kids who often require more extreme educational options.

Visit Hoagies' Gifted Online Communities: Mailing Lists for subscription instructions and links for these plus hundreds of other more specialized mailing lists, organized by population, country, state, and district or locality. There is a mailing list for everyone!

Looking for a casual community you can just "drop into" when you need a little support? Though they are more public, check out any one of the great Facebook communities for gifted: Hoagies' Gifted Education Page, SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum are three popular Facebook gifted forums. And there are plenty more. Just search for Gifted and your other interests (your town, your school district, homeschool, etc.) on Facebook.

Looking for something less electronic and more real-life? Check out the U.S. and International organizations listed in Hoagies' Gifted: Organizations. Many offer conferences, summer programs, meetings and more!

If you have testing and your kids qualify, one of the best U.S. gifted communities is the Davidson Young Scholars program. It costs nothing to join, and offers a wide slate of support options, including electronic and real-lie gatherings. Even if you use nothing else in the program, be sure to join your local DIG mailing list, and attend some of the DIGs (Davidson Informal Gatherings) to meet and enjoy others in the Davidson gifted community!

Whatever means you choose, be sure to explore the online and real-life gifted communities so that both you and your kids learn that You are NOT alone!

Don't miss the rest of last week's Gifted Friendship Blog Hop. With nearly two dozen blogs on gifted kids, teens, young adults and adults, plus a couple blogs on the value of "invisible friends," there's something for everyone!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gifted Friendships: You Are Not Alone!

Gifted friendships are hard to define, and often even harder to find. Gifted kids in a classroom full of kids who want to play with them and invite them to parties, may feel alone and crave this rare commodity.  Gifted adults may feel alone in spite of lots of acquaintances at work and in other activities. There are lots of people around us every day, yet we feel strange and isolated. What are we missing?

"When gifted children are asked what they most desire, the answer is often 'a friend'.   The children's experience of school is completely colored by the presence or absence of relationships with peers." (Silverman, 1993).

Miraca Gross has researched gifted friendships, not only in children, but over the lives of young and now middle-aged adults through her longitudinal studies.  And I am lucky to count Miraca among my acquaintances, one who I would very much love to get to know better, who could easily become a friend... if only she didn't live on the other side of the world.

"This difficulty of the gifted child in forming friendships is largely a result of the infrequency of persons who are like-minded.  The more intelligent a person is, regardless of age, the less often can he find a truly congenial companion.  The average child finds playmates in plenty who can think and act on a level congenial to him, because there are so many average children."  (Hollingworth, 1936)

But what makes the gifted child less able to find friendship among all the other students in her age/grade classroom?  Is the student somehow biased towards kids identified as gifted?  No. Are the student's parents influencing her to befriend only the gifted kids?  Not at all.  Miraca's research shows...

Gifted children were beginning to look for friends with whom they could develop close and trusting friendships, at ages when their age-peers of average ability were looking for play partners.  (Gross, SENG article)
Gifted kids feel differently, and seek friendships among those who feel similarly!

Gross's and other research shows other factors influence friendships.  Gender plays a role: boys are, at some point, 2 or more years behind girls in their concepts of friendship, which accounts for the elementary years cliquishness of girls not being mimicked in boys until early middle school.  Age plays a role.  Levels of giftedness are also key to finding gifted friendships.

The years between four and nine are probably the most likely to be beset with problems. (Hollingworth, 1936)

The question is, what can we do to help our gifted children find friendships?

Ability grouping and grade advancement can be of invaluable assistance in the early years of school to young gifted children whose accelerated conceptions of firendship are urging htem to see the sure shelter of a relationsihp of trust, fidelity and authenticity, at ages when tehir age-peers are seeking playmates or casual conversation.  In the case of exceptionally and profoundly gifted child, it is difficult to justify, either educationally or socially, the inclusion of these children in classes comprised of age-peers whose conceptions of firendship are so radically different than theirs. (Gross, SENG article)

The most important thing we can do for our kids is to help them find this "community" they seek, and let them know and experience that they are not alone!

For a quick summary of Miraca's research, read SENG's "Play Partner" or "Sure Shelter": What Gifted Children Look For in Friendship. For her full presentation, visit Hoagies' Gifted: "Play Partner" or "Sure Shelter"? Why gifted children prefer older friends..

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop: Gifted Friendships.  Visit the other great blogs in this month's Hop by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Reading Favorites for Young Readers

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliates links, which link to Hoagies' Page's Amazon affiliates account. Thanks for supporting Hoagies' Gifted Education Page!

Whenever school breaks roll around, our time becomes ours to fill with our favorite pasttimes. And for many of us, our all-time favorite pasttime is Reading! Reading takes us to new worlds and old ones, and fills our moments with adventure. But for many gifted kids, finding new and interesting reading books is a challenge. Hoagies' Gifted Hot Topics Reading Lists are here to save the day!

