Retiring Special Friends

Retiring Special Friends: HoagiesGifted Blog Hop

True story. I spent one winter holiday in Italy with my father’s family, while my parents went on a vacation by themselves. My one uncle believed that I was too old to still be sleeping with a teddy bear. So, the day after my 10th birthday – as I slept in bed – my teddy bear was removed from my arms.

When I woke up and demanded to know where my special friend was, all the adults decided that lying to me would be better than just simply saying, “Grow up, girlie. You’re too old to carry around a stuffed animal.” Instead, they made up a story about how a giant mouse must have crept into my room and thought my teddy would make good bedding for her children.

I was furious. I never got my teddy bear back.

For decades, academic papers and professional conference workshops have addressed the idea of transitional objects – blankies – teddies – those highly attached-to cuddle objects that go from hand to floor to mouth to bed without a second thought from the same mom who snatches the pretzel away from baby even if it falls within the 5-second rule. A pretty sound consensus exists that cuddle objects are not psychologically damaging to children. And, more importantly, no specific age exists for when special friends should be retired from everyday life.

Researchers now know that humans have a naturally occurring cuddle hormone – oxytocin. Petting a beloved pet, getting a hug from someone we know, or clutching a special friend can stimulate our brains to release oxytocin. With oxytocin in our system, a person is more disposed to bonding, trusting, and building empathy with other people that they know.

One psychologist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Christopher Peterson, once conducted an informal poll on special friends. How many college students had brought their stuffed animal to school? According to Peterson, roughly 80% of his female students and 10% of his male students in his mid-size lecture hall class publicly acknowledged bringing their lovey object to college.

Age: Unknown
Belongs to: Maria Hurley
(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It can be hard to watch our children grow up with few friends in life. When you’re an outlier, it can happen.

Oftentimes, it’s not a matter of our children not having appropriate social skills. Rather, it’s more a matter of not having an appropriate peer group. We see the sad effects of ostracism with children who have a physical disability or cognitive limitations, yet we never think to blame those children for not being more socially adept.

So, why do we find fault with our gifted kids when they are not accepted by their age-peers? Worse yet, why do we feel compelled to disallow them the comfort of their one true friend who has always stood by their side?

As parents, we strive to nurture our children into confident people who can find their comfortable niche in society. It can be painful to let our kids make decisions – like carrying a stuffed animal around in public – that may ultimately lead to teasing. (Or, is it the disapproving looks from other parents we fear?)

No straight-forward answer exists to the question of when is the right time for a treasured friend to be retired to the bedroom. But, I will leave you with one query to consider, if you’re struggling with this issue?

What would Calvin say?

What are your thoughts about ‘special friends’?
Is there an age when they should be banned from leaving the house?

HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop About Gifted Friendships

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about gifted children and friendships, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.

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Calling In Well

NPGCW Blog Tour: Calling in Well

Back before I had kids, I read Tom Robbins’ novels. They were filled full of characters who thought and lived on the fringes of normal societal expectations. Let’s just say I probably had more in common with those characters than any Little Women you could think of.

As a just-turned-21-year-old college graduate, one particular passage really struck me.

You’ve heard of people calling in sick. You may have called in sick a few times yourself. But have you ever thought about calling in well?

It’d go like this: You’d get the boss on the line and say, “Listen, I’ve been sick ever since I started working here, but today I’m well and I won’t be in anymore.” Call in well.

I spent about 1 year in the professional work world before I became a full-time stay-at-home mother. I never took the chance of calling in well before I had kids, but the idea stuck with me and became part of my parenting plan.

Gorgeous spring day? Great! Schoolwork could wait because an emergency visit to the zoo, with a picnic lunch, oftentimes took priority.

When you’re 7-years old, you’re not really missing out on much when you play hooky. But, what about high school? Can you really miss days just because, well… you don’t want to go?

One of my kids attended public high school for a short while. Year 1 went pretty well. Year 2, not so much. He had 2 art classes, 1 AP class, and pre-calc (as well as a bunch of dual-enrolled classes at a local college). Grades weren’t an issue. It was just all the other stuff that comes with high school.

