Finding the Little Joys in Teaching During Remote Learning

We are in a hybrid model this year – one day a week we are all online. The whole month of December we were fully remote, and it seems like our one day a week online is miserable to them now that we are back to some in-person learning. I think there is a dread of sitting in front of the computer all day long without being able to socialize with peers hanging over their heads. There has been a lack of joys in teaching this year.

Little Joys Exisit

Today, in one of my classes we got on the topic of weird food combos. (I have no idea how we got here- it’s middle school.) So, I asked my students: What’s the weirdest food combo you have tried or seen?

Here are their responses:

We can choose to bring joy into our remote classes. Our students need it, and so do we. Find the little joys in a crummy situation.
  • – Ketchup and Eggs
  • – Cornchips and Nutella
  • – Chips and Chocolate
  • – French Fries and Ice Cream
  • – Pizza and Ketchup
  • – Pineapple and cottage cheese
  • – Pretzels with ketchup
  • – Mac and cheese with ketchup (I am noticing a theme here.)
  • – Steak and Ketchup
  • – Yogurt and chips
  • – Cookies and salsa 

And the best one?

A student said their dad likes syrup on noodles 

I had to ask, “Is your dad Buddy the Elf?!”

This is just one of the little joys that made my day. 

However, I am hoping that these small moments of off-topic conversation and laughter bring a smile to their face throughout our virtual day attached to the computer. I know the moments where we go off-topic to see everyone’s pets or talk about random things makes my day go a little smoother and feel a little lighter. 

Finding the Little Joy in Online Learning

There are other teachers who will send their kids on a scavenger hunt to find something so the students can get up and out of their chairs for just a minute. Our student council is running a food drive, and one teacher had their students turn off their cameras to grab a can and bring it back to encourage helping out a good cause. 

Our students need some of these little joys, conversations or connections, and games during this time. It is encouraging to me to see teachers trying to make the best of it regardless of hybrid, remote, in-person, or completely virtual. We should be building relationships with our students during this and it is one way to keep getting to know our students and have fun with them even when they aren’t in the room with us physically. 

While we head into the second semester, I want to encourage all of us to keep building those relationships with our students. Keep reaching out and making interactions fun. It can mean the world to one student to be able to have a little joy-filled moment to hold onto for the rest of the day.  Keep finding the little joys in teaching this year.

Forget About 2020, Just Hold onto Its Lessons

Bring on 2021

With the new year and the hurry to forget about 2020, we are all surrounded by new years resolutions, diets, exercise programs, learning opportunities… and the list goes on and on. 

This past year has been a struggle for all of us. None of us were unaffected by the virus. 

Students and teachers across the nation have had to rethink how they approach learning, schedules, teaching, and technology almost overnight. It hasn’t been easy, but we did it. We survived. 

Surviving not Thriving

I wish I could say that we all thrived as much as we had hoped we would in 2020, but I know many of us haven’t. It’s been a fight to stay on top of the constant changes, keeping the fear of the rug being pulled out from under us at bay, and the elevated anxieties below the surface. 2020 has messed us up. A lot. 

So, I want to encourage you to reflect on the things you did this year you never thought you could do. Look back at the start of the school year- you learned new online platforms, digitized lessons plans, created interactive lessons to keep students engaged in online meetings… 

Students have stepped up to the plate to learn in a new way- remote, hybrid, online. Students learned new time management, planning, and tech skills. Students have also learned the importance of self-care and connection with others.

Now, what for 2021?

This year has shown us a lot- good and bad. Yet, we have managed to make it to the end of the year stronger than when we started. 

I am not sure what 2021 will bring, but I do know that 2021 is getting a completely different people than any of us have been before. Let’s use 2021 to help hone in on the strength we gained from 2020. This time, the New Year is going to be a year of continued training of our strengths so even when we hit another wall we know we can run right through it. 

So let’s forget 2020 and continue to hold onto it’s lessons it taught us in 2021.

Remote Learning Well-Being

We have been remote learning for a few weeks now and I gotta say, I am definitely over it. The students are too. 

Although there have been some positives coming out of remote learning and I am grateful for any tiny sliver of hope. As we wrap up the semester, my students have come up with innovative ways to share their genius hour presentations and they are learning podcasting with grace. For my other students, I am just glad they decided to sign onto the google meet. 

Something happened last week that really struck a chord with me. One of my top students snapped at me about his book group. He knows I am willing to discuss and hear them out on just about everything if they disagree. So when he copped an attitude with me I was stunned. 

