One of the biggest questions I have from parents of the gifted students I teach is how their child is “fitting in” socially and emotionally. In this era, where anti-bullying is such a hot topic, it is on everyone’s mind. Sometimes, gifted and highly advanced students have difficulty fitting in with their age level peers. In fact, most gifted children are more likely to form friendships with older children, or adults. Many students report a feeling of loneliness or social isolation during school, or that the other students “just don’t like them”. The higher the IQ of a child, the more intense these feelings can be. As a parent, how do you help with this? You can’t go to school and make friends for them. It can be heartbreaking to watch them attempt to navigate the intricate social webs of school.
Prior to age 10, gifted students report that they often feel isolated in a classroom, and as teachers we see them conform their behavior to meet their classmates’ expectations. No one likes to stand out, and there is a lot of pressure when you’re the “smart kid”. Girls often fear social isolation more deeply than boys and as a consequence some may play down their academic success and hide their intelligence.
As an educator of gifted students, one of the things that I try to do is mentor them socially as well. With the students that are in my group together, I want them to feel as if they are a team. Gifted students thrive in a setting where they are among their academic peers. Many times I am approached by colleagues with comments such as “Wow! I’ve never seen that student________” — talk, act excited, work so hard, participate….etc. In my opinion, it’s all about the appropriate environment. In my small group class, with their academic equals, there is no pressure to be (or not be) the “smart kid”. We’re all just kids here. Informally we work on social skills. They get to vent about how they feel in their classroom, and we get to brainstorm ways to cope and behave. (…Yes Susie, I realize that the teacher made a mistake, but next time you probably shouldn’t shout it out….)
One of their biggest gripes are about teacher comments. “You should know this, you’re in Gifted and Talented.” “What do you mean you don’t understand? Don’t you go to G&T?” One of my favorite student comments ever: “Just because I’m smart doesn’t mean I know everything. I have to learn things too.”. The students tell me that comments like these just egg on their peers, and at times create even more difficult social interactions.
When I envisioned Camp Cranium, one of my main goals was to create a “safe haven” where gifted and advanced students could be with their intellectual peers. Most gifted students have similar interests; classes were developed that played to their heightened imaginations and creativity. Small groups are preferred by gifted students because it decreases social anxiety, so classes are capped at 10 or 12. Educators that are employed at Camp Cranium are sensitive to the needs of a gifted or advanced student, and at no time will they ever hear, “You should know this because you’re in Gifted and Talented.” They are allowed to learn, participate, make mistakes and grow just like every other student. Because classes have a more relaxed atmosphere than a typical school, they have the opportunity to make friends with their intellectual peers.
The best part of all of this? It happened! Camp Cranium runs exactly how I envisioned it. Students take classes that they are highly interested in. Even though many of the classes seem like a fictional or fun topic, they all have quality educational premises behind them. (See post on Zombies) The relaxed environment gives them time to work together and develop their interests. In the lunch time and breaks I see the students getting to know each other, talking and laughing. And, what’s even better? Many of these friendships have continued outside of camp. It warms my heart when I get pictures of Camp Cranium alumni getting together and friendships deepening.
My favorite camper line ever came at the end of the first summer, and I’ll never forget it:
“I have found my people.”
Just what I was aiming for. 🙂
Further Links about Gifted Students and Social Interactions: