BY NEDRA DANIEL FEB 2018
Sure, I may be biased. But my kids are superstars. My daughter, Michaela, is in her first year at Princeton and my son, Jonathan, is an award-winning app developer with an eye on a career in Silicon Valley.
The kids get their schoolwork done on time, meet their commitments, and make time for community service.
So there’s no problem – right? Wrong! As I’ve learned along the way, keeping these superstars challenged takes time and effort. Based on my own experience, to successfully raise high-achievers, you need to uncover what inspires your kids, nurture their gifts, and find the appropriate school setting.
Uncover Their Gifts
Since many gifted children don’t live up to their greatest potential, high achievers need to be supported in uncovering what makes them tick. What excites them? What gets them out of bed in the morning? Not all gifted kids are created equal!
For example, in middle school, my son Jonathan took an interest in computers. So when he was 14, we decided to take him to visit an open house for a local robotics team. His eyes lit up! We signed Jonathan up for the team on the spot. Three years later, Jonathan participates on Toaster Tech Robotics, a competitive robotics team where he can hone his skills and have a blast. What’s more, since ninth grade, Jonathan has been duel-enrolled at high school studying college-level computer courses!
As a family, we also try to find ways for Jonathan to leverage his technology talent to give back to the community. I’m proud to say Jonathan teaches computer skills at a local nursing home and coaches a Boys & Girls Club robotics team. By finding new ways for him to apply his skills, Jonathan’s talent just keeps blossoming.
One day, I read about the Congressional App Challenge in the newspaper. Jonathan entered an app he designed for a local food pantry to track their inventory. Jonathan won for our district! His app will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol this spring. Competitions are a way for kids to build skills. But it’s up to parents to help our children uncover their gifts.
Nurture Their Gifts (but know when to say “enough!”)
Sometimes the extreme curiosity that drives most gifted learners can be counter-productive. Your high achiever commits to go “all-in” on a new hobby. But after giving it a try, the shine wears off and the new thing just isn’t for them. Totally okay!
Dance captured Michaela’s imagination at an early age. So we signed her up for once-weekly dance practices. By the time she was 13, Michaela was convinced she wanted a career in dance. We again supported her by helping her balance schoolwork and time in the dance studio. Michaela would spend entire days with the Georgia Ballet and performed several times a year. We took her to New York and Nashville for unforgettable opportunities to dance with the Joffrey and Nashville Ballet companies. However, in the end, seven-hour, grueling daily practices showed my daughter the dedication and sacrifice necessary to turn pro just wasn’t her thing.
Eventually, Michaela discovered other interests and now dances as a means of relaxation while juggling a full course load in college. She also enjoys teaching younger dancers. In my mind, parent mission accomplished!
Find the Best School for Their Gifts
One might assume that in raising Michaela and Jonathan, any school environment would have worked just fine. Not true. Our neighborhood schools were overcrowded and students tended to underperform academically. In elementary school, when Michaela was about to be placed in special education classes, I knew a change was needed.
What’s more, I wanted my kids to have time and space to nurture their talents without being confined to a traditional classroom. Still, I knew they needed the academic rigor that would set them up for future success. A friend recommended I explore online learning. It’s one of the best choices I ever made for my kids.
Since elementary school, the virtual classroom setting has been ideal for my two high achievers. By attending online public school, Michaela and Jonathan have had the schedule flexibility necessary to explore their personal passions for dance and computers. The school’s adaptive curriculum means they can thrive academically at their own accelerated pace. Their state-certified teachers support them with personalized learning plans and loads of encouragement and resources. Outside of class time, we as parents help bring what they’re learning to life by visiting museums, historic sites, theater productions and other stimulating, educational venues.
As you may be able to tell, I’m really proud of my kids! Since I get asked this question frequently, here’s my best advice for raising exceptional gifted kids.
If you uncover what inspires them, nurture their gifts, and find the appropriate school setting, odds are you too will raise a future superstar, but more importantly, you’ll raise balanced and happy young adults.
Nedra Daniel is a parent with two children who attended Georgia Cyber Academy, powered by K12 Inc.