Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Giftedness Revisited

I suppose I could claim that our homeschooling year was so full and fruitful that I was just too occupied to write it all down.  I could.  And it would be partly true.  It's also true that I am writing a book, with corresponding blog, on a subject that has nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling -- and so my frontal cortex has been otherwise occupied for most of the winter and spring.   Plus, I have yet another blog with gluten-free vegan recipes.  I don’t know why.

And then, well, it is true that we have experienced a great deal of, shall we say...confusion when it comes to homeschooling this year.  All of these things elements have hijacked my devotion to this particular blog.

But I am back.

So, onto confusion...

This actually segues nicely into that discussion I had planned on continuing regarding the idea of giftedness.  As previously mentioned, I have always struggled with this concept because I truly believe all children are gifted.  Still, every time I heard or read a  list of "gifted" traits, my increasingly-more-difficult-to-teach-and-understand-child, Blueberry, fit the bill.   Furthermore, because the needs mentioned in so many of these lists were not being met, my youngest was becoming somewhat out-of-control.  At her science class, geared for children her age, she would burst out that the class was boring or leave the class in a fit because they weren't "doing real science, only talking about silly plants."  She was constantly complaining of being bored, unless I was reading to her from a resource book, she was steeped in her very vivid fantasy world, she was doing science experiments, or she was talking.  She would yell and scream at friends because they did not want to play doctor for the umpteenth time.  And, basically, her mind was so myopically focussed on medicine that little else interested her (As I write this, she is stacking medical school text books, given to her by a friend, with the kind of innocent exhilaration one typically observes in a child experiencing the circus for the first time.).

In the spring, we went to a local homeschooling conference and, as suggested by several friends, I bucked up and went to a session about giftedness.  The speaker mulled over some version of the same aforementioned list I had seen on the web and in books.  Excellent memory?  Check.  Large vocabulary?  Check.  Vivid imagination?  Check.  Well-developed sense of humor?  Check.  Energetic?  Check.   Perfectionistic?  Check.  Intense interests?  Check.  Check.

I know what some of you are thinking:  these traits could describe just about most kids.  Why call any of them “gifted”?  To a certain extent that is true.  My concern is not the traits themselves, though, but how my daughter in particular is handling these traits.   She isn’t.  Or wasn’t.  At least not well.  She wasn’t handling them well at all.  And neither were the rest of us.  In fact, they were somewhat torturous to her and she was able to verbalize that.  It annoyed her, for example, that her same-aged peers did not match her verbosity and she told them so.  Once, when she was four and clearly bored with a peer who was talking about her coloring page,Blueberry retorted in an irritated tone, “Do you know what an acquittal is?  It’s when you don’t have to go to jail even though you did something wrong.”  Sigh.  We were never asked to play with that little girl again.

Other times, she mockingly mimicked her peers, talking like a baby, and exclaimed that she simply could not be with that person again.  She saw an eye doctor last spring and told him words looked "blurry" to her.  The doctor responded that he did not believe a four year old knew what blurry meant.  She refused to have him continue the examination and left in a huff, yelling, “He’s not a real doctor anyway!”  She is not trying to be mean.  She is just bored.  And frustrated.   And her mind is constantly spinning, which makes her rather cranky at times -- especially when she is surrounded by people or chaos.

So what resonated for me at that session on giftedness was not the description of a gifted child, but the discussion about how to help foster a positive educational environment for a child with the aforementioned traits.  Lisa Rivero, in her excellent book Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families, suggests a more digestible term to “gifted”, that being “intense learner”.  I have to agree with Lisa.  This term fits Blueberry perfectly.  She is intense about most everything.  She is intensely shy in new situations, intensely overwhelmed in chaotic situations, intensely interested in medicine, science, math,  cooking and theatre.  She is intensely annoyed by tags and seams on her clothing, intensely loud and verbose, and has an intense need to either run, bounce, jump and spin or crash into a lump of exhausted intensity.

On the one hand, these traits make her a delightfully precocious child.  I love that she and I started having very mature conversations when she was just two years old.  I cannot get enough of her enthusiasm for her passions.  She makes me laugh every single day.  She also makes me think every single day.  At the same time, she melts down frequently, wakes up far too early, is easily frustrated, is easily bored, eats non-stop, moves non-stop, talks non-stop, and thinks non-stop.  I get very few breaks.

Therefore, to better understand how to create the best educational environment for Blueberry, I need to hang up my hang-ups surrounding the term “gifted” and learn all I can from parents whose children are equally as intense.

It’s too bad that a simple term has become so emotionally charged.  In my case, it rendered the useful information couched within that term nearly unavailable to me.

Studying the Heart

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