The next day I received an apology email from him, unprompted. I wrote him back and accepted his apology, but I asked him if he was ok since this was uncharacteristic of him. He told me, “It was just ‘a wrong side of the bed type of day,’ and I think not having anyone around while I am home is hard. Everyone else seems to have siblings or parents that work from home. It’s getting old.” 

Gosh, that struck me about our (teacher and students) wellbeing during this remote learning. 

After having to quarantine twice this year, I recognized when I started to slip into a funk I needed to pause and check in with myself on how I was really feeling: Had I gone outside for a walk? Did I eat junk all day? How’s my water intake? Have I  talked to someone on the phone/facetime? Have I done something that I enjoy? 

Majority of the time I had answered negatively to those questions, meaning I hadn’t been really taking care of myself mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to check in with yourself using the above checklist. 

Run through it in times of high anxiety or sadness. This isn’t easy for any of us. We are built as social creatures and while a computer screen with people on a call is ok, it’s not the same. 

These next three weeks are going to be a challenge for us as teachers and our students. Let’s do our best to keep an eye out for each other. 

Teacher Parents

Today I’m struggling. Today I’m trying to manage my kindergartner while teaching my middle school classes. I’m trying to be the best teacher I can be while also trying to be a parent. I’m almost in tears as I write this because while I’m teaching online, my daughter is sitting there frustrated because she’s trying to figure out what to do next for her meeting. But I also need my job. 

So today, I struggle with:  A. Do I be a parent and help my daughter learn and be successful? Or B. Do I tell her to wait while she cries in frustration while I teach my students to the best of my ability? This isn’t an easy job, it’s impossible. A lot is being asked of us and I will gladly do it for my students and I’ll gladly do it for my own daughter. I’ll do it for the safety of the rest of the school, my staff, but please understand that when a school goes fully remote we don’t get free time. Especially parents who are teachers. We get the additional worry of making sure our own students at home are learning plus attempting to understand what’s being asked of them regardless of their age. 

This year has been a challenge for all of us educators, parents, and students alike. This year is especially different given that all of the expectations have changed, and consistently continue to change since March when we attempted remote learning the first time.  

While we have been fighting hard to keep our students in school and keep them among their peers and learning at a rigorous rate; when you’re thrown into quarantine twice in a matter of weeks and then your daughter (children) are quarantine on top of going fully remote for a week before a long holiday break, you start to lose your patience. You lose your patience with parents who demand that we keep kids in school regardless of the numbers, risk, safety. You lose your patience with the students who are coming to school sick. You lose your patience when kids are being tested for this virus over and over and over again and still, being sent to school only to quarantine a whole group of their peers and teachers. 

My question is how is this fair? How is this fair to our teachers or parents? I don’t know that there’s a right answer for any of it and the frustrating part is that I wish I had a solution and I don’t. 

I’m coming to you today as a parent who has been in quarantine twice. 

I’ve missed out on family time with members outside my immediate household since September, my girls haven’t seen their grandparents since then, and shortly after I was put in quarantine my daughter was put in quarantine. She’s a kindergartner. She’s now having to do her learning at home on a tablet. Thank God she has an amazing teacher who is patient and willing to explain all of the steps and tools and expectations that she needs to do at home while managing 14 other kindergartners on a screen. This quarantine threatens our Thanksgiving, our traditions, our needs. Next, quarantine will threaten our Christmas. 

I’ve been told by several parents that it’s important that we keep our kids in school, it’s important for their mental health. Yes, I 100% agree. However, you have to also consider the fact that the teachers are human too and we need to be able to spend time with our families. When a sick child is sent to school or waiting on a Covid test, you’re risking taking away time for that teacher to spend with their family. I’ve been looked at as essential personnel this year. I have now gotten a glimpse at how essential personnel are currently being treated.  We’re treated as if we’re not doing enough. As if we aren’t taking any risk every day when all we really do is go to work and come home to our families. I was even told that I have more free time now that I’m at home, teaching online, not only by a student but also a parent. It’s frustrating to see that we are still thought of so little as educators even though in the spring we were more than needed and maybe finally feeling appreciated. 

It’s also frustrating when at the beginning of the year so many parents wanted us to be in school and thought that we weren’t doing enough even when we started school. I don’t know if there’s a happy middle ground. I don’t know that there’s a solution, but I do know that this week alone has taught me how undervalued and under appreciated I feel as a teacher who is also a parent of a student having to deal with quarantine over and over again. 