By February, things were not going so well, so we made a deal. He could take one day off from school a week under the following conditions:

  1. He couldn’t take the day off just so he could miss a test or skip handing in a project.
  2. He had to keep track of how many missed days he had, since the school had a policy that if you missed X days, you automatically failed the quarter. Failing by default was not an option.
  3. Well days could not be used to catch up on schoolwork. They had to be used for fun or relaxation.

After a few weeks of “calling in well”, something groovy happened. Life got better for everyone.

From a psychological perspective, you could call this helping a kid gain an internal locus of control. Rather than passively see one’s self as a victim of a system or the whims of others, a person learns to take responsibility for the course of their life and outcomes.

From a practical perspective, school was still the best of times and the worst of times. But, amidst all that foolishness, my kid gained some wisdom as he learned how to create healthy boundaries for himself – while still meeting his school obligations.

I got criticized for being an “indulgent parent”. But, I saw it differently. If I could trust my young teen to take early college classes, then I owed it to him to trust that he knew his personal, social-emotional limits with the social scene at high school – and I had no choice but to support him.

This blog post is part of the 2014 SENG (Support the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) National Parents of Gifted Children’s Blog Tour. Follow the Blog Tour all week and read other great blogs about the joys and challenges of raising gifted children.

How do you support your kids when they need a break from school or learning?
Would you allow them to call in well?

Read More Personal Musings

Early Reading Myth #2: When Your Gifted Child Doesn’t Read Before Kindergarten

Children who read before starting kindergarten tend to impress most people. You see a 5-year old reading The Hobbit and you think, “Dang! That kid is S.M.A.R.T.”

Gifted, they most certainly are; but, early reading does not always guarantee astounding achievement in high school. Last week I blogged about early readers who don’t always reach the academic potential that parents and teachers expected back in first grade.

For some kids the expectations were just a wee bit too high. For others, an underlying learning disability hadn’t been diagnosed, yet. And then there’s the group of gifted kids who intuitively learned the fundamentals but still needed direct instruction in some part of the reading process before they could continue to move ahead with their learning.

When you read research on the topic of early reading, it’s easy to be swayed by the notion that precocious reading is a requisite skill for later high achievement. Consider some findings reported over the last 90 years:

  • 43% of Lewis Terman’s Genetic Study of Genius adults (that began in the 1920s) were reading before age 5.
  • 80% of 13- and 14-year olds who scored a 580+ on the SAT Verbal section were reading by age 5, as reported by Joyce VanTassel-Baska from College of William and Mary.
  • 90% of profoundly gifted students (including Terence Tao) followed by Miraca Gross’ longitudinal study in Australia were reading before age 5.

So, what about gifted children who were not early readers? Are they not as smart as their precocious reading friends? Is academic success not in their future?

In an interview with Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, Dr. Nancy Robinson, a noted scholar and founder of the University of Washington’s Early Entrance Program for profoundly gifted children, frames it this way. “Early reading is clearly a sign of being at least “medium bright,” she says, before going on to note that it is not a skill exhibited by all gifted children.

Some highly and profoundly gifted children are capable of becoming early readers but choose not to develop the skill. The reason may be as simple as not wanting to give up the special snuggly reading time they’ve come to enjoy with their parents – yet, that very same child goes on to graduate high school at age 14.

Visual-spatial children – those who seem to learn things in whole chunks rather in a more linear, step-by-step fashion, have also been noted as late-readers. Visual-spatial children, as a group, tend to memorize whole words, rather than learn phonics skills.

A number of other reasons can account for why an otherwise brilliant child may not be reading before the age of 5. The following checklist may help parents tease apart if non-early reading is part of their child’s normal developmental path.

