Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Intensity is a common feature of gifted children. Highly intelligent children often have strong interests in specific subjects that may last for weeks, months, or even years. Parents may find it difficult to keep up with their child's level of knowledge in a particular realm. What do you do if your daughter outstrips you in math? How about a son who is fascinated by all things mechanical? What can you do if you are not an engineer, or don't have any aptitude for this subject? After materials at the local library have been exhausted, it may be time to consider a mentor.
Who can be a mentor? What do they do? A mentor is an experienced adult willing to share information in a given field. Traditionally, mentors volunteer their time. A mentor usually acts as an instructor or guide, and works one on one with a child. A mentor may be an educator, a professional in a specialized field, or a knowledgeable adult who shares the young person's interest as a hobby. This type of instructor may be found through inquiry at a local college, high school, or place of business. Ask for a tour, or request that the prospective mentor meet with your child to discuss their current project. An alternate way to search for a good candidate is through meetings for an interest based organization, such as a Civil War roundtable, rock and minerals club, or bird watching group.
If your son loves math, a grad student who is majoring in mathematics might get a kick out of becoming his math guru. A neighbor with a backyard rose garden might be a great horticultural resource. If your daughter is into carnivorous plants, you make have a bit more difficulty locating a mentor, but don't despair. So what if the botanist specializing in Venus fly traps lives halfway round the globe? Geography need not be a major impediment to mentorship. Many happy child-mentor pairs communicate solely through e-mail and an occasional phone call.
My daughter has devoted a great amount of time to raising butterflies, grasshoppers, and one very lovely tomato hornworm caterpillar. When she was five, she had questions that I couldn't answer. I contacted an entomologist at a university a thousand miles away, as his web site indicated that he was available for questions. He was quite happy to e-mail my girl and offer helpful tips on caring for her tiny charges. This sort of interaction is a terrific way to get your child ready for a genuine mentorship.
My son has been intrigued by rocks and minerals since he was two years old. At this point, he's read dozens of books on the subject, watched hours of film, participated in several short term workshops for kids, and conducted a fair amount of geological browsing online. Several months ago, I sent an inquiry to a local professor on his behalf. My ten year old is now collecting data and doing serious project work involving the local water table, and he is happy as a clam.
When is a child ready for a relationship with a mentor? Informal learning can take place at any age, but a more structured arrangement may be most beneficial if you wait for the child to reach the following milestones: Your child should be comfortable discussing ideas, asking questions, and making her opinion known. She should be able to read and write fluently, to sit and pay attention to a favorite topic for about two hours. Even if reading and writing are not necessary while with the mentor, the child should be capable of doing some basic research independently and taking notes.
It is often the case that gifted kids lack peers who can relate to their hobbies. A positive relationship with an adult who has the same passion for nanotechnology, tarantulas, or organic gardening may be just what your child needs. Even if another child shares the gifted child's obsession, it is often on a more cursory level. A talented adult who can give informed feedback and enhance the child's understanding is a wonderful find.