This by far has been the hardest year of my teaching career. I feel like a first year teacher when it comes to online learning in all my attempts at keeping my students engaged. Trying to keep students willing to participate for 40 minutes at a time, while we’re expecting the students to have enough motivation to last online all day is extremely hard. It’s also wearing, on me and on them. I’m exhausted at the end of the day, even though it may seem like I’ve done nothing but sit all day. My muscles ache from the lack of movement. My heart hurts from not being able to see my students in person. I am proud to say that the majority of my students have adapted well to hybrid learning and moving to remote education. But there are others who don’t have the support at home. There are others who refuse to get online for a 40 minute class. There are a lot of kids that have already checked out. I’m not sure how to bring them back in. I’m uncertain how to get them to care, because I honestly understand, it’s hard to care about something when your teachers are on a screen. It’s hard to care about something when you’re required to stare at a computer all day. 

Letting Go of Expectations

We are well into the start of the school year. Things may or may not have slowed down. Stress levels may be even higher than they were before the start of the year or they may have remained the same. 

I always learn something new every year about myself and how to be a better teacher. Usually, this takes about 4 months into the year or even until the end of the year for me to realize what I’ve learned. This year I have to pause and reflect on the work that I am doing much earlier than expected: 

  • What is working? 
  • What format do we use for assignments? 
  • How do we let students know about work? 
  • What about parents? 
  • How do we keep track of what class is doing what? 
  • What day is it? 
  • Who am I? 
  • Am I sure I want to do this for a career? 

These questions are accompanied this year with a lot of frustrations, fears, anxieties, anger, and tears. (Wine too) All before school even started, I questioned staying in my job A LOT! I wasn’t trained to teach this way: hybrid model, masks on, virtually, students on computers all the time… The whole process has been confusing and nerve wracking; even before it started. 

During our training we did an activity where we looked at our expectations in a new way. We took a cup of various colored paint and a plain white canvas and were told that these two things represent our expectations for the year. The cup of paint was filled with various colors to represent all of our expectations- in person learning, no masks, perfect lesson plans, students that listen – (we can wish right?) – all perfectly contained in this little cup. We were then told to take the cup and dump it in the middle of the canvas, move the paint around until the whole canvas was covered.

It was messy. It wasn’t an “art” we are used to. We had to let go of the rigidity of our perfect expectation in a cup and let them go where they wanted to go. The results were stunning. The marbled look of the different colors blended together, yet still having distinct boundaries was amazing. When the canvas was dry, we were all amazed at the work of art we created by just letting go of the control and seeing where the paint ended up. Some teacher’s looked like galaxies, others glaciers with various colors of ice, there were some sunsets, and even a few that resembled the rock formations at Arches National Park. 

The point of this exercise is an obvious one. However, it has taught me a lesson early this year about my own abilities as a teacher when I reflect on the start of the year. 

It has taught me that I can still have the structure in my classroom I know my students need, but it also allows me to be flexible in the structure I use to help my students learn. It has taught me there is a tried and true way of doing things, and while change is hard, sometimes it brings out some of the best teaching and learning. It has taught me there is beauty in this struggle, and the outcome is going to be amazing regardless of the hard things. 

So take a breath, we got this. As teachers we may not have been trained on teaching online, but we were trained to adapt and be prepared for anything. Find the beauty in this mess of a school year, I promise it’s there, even on the hard days.

The Pressure of a Label

When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice. 

A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career. 

So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time) 

When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.” 

Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal. 

 The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such: 

“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents: 

• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata. 

• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

 • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

 • Require varied services based on their changing needs.”

This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old. 

We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already. 

Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday. 

Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level. 

ALPs, What’s the Point?

I recently had a parent contact me about their student’s Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) wondering about the whole point of an ALP in schools. Naturally, I was eager to meet and tell this parent about how the ALP works in schools and how they can use this document at home to have conversations with their students about their goals for the year. 

The day of the meeting I started to have some second thoughts about the meeting going well and really proving to this parent that ALP’s serve a purpose. Why? Well when I really took the time to think about how ALP’s are used (or not used) in schools I could start to see where this parent had some concerns. 

Majority of the time, in secondary schools, ALP’s are for the benefit of the GT Specialist and being in compliance with the state requirements of having to prove that we serve these students. Now parents who are familiar with ALPs and know of their importance to their students’ growth and development appreciate this document and check in with their student on how things are going. Teacher’s might appreciate the document, but it is often put in the file cabinet next to the previous years ALPs. Now I am making generalizations as I write this because there are some teachers who do look at these plans and use them or support them in their classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and overworked on a daily basis, I truly understand why these plans are often not utilized. 

