How To Recognize And Develop Your Children's Special Talents
All children have special talents that need to be noticed and nurtured so they will do well in school and in their later lives. In the past, poor students, students with limited English language skills, and students from diverse cultures have been overlooked by schools when they selected children for programs for the gifted. Schools used a very narrow definition of intelligence that did not account for the different ways that children show their abilities, or for the fact that some children have difficulty in showing their talents at all. Now, though, schools are using broader- and fairer--methods to identify children with special talents, and the students in gifted programs represent much more varied backgrounds.
Parents can be very important in helping their children develop their talents by working with them at home. Parents can also make schools aware of their children's talents, and work with them to make sure that their children are in a program that challenges them intellectually and responds to their educational and emotional needs.
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Children's talents should be developed as early as possible so they can achieve their full potential. Parents don't need to be very educated themselves--or have a great deal of money, or even time--to help their children learn and improve their ability to think and communicate. Here are some things to do at home:
- Set high academic goals for your children. Tell them that success is possible, that they will benefit later in life from doing well in school, and that families and their teachers expect them to do well. Help them develop a sense of pride in their identity, both personal and cultural.
- Talk to and play with your children. Have conversations about current events, what's happening in the neighborhood, and what you all did during the day. As you go through your daily routine, explain what you are doing and why. Encourage your children to ask questions that you can answer or help them answer. Make up stories together. Read to them, play games, and do puzzles together.
- Ask your children to pay attention to the way people speak on the radio and TV. Talk about why learning to use good English speech patterns will help them in school and later in life.
- Pay attention to what your children like to do, such as a hobby, drawing, or working with numbers. Help them develop those skills or find out where in the community they can participate in learning enrichment activities. Start early; Head Start and other preschool programs can give your children many advantages.
- Take your children to places where they can learn. Find out about story times at the library and bookstores, and about children's events at museums and community centers. Check out free books and games at the library.
- Take a parenting course in the community or at school that teaches how to develop children's talents.
- Find a mentor in your family or community who can help your children develop their talents and serve as a role model for academic achievement.
- Find out about early talent identification programs so that when your children begin preschool or school they will receive an education that challenges them. Also find out about local community or religious preschools and after-school enrichment programs.
- Set up a quiet study space for your children and help them with their homework, or find them an after-school program that provides a place for studying without distractions.
All parents are partners in their children's education, and all parents have a place in their children's school, regardless of their own education or economic status. Parents should also know that their children can get a good education in public schools, but they may need to help school people understand how their children's talents can best be developed. Here are some ways for parents to work with schools:
- Ask the school to provide training in recognizing signs of talent and intelligence in children. Some schools give out a "parent nomination form" so parents can check off ways that their children are gifted.
- Find out about enrichment programs for gifted students and tell the school about all your children's talents and why you think your children should be placed in such a program.
- Lobby the school for early and bias-free assessment of children's talent and intelligence. All the abilities of all children should be considered.
- Pay attention to the curriculum and instruction in your children's gifted program to be sure it is successful with their learning style. Some schools distribute a newsletter about their special programs to keep parents informed; ask your school to do this, or even volunteer to help produce it.
- Be sure that your children are given the support they need to be retained in the program. Ask for enrichment or tutoring if you children aren't doing well in a gifted program.
- Ask for--or help create--a support system for parents. It can include workshops and dissemination of information about ways to help develop children's talent at home, and about enrichment materials for use at home and ways to get them at minimum cost.
Children with many different learning styles, educational backgrounds, and academic and social skills participate in programs for specially talented students. The following curriculum and teaching strategies are especially effective in multicultural gifted programs. Parents can work with schools to make sure that their children's education includes them:
- An orientation toward achievement and success, and high expectations.
- One-to-one teaching and small learning groups of students.
- Mentoring by adults or older gifted students.
- Special attention to development of communication skills, particularly for bilingual students and those who speak non-standard English.
- A multicultural focus and instruction based on the children's experience.
- Use of community resources.
This guide was written by Wendy Schwartz. A related digest, Strategies for Identifying Talent Among Diverse Students, is published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Box 40, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, 800/601-4868, Fax: 212/678-4012, Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org