Monday, October 10, 2016

Alternative Paths to Gifted

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to focus on key GAT Parenting skills under the head "it doesn't happen magically."   My focus is a child who is learning academic skills.  This child will emerge gifted though the normal channel of a solid academic career.

Last weekend, I saw three really good examples of kids progressing through other channels.

On Saturday, I experienced another Cub Scout campout.  As expected, the kids continued their own tradition of lining up at the camp fire to tell stories.  At this event, there was a log next to the camp fire, a foot in diameter, and I asked the kids to line up behind the log because they were all shouting, telling, or acting out their stories at once after the pack leader finished with her two introductory stories.

What amazes me about these kids is that in addition to the steady stream of competent performances, some kids who obviously have no public speaking skills, or even the courage to speak in public, or any courage at all, get in line and stand on the log when it's their turn.   Some of these kids get in line before they realize that they have nothing to say and then begin making up a joke or story.   After each performance, we all applaud enthusiastically, not because the joke, riddle, story was any good, but because it just was. And this is totally awesome.

One kid slowly and methodically struggled with his story, a few times backtracking to correct himself.  It was a bit painful to watch and took way too long.  When he started, I thought that he had no business attempting a public performance.   When he ended, I put him on my watch list for kids who I expect big things from.   He hit the punch line, and it was really funny for the 1st and 2nd graders.   He deserved at least one award.  Maybe three.

This tradition needed some startup help.  The first year, the former pack leader gave some inspiring stories, and the two kids who were inspired to repeat it met roaring applause.  Apparently, one of the parents who encouraged the kids researches cognitive skills as a side line; he is currently writing about parenting skills. The other parents went along.  The second year, at least one parent invited all kids to present stories, jokes and riddles (guess who). That year, we realized we needed a time limit for the made up stories that tended to ramble.  This year, our work paid off and we have either a junior Toast Masters, an incubator for future leaders, or more likely both.

As we were taking down the tents the next morning, I saw some of our kids mingling with another pack that was shooting homemade air rockets.   This pack was from Mount Prospect, a suburb of Chicago.   I asked one of the Mount Prospect kids for instructions and he provided an overview.   When I wear an official uniform, kids feel the need to approach me and tell me things.  I don't know why.   I'm not currently leading anything and the uniform just happened to be at the top of my backpack so I put it on.  30 minutes later, 4 kids from Mount Prospect hunted me down and gave me thorough instructions with tips and examples.

One of the more articulate kids from Mount Prospect was less than 2 feet tall.   After his sound lecture, I inquired about his Cub Scout membership and didn't get a straight answer.  What grade are you in?  I asked.  "Pre K", he replied.   If I wasn't in a hurry, I would have hunted down his parents and added them to my ongoing research project.  At this point, I expect that they read a lot and talk a lot at home, but it would have been nice to know what else they do.

On Sunday, we went to the Chicago Jazz Showcase, which is another 3 year old tradition, this one to honor my wife's birthday.  The performer teaches music locally.  Many of his students were in the audience, and one of them was none other than Hank, the leader of my older son's Boy Scout group.  (Not sure what this "group" is officially called, but it's made up of 6th graders.)  Hank signed up for an 8 week program wherein a music shop called Sharps and Flats puts the kids in bands, provides the music, and puts them on stage the last week.

At first, I wasn't sure why the Boy Scouts chose Hank as their leader.  Of all the kids, he is the most reserved, quite, and shy one.  I've since learned two things.   First, his dad teaches high school English and has become of my favorite people to talk to at scouting events.  Secondly, Hank is a quiet wall of confidence.   Before the performance, I quizzed him on his trumpet practicing habits (just to gauge the level of my trumpet practicing son.)  The only difference between talking to Hank and talking to an adult is that Hank waits for questions out of respect.  I image that Hank really doesn't care whether I'm a parent of a friend, the board of BP, or a senate subcommittee.

I think there is another really important skill that is not on my catalog.  It will not directly contribute to a high grade in Calculus.   It grows under the encouragement of one or more parenting skills.  We all want our kids to have this skill.   I don't have a name for it yet and I'm not an authority in this area.

One of my readers posted a question to my article on building a strong memory.  She deleted her question before I could post a reply, or I deleted the question by pressing the wrong button on the blog dashboard.   My answer applies to memory, speaking ability, or any other skill that you can teach your children.   First, everything is a skill that can be taught and learned at any age.  There is a definite advantage to starting young, but this advantage is not permanent.  Secondly, it takes between 3 months and 3 years depending on the starting point, related skills that need to be learned, and how much time you put into it.


  1. I am glad you saw my question about memory, I thought it never got posted. Can you direct me to any posts that specifically cover building memory?

    1. I'm generally focused on other cognitive skills, but if you google "working memory" you'll see what I have to say about this topic. It's absence can make test prep really challenging, but it grows with the types of activities I recommend. Test Prep Math has a section specifically devoted to working memory in the current edition.
      Memory is something I noticed emerge from our use of Vocabulary Workshop and the Word Board.
      Reading is a great way to develop both of these skills over a longer time period, meaning it develops more slowly.