Here is my point: Specialists create these plans and check in with our students in hopes that parents are actually checking in with their kids on goals at home. When I see a parent look at an ALP and assume that their child is fine or they don’t need to check in with them; it frustrates me. If parents don’t see the value in these goals or plans, let’s make some changes to the ALP. It’s a working document for a reason. Goals change. Social emotional needs change.  I try my best to make sure students are on track, but I am one person with 86 kids plus my classes that I teach daily – all to keep track of. I need parents’ help to hold their children accountable because really the children need to learn self accountability in making sure goals are met. 

If parents show an interest, I can promise your kids will own the responsibility of taking them a little more seriously as well. If students are investing in their goals and asking teachers for support they would be able to achieve growth at a whole new level. Why not sit down with your kids and have the conversation about their goals and why they choose them, check in with them and help them develop accountability and discipline for setting and achieving these goals. 

In a world full of distractions – we are distracted from our children and from what is happening in their education. I believe we need to be more aware of what is happening with our students through asking questions and supporting our kids in their goals. We are always looking for ways to connect with our kids in this technology connected world, so why not try and connect with them over things they are passionate about in the ALP? 

Take the time to read over their ALP with them and discuss how their goals are going to be achieved? Why did they choose those particular goals? Ask them how you can support them at home with their goals? It might give you some insight to their drive and motivation and individual intellect. It will also let you in on their social emotional needs. 

As a GT specialist, I may not have a ton of pull for the ALPs other than making sure they are getting done. If you are a parent of a GT kid, you have the power to work with your kids and see that their goals are accomplished. In an ideal world, I would hold formal ALP meetings with parents, students and a teacher (similar to an Individualized Education Plan meeting in Special Education) so that everyone who works with the student at school and home is aware of the support the student needs in various areas. Someday I hope to do this, but for now the system in place is going to have to work.

No School, Now What?

Most of the country is canceling school for several weeks at a time and this has parents in a panic of what they can do with their kids in the midst of “social distancing”. As a parent to younger kids, I am worried about this as well, so I have been trying to find ways to have some structure to our weekdays in the midst of not being able to go anywhere. As a middle school teacher, I am panicking about my students ending up with screens in front of them all day long and worried they won’t pick up a book to read while their parents are still required to go to work. 

So I have been gathering some resources for my own kids and I wanted to share them all in one spot to help parents looking for some things to keep their kids engaged during school closures. First up is a schedule for you to follow with some ideas of what to do for each activity. 

This is from NESCA and I personally will be setting alarms with labels on my phone so I know where we are in our day. I really like the additional suggestions because I run out of ideas for my five-year-old and this helps me not just sit her in front of the TV while I stare at my phone. As a secondary teacher, I think this schedule works well for older kids too. This allows them to do productive things and still have some of their own screen time. NESCA has some great suggestions in their blog post here

Resources

Up next are some websites with FREE access to their learning materials for parents to use with their kids. I have looked through them with a parent’s eye and they are easy to understand and fun to do with your kids. (Plus this will keep you off your phone or watching TV all day too.): 

  • Scholastic has lessons and units broken down by grade level.  
    • “Even when schools are closed, you can keep the learning going with these special cross-curricular journeys. Every day includes four separate learning experiences, each built around a thrilling, meaningful story or video. Kids can do them on their own, with their families, or with their teachers. Just find your grade level and let the learning begin!”
  • Virtual Tours – Take a tour from home as a family! 
    • “But there is a way to get a little culture and education while you’re confined to your home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world.”
  • Science Activities– these are broken up by grade level and are broken up by the amount of time each lesson takes. 
    • “All of the lessons below are expertly designed to engage students, achieve learning outcomes, and be easy for teachers to use. We have short mini-lessons that are completely digital and full lessons that include an activity. All of the activities are designed to use simple supplies a parent will likely already have at home.”
  • Language Arts Challenge
    • “The materials will allow students to work at their own pace. I know many students don’t have access to a computer or to wifi, so all of the resources can be used without any tech.”
  • Homeschool Curriculum
    • “To support all quarantined families, our charter school-approved curriculum is 100% free for the next 3 weeks. Just use the button below, create a profile for your kids’ ages (2-7 yrs), and get started with super simple, no-fuss, easy to implement ideas or lessons for the kids to try each and every day.” 
  • Activities for kids 
    • “They’re a way for me to help break up the day, keep the kids from asking 47 “but why…?” questions, buy myself a chance to unload the dishwasher or hit the reset button if things aren’t going so well. Activities aren’t a must to make life work at home – but they are a great tool when you need them.”
  • Amazing Educational Resources
    • This is a good doc with links to sites that are offering FREE access to their materials while schools are canceled. She is updating the site daily! I would recommend reading the descriptions of each link and using the ones you feel are most applicable and user-friendly. 
  • Finally just a quick graphic with some websites: 