For young readers, the challenge is to find books that meet both their advanced reading levels and interests, but don't offer an excess of drama or "scary stuff." Harry Potter is a great series, but often not for our 5- and 6-year-olds. Even Harry didn't start at Hogwarts until his 12th birthday. For my eldest, lucky enough to grow up alongside Harry, Hermione and Ron, each new book brought new strengths and challenges, and as the kids aged, new darkness. But each new book came with both Harry and my daughter a year older. It was a perfect arrangement! Today with all 7 books published, kids want to read them all, one after another. And who can blame them for wanting to stay in one world, once they've arrived? Let's give our young readers worlds they can visit and submerse themselves in, that aren't overwhelming.

Hot Topics: Reading List for Early Readers: First Chapter Books offers great young series for our youngest chapter-book readers. From the fun antics of Amelia Bedelia, the literal housekeeper, to the adventures of (the previously lonely) Henry and his canine companion, Mudge, to The Riverside Kids and The Time Warp Trio... there are hundreds of volumes for young readers to discover. Check out these and many other titles.

Our kids tend to consume every book left in their way, and quickly move to higher levels of reading and adventure. Scroll down the Hot Topics: Reading List for Early Readers to the Longer Chapter Books and find even more adventure. How about a magical cupboard that turns toys into living creatures? Kids love the Indian in the Cupboard series! Find more magic in The Secrets of Droon, where Eric, Neal and Julie explore the Rainbow Stairs and the magical creatures they find there. Looking for a little more reality in their reading? Join The Five Little Peppers and their real-life adventures, or Einstein Anderson as he solves all the mysteries he can find. Finding Einstein Anderson titles at your bookstore may be a mystery in itself, but fear not, your local library will likely have the collection. If not, it's time to learn about your public library's inter-library loan!

Some kids prefer the colorful worlds of graphic novels. Hot Topics! Reading List of Graphic Novels / Cartoons / Humor has plenty to offer. For our youngest readers, there's always Captain Underpants, but he is only one option in a brave new world. Check out Ricky Ricotta and the giant robot, the Adventures of Tintin featuring the young Alex Rider, or Asterix, before moving on to longer cartoon novel series like Bone, Herobear and The Kid, and Amulet, the adventures of two ordinary kids in a world of man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a talking fox, and a giant robot! Once they move out of the younger chapter books, many of our kids love, love, love Science Fiction and/or Fantasy novels. And I find even as adults, gifted kids love Puzzle Books.

But what if my child is a 100%, no holds barred, no characters allowed, non-fiction reader? No problem! Check out these non-fiction lists: Curious kids will find these Horribles! horribly interesting! Hands-on kids of all ages love Klutz books.

Looking for books specifically for your boy or girl? Check out Hot Topics: Girls and Young Women and Hot Topics: Teen Boys. Do you need books, fiction or non-fiction, addressing issues facing gifted kids of all ages, including friendship, perfectionism, being twice exceptional, or other social/emotional issues? Check out Hot Topics: On Being Gifted. Titles for your young adult reader? You'll love Bob Seney's Literature for Gifted Young Adults.

Collected from gifted kids the world 'round, no matter what kind of books your kids prefer, you'll find titles they love on the Hot Topics! Reading Lists.

Use the comments below to submit your kids' favorite titles to the Hot Topics lists!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Go out and play. Go Geocaching!

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, we kids heard that all the time. "Go out and play! Get out of my hair." We spent hours and days exploring the woods behind the house, wandering through the neighborhood "bridle trail," and exploring nearby fields. We climbed trees, and looked out over the neighbor's roof... that was scary! We spent hours hanging out on friends' jungle gyms, riding bikes, and checking out wildflowers up and down the road.

It's not my imagination... kids have much less roaming range these days. Research bears out my recollection: over 4 generations, the range of an 8-year-old has shrunken from 6 miles to 300 yards from the front door. Read How Children Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations, the source of this frightening picture.

Nature is good for us.
Besides the rights and responsibilities of growing up, what else have our kids lost in this cultural change? Lots. Research tells us that unstructured time in nature has huge benefits for kids. Study after study shows that kids are losing out. As preschoolers, kids are already less active than is recommended, and obesity is more common. By school-age, kids are unable to identify common plants, and are more myopic from the decrease in the amount of long-distance focus that children's eyes used to get outside in nature. Free-play and contact with nature is declining dramatically. Children’s Nature Deficit: What We Know – and Don’t Know details 45 studies on these factors and more.

So what, you ask? Research shows that nature is good for us. Mental health benefits include stress and anxiety reduction, ADHD symptom reduction, and improved focus and cognitive function. Yes, we think and feel better on nature! The physical benefits of free-play in nature are just as impressive: better vascular health, less vitamin D deficiency, lower BMI (body mass index), better physical fitness, less childhood asthma, and less myopia. Healthy Benefits to Children form Contact with the Outdoors & Nature summarizes dozens more studies on these benefits.