  • Playing With Sounds and Words
    Does your child like to make rhymes or play alliteration games, where they use the same first sound for every word in a sentence? Playing with oral language like this demonstrates an inherent understanding of essential phonological skills and provides critical practice that leads to eventual reading success. Children who have had a large number of early ear infections have been found to be delayed in acquiring phonological awareness skills. This does not mean the child won’t become a successful reader, but they will need some extra help in gaining skills they missed when they were sick.
  • Reading Environmental Print
    Environmental print includes corporate and sports logos, street signs, and other visual images that contain print and communicates information. Children may “read” environmental print when they see a fast food sign and tell you they’re hungry for a hamburger. Such reading and responding shows us that the child understands that symbols, letters, and words communicate ideas, which allows people to interact with the world and each other.
  • Rich Vocabulary
    Decades of research tell us that children with a large vocabulary in their younger years tend to have higher reading achievement in middle and high school. You don’t have to count every different word your child speaks to know if they’re at that 20,000 word “rich” level. Instead, throw in the occasional big word in your own conversation. Or, read vocabulary rich picture books together. See how your child responds to unfamiliar words. Can they deduce meaning? Do they connect the new word to words or ideas they already know? Do they begin to use the word in their own vocabulary? Seeing a child use these skills lets us know they’re thinking like a reader.
  • Complex Sentences
    Reading a paragraph is very different from reading a pack of flash card words. In order to understand the paragraph, a reader must be able to sound out every word – and then remember what each word means within each sentence – and how the meaning of each sentence links together within the paragraph. That takes a lot of brain power for a 6-year old. Young children who use and understand complex spoken language show us that they have the cognitive ability to remember and access the language skills that will eventually be used when they learn to read. So, what is a complex sentence? It’s the ability to correctly execute a 3-step command at the age of 4, such as “Go upstairs. Get your shoes. And ask Dad to put them on for you.” Or, it’s the ability to listen to a story and retell the beginning, middle, and end with little or no prompting.
  • Healthy Vision
    Children who appear clumsy and knock into furniture as they walk through a room or become disoriented when surrounded by lots of visual patterns (think a busy rug pattern) may have a visual impairment, such as lazy eye, cross-eye, convergence insufficiency, or even nystagmus (a condition that causes the eyes to be in constant motion). Visual impairments do not cause dyslexia but they can make learning to read a difficult task. Treatment may be something as simple as an eye patch or as complex as surgery. Rarely is vision therapy the correct treatment option.

For many gifted children, non-early reading is not the same as late reading. Learning to read at the typical age of 5 and 6 does not necessarily mean the gifted child will fail to thrive in school or that a learning disability exists. It may simply be that child’s “normal”.


Parents with nagging concerns about reading ability should talk with their pediatrician or a reading specialist for help in gauging when to pursue testing to see if an underlying problem is holding their child back.

Tell us about your experience!
Was your child a late reader? Did you discover a problem later on or was it developmentally normal for your kiddo?

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The Early Reading Myth and Gifted Achievement

As someone who does educational testing and curriculum planning, I receive my fair share of phone calls and emails from parents who want to better understand their child’s reading ability. The concerns usually fall into 2 camps.

“My daughter hasn’t started reading and kindergarten begins in a couple of weeks. We had her IQ tested and were told she’s highly gifted. Does she have a learning disability?”

“My son started reading at the age of 4. The test said he’s reading at the high school level but he’s having problems passing reading tests in 3rd grade. Does he have a learning disability?”

This week I’m going to focus on questions surrounding early readers who don’t continue on as strong readers in later elementary or middle school years.

Reading before the age of 5 – especially when it’s self-taught – remains a hallmark trait of high intelligence for most people. Yet, the little longitudinal research that exists on precocious readers does not find direct and assured connections between early reading skills and later high academic achievement.

More often than not, most early readers who have been tracked by researchers continue to read above grade level. When compared to more typical students, however, the gap in early reading achievement closes for some gifted kids as they reach middle school. The 1st grader who had been reading at a 6th grade level may now be the 7th grader reading at the 9th grade level.

Some parents of gifted children who begin to notice less stellar reading achievement abilities start to get nervous. Does my child have dyslexia? Is my kid no longer gifted?

