I am really excited to have an interview with Paula from Rainforest Minds today. I noticed her articles for gifted adults almost as soon as she started blogging and have been wanting to sit down and pick her brains over a coffee ever since – this interview is the closest that I have got to that so far.
Paula is a professional Counselor with more than 20 years in practice, she also holds a Masters in Education and was formally a gifted education specialist. She specializes in working with gifted adults and youths and consulting with the parents of gifted children. She has published a number of articles on giftedness issues and has also been an instructor in this area at the University of Oregon.
Paula uses the analogy of a rainforest to talk about giftedness, to explain its complexity and also to try to side-step some of the baggage that the term now often seems to carry.
You can read more about Paula and her counselling and speaking services at her main website.
I know that you are specialized in gifted education. Could you tell us about that background? What drew you to it originally and what has kept you interested?
My first career out of college was in education. I taught sixth grade science and language arts. A couple of my colleagues told me that my teaching style would work well with gifted children. I responded, “What’s a gifted child?” And so it began.
I started teaching gifted middle-schoolers in a pull-out program. We met in small groups for two and a half hours a week—a ridiculously short amount of time, but I loved it. The kids were so curious, enthusiastic, funny and sensitive. I designed the curriculum around their interests and was able to work with the same children all through their middle school years.
Then I decided to move to Oregon (another story!) and began teaching gifted children grades 1-5. I also started doing presentations for parents and teachers on the social-emotional needs of the gifted. It was very fulfilling work.
In my later 30’s, I was ready to leave the schooling system. I was pretty obsessed with everything “mental health” and realized that a counseling career would be a good fit. I got a Masters degree in counseling, worked in an agency for four years, then started a private practice. At that point, it occurred to me that I could specialize in counseling gifted adults and teens and consulting with parents of gifted children.
And here I am, 20+ years later. I feel such a deep connection to this population. I love their complexities, obsessions, intensities and sensitivities. And it’s such a privilege to participate in someone’s healing journey. The kinda-cheesy truth is that I’ve found my people and my purpose.
Parents with gifted children choose to homeschool them for a variety of reasons. What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this choice?
I’ve seen too many gifted children suffer in the school system, particularly the highly and profoundly gifted. I know many wonderful teachers (some are in my family and some are my clients) but gifted children often don’t get their academic or social-emotional needs met in schools. If parents are able to homeschool, it can be the best option for these kids who might otherwise be repeatedly bored and bullied in school and blame themselves for not fitting in or not being “normal.” I’ve seen these painful experiences stay with them into adulthood.
In my opinion, there’s no question that children benefit from homeschooling. The problem that I see is that the parent doing the homeschooling may not be getting enough time away from the kids—time with adults, time to relax, time to nourish their partnership or time to develop their own intellectual or creative pursuits.
Socialization is often perceived as being a major issue in homeschooling generally. Is there anything in particular that parents of gifted homeschoolers should watch out for in this area?
I’m a firm believer that socialization in school is highly overrated. In fact, it can be quite damaging to some children. I think that as long as parents find other children, either through classes, music, sports, religion, clubs, camps, online and/or in neighborhoods, they can get the socialization they need. Making an extra effort to invite children to your home and also using adults or older children as mentors can also be ways to promote friendships.
Whilst there are lots of variations in homeschooling methods, it seems to me that at one end of the spectrum is recreating school at home and at the opposite end is radical unschooling. In your years of teaching gifted kids, what approach to learning did you find the most effective? Do you think that this can be replicated in a homeschooling environment?
There were definitely some methods that worked better than others.
I was most successful with independent projects based on their interests. (Researching topics and creating products that could be shared outside the classroom.) I remember we created a literary magazine, read and performed Shakespeare, wrote and recorded radio plays, and worked with tessellations and geometry, for example. This was years ago before the internet (was there a time before the internet?) so we didn’t have such a wealth of access to ideas and people all over the world. I definitely would encourage more globally oriented projects now.
The kids wanted to be self-directed and I provided support, guidance and got out of the way. It was also important that they had opportunities to problem solve together. At the time, there was a program called the Future Problem Solving Bowl. It was a chance to look at problems in the “real “ world and discuss solutions. It wasn’t a competition. (I tried to avoid those. I don’t think they serve a good purpose.) It gave my students a chance to learn from each other, too, and to build friendships.
I don’t know enough about radical unschooling to comment specifically on it. Certainly, all of what I’ve described can be done quite well in a homeschool environment.
If you could only give one piece of advice to parents homeschooling gifted children, what would it be?
Two pieces of advice!
Remember that you’ll need to set healthy boundaries, say ‘no’ when necessary, and avoid power struggles. Intensity, sensitivity and emotional excitabilties can be overwhelming for everyone. A couple of good resources for dealing with these challenges, along with the familiar books specifically on gifted children, are Raising your Spirited Child by Kurcinka and The Power of your Child’s Imagination by Reznick.
Take care of yourselves. Find ways to take time off, create a strong network of friends, understand your own giftedness, nourish your intellect and your creativity and get counseling if necessary. What you model and feel about yourself is what your children will learn and believe about themselves. Their sensitive-perceptive minds and hearts will inherit your unexamined family-of-origin dysfunctional patterns. Scary, right? Work it out so they don’t have to.
Do you blog? If you do, what is the address for that?
I’ve just started blogging about gifted adults. The address is: rainforestmind.wordpress.com.