But how do I get my kids outside into Nature?
That is the question. Screen time is addictive. Kids are learning loads and enjoying computer games, social networking and more. How do we get them to put down their devices and go outside? It's simple: we don't. Instead, let them use their devices outside!

The answer: Geocaching
Here's a game that's nerdy enough to appeal to gifted kids of all ages. Start on your computer or other device. Look up geocaches near you. Then use a GPSr or your smartphone with an app to track down the caches, using the latitude/longitude (lat/long) and some clues about the size and difficulty of the cache. When you find it, sign the paper log inside, and log your find on your device.

What are these geocaches? Caches can be many things. A cache may be half-mini-marshmallow-size magnetic "nano" attached to a park bench, or an ammo can or large plastic container hidden in the woods, or even bigger. Larger geocaches usually contain "swag," fun little toys for our youngest cachers. Caches may take you to a park you never knew existed, or a historical place that you've been passing by all your life. Caches may take you for a long hike in the woods, or might first have you solve a complex puzzle at home before you can discover the latitude and longitude of your search. They may lead you to events, where other geocachers of all ages get together to have a picnic, or to clean up a park in a CITO (Cache In, Trash Out) event. There are different caches for all different types of cachers!

And where are all these geocaches hiding? Everywhere around you! There are caches in urban, suburban and rural areas of every continent on Earth, plus one on the International Space Station. Caches on terrains rated 1 are handicapped accessible. Terrains 1.5 and 2 are stroller accessible - even the youngest kids can handle these caches. A terrain 3 cache might be a little ways up an easy-to-climb tree or a steep hill. You might want to wait until the kids are a little older before trying to find caches rated higher than 3, but don't rule them out. I've found a terrain 5 geocache - specialized equipment required - by borrowing a paddle boat from a local picnic park to cross the river to the cache. Tons of family fun!

Geocachers love a challenge, and geocaching is full of personal challenges. Can you find a cache with a difficulty/terrain (D/T) rating of 5/5, where 5 terrain means "specialized equipment required?" Can you find caches in every state you travel to, or every county within your state? We cheated on this challenge: the first state we've cached every county is in the nearby state of Delaware... it only has three counties.

Can you find a cache of every possible difficulty and terrain combination? There are 81 different D/T combinations to find, and we're not there yet. Can you geocache for 13 days with different totals found each day? Cache for 90 straight days? Or 366 days? And there are lots of other challenges! For gifted kids (and adults) who love graphs and charts and statistics, geocaching offers tons...

Get Started Geocaching!
With over 2.4 million active geocaches around the world, there are bound to be a few near you. To find your first, you need to sign up on and set up your free account. Then click on Play, Hide and Seek a Cache, and type in your address. Pick a geocache from the local list (it's best to start with a low difficulty cache that's been found recently), then go out and find it! You'll find caches near home, school, work, and everywhere you travel. Geocaching is a great way to find your way around a new city, or find hidden treasures near your home.

For pointers on getting started, read Hoagies' Gifted | Geocaching 101: Finding Your First Geocache. Some of my favorite geocaches are Puzzle Caches. Puzzle Caches may be site puzzles, where you go to the location and explore, seeking answers to specific questions and using those answers to find the lat/long of the cache. Or they can be more complicated puzzles, from visual puzzles to ciphers to any kind of puzzle that a cache owner can think of... some as complex as ARML math problems, and some as simple as finding the text hidden on the cache page. Read Geocaching 103: Solving Puzzle Caches for lots more on both solving and creating your own Puzzle Caches.

Geocaching encourages out-of-the-box creativity. Who creates all these caches? Geocachers do! Once you've found 40 or 50 caches, and have an idea what you're looking for and what good cache locations might be near you, consider hiding your own cache. The instructions on walk you through the steps. Finding caches is fun; creating your own cache container, theme and/or puzzle to make a unique hide of your own is even more interesting! Read Geocaching 104: Creating and Placing Your Own Geocache for more ideas.

Geocaching with a group
Both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts offer Geocaching badges, with plenty of adventure.

Go out and play. Go out and geocache! The kind of play that gifted kids and adults love!

Photographs taken at Crouching Chief, Hidden Cache geocache in Wissahickon Park, Philadelphia.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Welcome to Lake Woebegon, where 100% of children are in the top 2.5%

100% of children are in the top 2.5% of children. It sounds ridiculous when it's stated mathematically, but you hear it often in its common form: "All children are gifted." No matter how you say it, it is still nonsense.

Nonsense. Not sensible. Not true. And certainly not defensible.