My initial answer to most parents is: No. More than likely, nothing is wrong with your child. Lower than expected achievement does not mean a child is no longer gifted. Still, a little at-home sleuthing can help parents decide if formal testing for potential learning disabilities is worth the time and money – OR – if a different approach to reading instruction may be needed.

What To Look For When Your Early Reader Fails To Academically Thrive

  1. Slow Reading Speed
    Early reading students can sometimes wow kindergarten teachers with how fast they read words. The kids have either memorized hundreds of words or mastered phonics skills that allows them to whiz through basal reader books. Yet, it’s important to remember that how we measure reading success in later grades varies from those early school years. For starters, sentences become longer and more complex in mid-elementary school. Students have to be able to remember the words and thoughts that came at the beginning of a paragraph in order to understand what they just read. It’s not unusual for students to silently re-read the same sentence more than once to make sure they get it.

    Slow reading does not necessarily mean there’s a reading problem. But, listening to your child read out loud can provide you with important information about how they read. Do they skip a lot of words as they read? Are they switching letters within words or substituting similar looking or sounding letters? Or, are they simply reading slowly and struggling to decode longer, unfamiliar words? The answers to these questions can shed light on whether there may be an underlying learning disablity or if your child is simply savoring the books they read.

  2. Poor Spelling
    Some precocious readers seemingly “break the code” at an early age and wind up reading Harry Potter in the back of their kindergarten classroom while their age-mates struggle to sound out c-a-t. Yet, by 4th grade these same kids can’t seem to spell to save their lives. While it might seem counter-intuitive to talk about phonics with a child who’s been reading since age 4, it’s an important question to bring up. Some early readers fail to receive full phonics instruction and as a result they struggle to read complex words and/or correctly spell.

    Analyzing spelling errors can help pinpoint where a disconnect may lie. If problems seem to be focused on complex vowel patterns, like controlled-R and vowel digraphs like “aw”, then perhaps some targeted instruction may likely solve the problem. If the spelling problems are more universal and include mistaking even short-vowel sounds, then you may want to look at formal testing to see what underlying issues may be causing the problem.

  3. Repeatedly Re-Reading Low-Level Books
    Just because a gifted child can read high-level material does not mean they can or should be reading such dense tomes all the time. Take the 11-year old who spent the summer reading through The Communist Manifesto and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations with a mentor – only to curl up at night with a treasured copy of The Magic Treehouse. No question existed in anyone’s mind about the child’s enthusiastic ability to understand the political and economic principles. But, you can’t ignore the fact that such reading and analysis is a taxing experience, even for adults. It’s a form of mental calisthenics that can leave a person tired and weary. Just as some people like to relax in a hot tub after a long workout, some kids like to wrap their minds in a cloak of fond reading memories. It can be a gentle reassurance of the underlying comfort that they have always found in reading.

    Talking to your child in a friendly way about why they choose low-level books may give you insight into whether they’re self-selecting down to a more appropriate reading challenge or just visiting with an old friend, so to speak.

  4. Unable to Answer Comprehension Questions
    Many parents of gifted early readers are thrilled when their little ones pick out thick books on advanced topics at the library – but they don’t always stop to check and see how much the kids actually take away from the text. Don’t be fooled by the casual chattiness. Bright kids know how to glean lots of information by studying pictures, charts, and other graphics that fill the pages of many non-fiction books.

    Reading comprehension is actually a set of analytical skills that can and should be taught to gifted students. If you’re seeing inconsistent comprehension with your reader, go back to the actual book and ask them about what they read. Start by asking basic questions that cover information that is explicity stated in the text. WHO is the story about? WHEN did the story happen? WHAT happened at the end? Next, ask them thinking questions that require them to connect ideas together. HOW did someone accomplish a certain task? WHY would a certain event take place? Finally, ask evaluative questions that compel the reader to think at their deepest level. DO YOU THINK the character made the right choice? WHAT OTHER OPTIONS could have been considered?

