Keeping Older Gifted Kids Engaged

When my kids were little I told them their brains were like a super power and they had to practice their skills, just like the Incredibles, if they wanted to achieve superhero status one day. I cast myself as their Alfred. It was my job to protect them and give them chances to practice. Even though my teenagers are no longer planning their superhero costumes, they still need an Alfred in their corner. I just have to be stealthier about it. Activity books and educational TV might work when they are younger but to an older kid, that looks like homework, and well, educational TV.

Here are some other ideas for how to be your kid’s Alfred and keep them engaged at home.

Family book club.  Last year, Isabelle and I created an impromptu book club.  We picked two books and a movie that complimented each other. After we independently read both books, we watched the movie together, and then had a lively discussion over fancy hot chocolate. That was three weeks where she was motivated, engaged, and learning outside of what her classes were providing.  

Field trips. My gifted kids have the skill to focus on one topic or interest intently and really plumb the depths of it. Alligators, Hello Kitty, and Jane Goodall have all been all-consuming topics at my house over the years. If your kids are like this too, use it to your advantage. I remember driving to St Louis one winter so Isaac could see a Marc Chagall painting in real life when he was infatuated with the artist. That trip lead to Isaac’s discovery of Jackson Pollack and started him on a years long self-motivated learning project on contemporary art.  

Ask them to do the math.  I need a calculator to do math. My kids on the other hand, come in really handy when I need a quick percentage figured on the fly. So I ask them for help. They are smarter than me and understand math in ways I never will but I engage them in their wheelhouse anyway. I don’t need to do math in my head when I can ask a kid to do it in theirs. Maybe your kid has a gift in another area. Whatever it is, find ways to ask them to use that gift and keep them sharp.  

Register with Duke TIP.  Most kids can apply to Duke TIP by taking the ACT their seventh grade year. But don’t worry if you’ve missed that deadline as there are opportunities to be “talent scouted” throughout middle and high school. Duke TIP has been a good resource for my family.  We haven’t utilized the summer camps, but weekend camps, online classes, and definitely the newsletter have all been helpful.

Camps. I ask my teenagers not to work during the school year so concentrated summer work hours take priority. However, I do some research and find a few summer camps that might be interesting to them and let them decide how much time off to request.  

It can be difficult to see your gifted children sitting on the couch binge-watching yet another superhero series while you worry their brains are turning to mush. But don’t threaten them with learning opportunities or make learning not fun.

There is a fine line between not letting your gifted kid get lazy but at the same time, allowing them to be kids. Also, gifted is not the same thing as self-motivated. A lot of teenagers will do exactly what’s required, especially when “required” requires zero effort on their part.

I try to let my kids take the lead, and I stay ready to shift gears quickly.  

How do you keep your gifted students engaged?


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