Would it be defensible to ignore a special needs child in school? Yes, you need a ramp because you're in a wheelchair, but really you are just like every other child and you have no special needs. Yes, you need your textbooks on tape because you are dyslexic and cannot read the books yourself, but really you are just like every other child and you have no special needs.

It sounds ridiculous, and there are U.S. federal laws to protect these children from such ignorance. (Section 504 and IDEA). But for the gifted students, those above two standard deviations from the norm, there is no such federal protection.

If they are lucky, gifted kids might live in a state like Pennsylvania, with a mandate to both identify and serve gifted students from K-12 under Chapter 16 of the state education code. Chapter 16 even calls the education of gifted students "Special Education." But it falls short of actually providing special education protections to gifted students. Chapter 16 includes no enforcement, though they've added a feature where 10 districts a year are reviewed to see if they are meeting Chapter 16 guidelines. In just over 50 years, all the districts in Pennsylvania will be reviewed, and we will learn just how many are not meeting Chapter 16, not offering FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to gifted students. What happens if the schools fail this compliance monitoring? They are issued a "corrective action plan." Punishment for failing Chapter 16 Gifted Education compliance monitoring? In 50 years, they may be monitored again.

Or you might live in a state like New York, with a mandate to identify but not serve gifted students. Massachusetts? Gifted students don't exist there at all, unless they are identified and offered gifted education under local school district policy. But it's not required by state nor federal government, and often doesn't happen. When it does happen, it is often the first head on the chopping block during fiscal crisis. Heads will roll! There are excellent school districts for gifted students in each of these states...if you can afford to live there. Davidson Foundation: U.S. Gifted Education Policies by state

Most people presume that gifted kids "automagically" get what they need in school. All they need is to learn, and everyone gets to learn in school, right?

Not as much as you'd think.

Longitudinal research from Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth shows that among the top achieving students in the country, those who score 700 or above on the math or critical thinking tests of the College Board's SAT before age 13, many go on to do great things, lead companies, win prizes, invent amazing things! But many more do not receive appropriate education in their schools, their families cannot afford appropriate education through private schools and enrichment programs, and these students do not go on to accomplish great things in their lives. Read The poor neglected gifted child.

What does a typical school offer the gifted student? In Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades, and in some schools even 3rd, 4th, and beyond, most schools offer the gifted students... Nothing. Gifted kids come into each school year knowing most or all of these early years of curriculum, and having literally nothing to learn. These students are held back with their age cohort, to raise the school's test scores and "be leaders" for the other kids.

And we all know, if a child is gifted, she can figure out a way to entertain herself when she is bored in school. It's true! The problem is, the teacher may not find it entertaining when she decides to talk to her neighbors after she finishes her work. Or she reads a book under her desk... And forgets to return her attention to the teacher when the next subject is "introduced." (She already knew it anyway.) Or he decides to make a creative "pea shooter" out of materials he finds in his desk, to shoot tiny paper wads at other kids while he's bored and waiting. And then he gets entrepreneurial, and sells them to other kids in the class. What an excellent example of gifted leadership! But not appreciated.

Gifted students are required to complete worksheet after worksheet, years of them, proving what they already know so that they hopefully "qualify" to participate in what is often just a the fun-and-games gifted enrichment program beginning in 3rd or 4th or 5th or 6th grade. IF they qualify. If they don't offend the teacher and school by creative boredom-fighting activities. Or by correcting the teacher one too many times. Or by begging to learn new things!

Meanwhile, they spend 2-3-4-5+ years learning that everything in school comes easy, that praise is easy to get, and in today's U.S. schools, that everyone gets an award for something, so their giftedness is just another gift, like being the tallest or being the prettiest, or the best public speaker. Everyone's gifted, they're nothing special.

Until they reach a tough subject. It might be middle school creative writing, or 8th grade algebra, AP biology or even advanced college mathematics. At some point the gifted child is going to reach some material he has to work at to learn. And if he's had years of practice in learning difficult material, organizing his work, creating study materials, failing and getting back up again to learn some more, he will fare well. He understands Struggle, Challenge and Meaning. But many gifted students have never had these opportunities. They've drifted through school for years, perhaps even a decade, learning only that learning is a breeze, it's all easy because I'm gifted, my brain makes it easy.

These are the gifted children who panic and quit easily, because they've develop what Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset." Because they were not challenged in school from the beginning like the other kids, they have gained a warped view of their own abilities, and of the process of learning. And when the difficult material comes--and it will come--they have no idea how to get the hard work of learning done, because they were never allowed to learn how in those early years, when the rest of the kids learned. Too many years of minimal learning in school takes its toll. And at this age, instead the toll of a bad grade on an elementary-grade assignment or report card and a chance to "do better next time," the toll will be high school course placement, college admissions opportunities, or college scholarships. Lost. Gone, forever.

This is education's gift to the gifted learner.

Because, don't you know, All children are gifted!