    Interestingly, some younger highly gifted students initially struggle with more advanced comprehension questions. It’s not about lack of ability. Instead, they’ve come to rely on looking for black and white answers that they’re not always comfortable with the more grayscale areas.

Early reading indicates at least a moderate level of giftedness, but it does not always lead to a life-long passion for reading or even to high academic achievement. Some gifted kids need direct instruction to help them continue to excel with their reading abilities. Others may have an underlying learning disability that requires different instructional methods. And, of course, there will always be the children who have no problems. They are right where they should be academically.

Do you have a highly or profoundly gifted child who isn’t reading, yet – and kindergarten is right around the corner? Check out Part 2 of the Early Reading Myth and Gifted Children.

Was your child an early reader?
What has been your experience?

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifed July Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about (summer) reading and gifted children, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.

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Garden of Your Mind

Garden of Your Mind- Play and the Gifted Child
Back when my oldest child was at the tender age of 5, attending the local magnet Kindergarten, we had a very short conversation in October that immediately seared itself into my mind.

Me: Come on. Let’s go. We’re going to be late for music class.

Him: But I just got home from school.

Me: I know, but we have to drive across town.

Him: But I just want to play.

Me: You don’t have time to play. We have to leave now.

As those very words escaped my mouth, “You don’t have time to play”, I knew I was doing something wrong as a parent.

Soon after, I made the decision to homeschool and to trust in my children’s ability to lead the way to a different style of learning – one based on their natural curiosity.

Go ahead. Watch the video. It’s Mr. Rogers auto-tuned. It’s sweet!

When the garden of my children’s minds was allowed to take root, fascinating things happened. The way in which they played with the world around them opened up new ideas and deeper understanding.

Take the day I was mowing the lawn, my one guy was climbing a tree and my other kiddo was throwing a stick. I knew he was throwing stick because I got hit with it. Sure, he apologized – but he went right back to throwing it, again. The stick hit me a second time, so we had a little talk.

He told me that he wasn’t aiming the stick at me. So, why do you keep throwing the stick? Because it does something different when I hold my hand different ways, he excitedly explained. Really?

We walked over to a row of bushes and, sure enough, he aimed his stick at that direction and showed me what he meant. If he threw the stick, starting with his hand behind his head, the stick went a certain distance forward. Instead, if he threw the stick upward with his hand at his knees, the stick would travel high but not very far.

For my little guy, this discovery at the age of 4 was a goldmine of data. All kinds of stick-distance throwing permutations existed and wanted to explore them all.

For me, I was grateful that I had the patience to not yell after getting hit with the stick a second time and to try to understand the world from my little guy’s experience.

I skipped the physics lesson that could’ve been “taught” and simply went back to mowing my lawn – after confirming that my little guy understood that throwing sticks into bushes was the only acceptable direction for his experiment.

The play that my kids engaged in rarely looked like what you would find in a typical suburban backyard. Some days I would hear loud crashing and banging as they continued to seek to understand the cause and effect of projectile motions. Or, maybe they just really loved to be covered in bruises as they jumped off their swingset seats at the peak of their forward swing to see how far they would land.

Other days, they would rule over their kingdom of beanie babies and stuffed animals as they created imaginary worlds full of legal systems, religions, cultural conquests, and a competition for natural resources and land. It was as though the Civilization video game they loved had come to life in my living room.

Years have passed since that fateful day I proclaimed no time for play existed. As my guys got older and their hunger for deeper academic learning increased, we found a balance between play and school. My guys have accomplished all sorts of groovy gifted things that might make a person go, “Owwww”.

At the same time, certain achievements just slipped by them. Neither one ever made SET. And no one is a master chess player – but they did master mud fairy hut building. I’m okay with that.

As my kids stand poised to get their first apartment together as young men, I can look at them and see how their unstructured play helped form their lives. The former leader of imaginary kingdoms recently completed grant-funded research on the democratic peace theory. My hands-on kinesthetic learner is devoting his energy to building houses.

