- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

Parents of gifted children shouldn't expect their local school to be completely responsible for maintaining a child's interest in learning.

Parents play a part in whether gifted children stay motivated, says Peter Rosenstein, executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Gifted Children, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"You can't ship a child to school in the first grade and expect him to come back in 12th with a great education just because you sent him to school," he says. "Parents need to be active and try to nurture their children's gifts."

Involvement may mean time, but it doesn't have to mean money, especially in an area such as Washington, which is rich with cultural opportunities, Mr. Rosenstein says.

"Whatever area they go in, give them the opportunities to learn," he says. "If you have a 2-year-old who is interested in dinosaurs, for instance, that is not too young to nurture that interest within his own age range. There are books you can get and read together pictures to look at."

A library card can open up a new world to a child who enjoys books, Mr. Rosenstein says. Books can also enrich the life of a child who is consumed by a particular interest, as gifted children often are. Parents might not know all the facts about Benjamin Franklin or outer space or ancient architecture, but a good public library will offer plenty of information about such subjects.

For a child who has particular talent or interest in performing arts, there are dozens of productions at community theaters, as well as children's concerts at the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center also offers free concerts every evening at 6.

Visiting the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution's many museums can be excellent enrichment for a child with special interests in animals, aviation or art, Mr. Rosenstein says.

Parents also can get involved to ensure that a gifted child has appropriate chances at social development. Children who are highly or profoundly gifted with IQ scores generally over 150 often have a hard time fitting in socially with children their own age, says Linda Brody, director of the study of exceptional talent at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. The program identifies, guides and does research on gifted students.

Ms. Brody advises parents of such children to look into special interest clubs and extracurricular activities such as Odyssey of the Mind, a program where school-aged children are challenged to use teamwork to solve problems on a variety of topics.

There is a difference between encouraging interests and pushing children, however. Pressuring children to exceed their capabilities or tutoring them with flashcards will not turn an average child into a gifted one.

"Parents should not pressure their children to work toward getting into a gifted program," says Carol Horn, gifted and talented (GT) program specialist for Fairfax County public schools. "They should enjoy their children for who they are."

The nature-vs.-nurture debate may never be solved when it comes to gifted children. But Tim Hanak, father of three boys involved in gifted and talented programs in Fairfax County, says parental involvement is essential to success.

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