She was in fourth grade and she couldn’t stay in her seat she was so excited to see and discuss the extraterrestrials that the instructor had brought into the classroom. Aliens? ‘Well yes, meteors are in fact aliens to our planet’, said the teacher as he held up examples. This was a child with a passion for outer space; she didn’t want to learn, she needed to learn.
Every summer we offer two camps - Academic Summit and Curiosity Challenge – specifically for children who are considered accelerated for their grade level in an area of science, technology, engineering or math. Often, grownups will talk about their student’s test scores or whether they have been designated “Talented or Gifted”, but we rarely talk about the core of what it’s all about, a passion to learn. Children are learning machines. Early on, giftedness has to do with a child’s potential, and later in life their achievements.1 Studies show that if a child doesn’t feel challenged they begin to slide in their interests and their abilities, because an authentic challenge engages the whole child. The challenge for educators is to find the right balance between pushing children to frustration, and challenging those so they realize their potential, fully develop their passion, and know that it is ok to be smart and love learning.
Young children are notorious for the number of questions they ask. How can you help your child keep that passion to learn?
- Pay attention your child’s special interests
- Look for opportunities to expand that interest with an equally interested expert. A mentor who values their questions and can guide them to the next edge of learning is key. Through this they may also discover there are careers on topics they love.
- Help them find a community of kids with similar interests, where learning and critical thinking earns a badge of respect among their peers.
Differentiated instruction is critical to supporting equity and excellence in learning. This requires getting to know the child, their interests and context, which is a serious challenge in large classes with a one-size-fits all curriculum. Providing grade-free, non-competitive spaces for children to simply be curious supports children as critical thinkers and life-long learners. While there is a place for tests and standards, out-of-school learning communities including Saturday Academy, support opportunities for ALL students to explore their passions, learn from experts and mentors, and be around other kids who love what they love and love learning.
“An equitable system does not treat all students in a standardized way, but differentiates instruction, services and resources to respond effectively to the diverse needs of students.” —Learning Policy Institute
Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2011 Jan;12(1):3-54. doi: 10.1177/1529100611418056.
Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science.
Subotnik RF, Olszewski-Kubilius P, Worrell FC.