Would either kid be in the same place today if I had been busy looking at my watch saying, “It’s time to sit down and do algebra now”? Anything is possible, I suppose. What I do know is that the power of trusting in play – which is no easy task when you have state homeschooling regulations to meet – does lead to positive outcomes.

HoagiesGifted Blog Hop Gifted @ Play></a></p>
<p>This post is part of <a href=Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop: Gifted @ Play. Hoagies’ Gifted is chock full of information and resources for every aspect of giftedness. Check out Hoagies’ and read the other great blogs participating in Hoagies’ June Blog Hop!

Career Counseling and Teens

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the perennial question adults ask kids. When they’re younger, you often hear fire fighter, movie star, and football player as answers. As kids get older, they begin to consider the question more seriously. Still, it’s not unusual for a high school senior to have no idea about a future career.

Unfortunately, career counseling does not get high priority in secondary schools. We push kids to do their best, take challenging classes, and apply to colleges. We don’t, however, spend much time helping students explore how strengths and weaknesses, wants and needs, likes and dislikes, and general personality characteristics can and should influence career choices.

Just because a person is good at something doesn’t mean a career in that field will be the right match. Considering that a person spends the majority of their waking hours either at work or preparing and commuting to work, it would be a shame if they hated what they did for work.

A number of years ago, I wrote a year-long career counseling curriculum for at-risk girls attending an urban high school. As my own children got older, I realized it was time to put some of this work into personal action. The result was a condensed series of career counseling activities that can be used in-class or at-home.

4-Step Career Planning Process

Long before a young person begins applying for that first real job, time should be spent doing a Self-Assessment. The idea is to sort through all kinds of questions, issues and ideas that may (or may not be) important to them. The second step in career planning involves making an Academic Choice to pursue a certain major. Step 3 focuses on getting Practical Experience in a chosen field -whether it’s an internship, volunteering, or part-time job. The final step in career planning is the actual Job Search.

The Self-Assessment phase of career planning should ideally take place between 8th grade and before the college search begins. A student may know they want to go to college. They may even know they want to be an engineer because they really like math and building things. But, they have no real idea what an engineer does or even if it’s the only career choice worth pursuing.

Career Counseling: Sorting Out Options

Ages 13 and up.
For individual, small-group, or classroom use.
13 Page Digital Download

Sorting Out Options offers a series of 6 activities that guide students through a process of Self Assessment. Each week teens are challenged to consider a career prompt. One week they’ll write a list about tasks that they generally avoid or procrastinate doing and then look for themes within their list. Another week they’ll create a series of social tolerance gauges to evaluate introversion and extroversion tendencies.

Throughout this mini-unit, students will engage in independent activities that also allow them to consider topics such as personal strengths; hobbies and personal interests; work hours versus career income; and, just for girls, how they may balance career choices with starting a family. The Self-Assessment exploration culminates with a Values Sort, in which students consider 16 criteria, such as Job Status, Job Security, and Dealing with Supervisors. 

Implementing this mini-curriculum will not result in a classroom full of career-focused students. Instead, success will be measured in students who are more aware of the dynamic questions that need to be answered before they can truly hone in on what they hope to do for work one day. Knowing what those questions are at the beginning of the career exploration process helps a student to be able to more thoughtfully consider career options as they encounter them.


  • FREE Online Personality Test
    A 72-question survey that provides you with instant scoring that’s similar to the Meyers’ Briggs Personality scales of Introversion-Extroversion; Intuition-Sensing; Thinking-Feeling; and Judging-Perceiving. Free.
  • Online Interest and Skills Inventory
    Teens, ages 13 and older, answer a series of 320 multiple choice questions about their interests and the skills they think they already possess. Their answers are compared to almost 6,000 adults working in jobs from art therapists to zoologists. Once completed, families automatically receive an approximately 20-page comprehensive report that breaks down your teen’s answers and matches them with occupations worth pursuing – interests to develop – areas to explore – and jobs they might want to avoid. You also receive an 18-page Career Planner with additional exercises, explanations, and illustrations to help you understand your personalized report. Complete the entire questionnaire in about 30 minutes or over multiple sitings. $20.

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