While these times are unknown and our day to day “normalcy” is turned upside down, I encourage you to look at this time of a way to reconnect with your kids. Let them show you some of the things they are capable of that we don’t get to see in action. Reconnect with them and show them they are safe. (Especially our empath kiddos, they are absorbing a lot of the stress from the outside world and they need a soft place to land.) 

In the end…

I would also encourage you to limit your conversations about this virus around your kids because I can guarantee they are listening and absorbing your attitude towards “social distancing”, precautions, panic, stress, anxiety, etc. I also really encourage you to keep in check your own exposure to what you are reading, watching, and talking about. We can’t expose ourselves to the negativity and panic without starting to absorb and project those things to others.   

I hope these resources are helpful and encourage all of us to take the time to focus on our kids and what they need from us right now. I hope it also helps us not remain so hyperfocused on panic and unknown happening in our world. Be safe, Be kind, Be well.

Not Just Gifted at School

This post is special since a dear friend of mine wrote it. I asked her to write about her own experience as a parent of a gifted child to hopefully show you that you are not alone in your own journey.

It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t dealing with your typical average 3 year old. Here we are riding in the car, going to the store when my son speaks up from the back seat. “Mom, do you know what 3+4+2+1+3+2+4+3 equals?” I was driving so I didn’t spout off an answer right away, honestly I was curious what his response would be, and secretly I wouldn’t have been able to give him an immediate answer. Pretty quickly he says “I do, it is 22!” He said with such enthusiasm and delight. It was at that moment I knew this kid was going to give me a run for my money.

Outside of his love for numbers Tagen seemed like your typical little boy. He loved playing outside, loved the be with friends and family. You often hear of the social disconnect some gifted children have, only really relating to those much older than themselves. That wasn’t something I really ever noticed with my kiddo. What I did notice was the emotional variations. Some days we were great about things, then the next day those same activities would throw him into a spiral. At a young age he was always very much about things being fair. If his friend got to pick their seat it was only fair that he also got that same privilege. Or if his sister got to stay up past her bedtime by 10 minutes, then it was only fair that he got to stay up 10 extra minutes as well. Regardless of the circumstances, things have to be “fair”.

Thankfully the academics haven’t been an issue for Tagen, he will get his homework done, doesn’t usually fight it, and very seldom needs my help. Socially we have worked a bit more to be accepting of others differences in abilities and know that life isn’t always fair and you won’t always get the same things those around you get. This proved to be most difficult during 3rd and 4th grade so far. Tagen was extremely bored in class, had a few teachers who weren’t sure how to work with higher achieving kids, or strong willed boys. This lead to many trips to the principal’s office and me having her  number programed into my phone. My heart would sink every time I would see her number pop up. Not knowing what the issue was now. One day it was because he choose to draw a unicorn pooping out the math answer. He had finished answering the question with time to spare and used his artistic abilities to spice his white board up a bit. Needless to say his teacher wasn’t a fan and sent him right to the office. Sadly she was the only one who got to see the drawing, which was too bad, the kid has some talents in the art department. My question to the teacher, “Was his answer correct?” I don’t think she was a fan. There was another call from the office because Tagen was sitting at the bottom of the slide and wouldn’t move. A classmate tattled and rather than give a redirection the teacher sent him straight to the office. I was beginning to think this teacher had it out for my kid. Conferences during 3rd grade were rough as well, she could never seem to start them with anything nice to say. I was really starting to think I had a problem child in the making, and as a teacher myself, wasn’t about to take that lying down. I reached out to some other teachers from the past and they assured me he wasn’t the issue. It was simply that his current teacher hadn’t take the time to really get to know him and his quirks and tailor to his needs.

Now 4th grade was a bit better, the gifted specialist for his school really stepped in to help that teacher out with those boys in her room who needed the challenge. We still saw some behaviors, he did get suspended for fighting that year. Again, he believes things need to be fair, and it was only fair that he push the kid back because he was pushed. Needless to say we have had several conversations about expressing ourselves when we feel things are not fair. And again about things won’t always be the same for everyone. Tagen is in 5th grade this year and has really matured. I think it helps that they chose to move him up to 6th grade math, he is feeling more of the challenge and the teacher has taken the time to get to know him.

I know it isn’t the same for all gifted children, they all have their quirks and vices. Tagen will hopefully always be interested in learning, just leaving us with the emotional end to work more on at home. He is discovering what he is passionate about, and to my husband’s dismay it isn’t sports all that much. You just never know what to expect, and that is true for all kids regardless of their academic ability. As parents I feel like we need to support one another rather than compete over who has the more gifted or advanced child. Am I proud of him, you bet your sweet booty I am. I try not to go overboard however, I don’t want to create that monster child who thinks that just because he is gifted he is the best. I ask him daily what is one thing he failed at. He thinks I’m crazy but he is also learning that it is okay to fail at things, what matters is how you come back and respond.

Raising children is tough no matter what, raising a gifted child will bring a whole new level of soul searching. There are so many days I feel like I can’t offer him what he needs. Then I remember, he needs a mom who will give him unconditional love no matter what, a parent who will have those hard conversations with him and a role model of how to fail with grace and dignity then get back up and go at it again. Let’s take care of one another and remember, we are sending the next generation of leaders out into the world.

Why is my GT kid so intense?

Dabrowski is known for coming up with 5 areas children will exhibit intense behaviors and labeled them as “overexcitabilities”. It’s important to note that these are not limited to just gifted students, and can be experienced by all children and even adults. The other important thing to note is overexcitabilities (OE) are not used for clinical diagnosis purposes, but rather are used to help children understand and manage their OE’s in a positive way.

The 5 areas of OE’s are:

  • Psychomotor
    • Child has so much energy, never sits still for long
    • Child fidgets, has rapid speech, some sort of constant movement
  • Sensual/Sensory
    • Child avoids certain stimuli
    • Child has an extreme reaction to sound and/or touch (tags in clothes, texture of paper, loud sounds, different pitches of sound)
  • Intellectual
    • Child likes to experiment a lot
    • Child has unending curiosity
    • Child will sometimes worry about fairness and injustice
    • Child wants to learn everything and anything about their passions
  • Imaginational
    • Child has many imaginary friends or worlds that are real to them
    • Child will daydream a lot and has difficulty “tuning in” to lessons
  • Emotional
    • Child has deep sensitivities and acutely aware of their feelings
    • Child may internalize experiences
    • Child may overreact because they hold in school stress until they reach a safe place to be able to vent

Now most children will tend to exhibit one of these OE’s versus having all of these at once. Some children will exhibit one OE more than the others, but can show some small signs of another OE.

Even just having to help your child navigate through one OE is time consuming and overwhelming for you and the child. So what are the benefits of your child having an OE?

  • Improved learning once OE is known
    • Psychomotor- allowing extra movement or fidgets while in class can help improve child’s ability to maintain attention.  
    • Sensory- seating away from distractions, providing a calm place to refocus allows the student to experience learning in a healthy way.  
  • Prevention of misdiagnosis
    • OE’s can look like ADHD, autism, SPD, etc- if we are able to identify an OE it allows you to avoid a misdiagnosis that can be cause more harm with unnecessary medicine or testing.
  • Improved student/teacher/parent relationships
    • OE’s help everyone working with the child understand the reason behind behaviors
    • Allows the child’s OE to be handled with empathy and compassion thus allowing them to learn how to cope and celebrate their sensitivities as strengths.
  • Mental health assistance
    • Knowing a child has OE’s helps increase the success of counseling gifted children.
    • Lessens the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression because it allows parents to help them with coping techniques for their OE.
  • Gifted identification
    • OE’s can increase with level of giftedness which allows parents and teachers assess a deeper level understand the students needs. (OE’s might be used to help identify students someday rather than current testing.)

So now what? We know what OE’s are, what they look like, and their benefits, but we should always be working on increasing our own understanding of things happening with our gifted students. Here are a few ideas:

  • Parent/Advocacy groups
    • SENG– Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted has support groups as well as articles and courses on OE’s
  • Connect with other parents who have children with OE’s
    • Facebook groups, local district or state groups
  • Administrators
    • Include trainings for teachers and staff on OE’s for gifted students. Educate your staff on how to help students cope and feel successful in the classroom if they have OE’s.
  • Teachers and Parents
    • Seek out additional resources to help you work with OE’s in a positive way. See the book list below and handout.

Book and Article Recommendations:

Check the quick do’s and don’ts when it comes to helping your child with their OE’s in a healthy way. Click here for a FREE download.