Finding Great Summer Activities for Your Gifted Child

School’s out, and you still haven’t found a summer activity to keep your child engaged in the coming months. Finding something appropriate for your gifted child just isn’t as straightforward as registering her at one of the camps you’ve seen advertised around town.

Even though summer camps often state that they have programs for high-ability or gifted children, their offerings may not meet your child’s interests or needs. Without the right combination of interest and stimulation, gifted children can quickly find themselves bored.

So, how do you go about finding a summer activity that’s simultaneously engaging, appropriate, and enjoyable for your gifted child? It may require a little sleuthing on your part, but finding her the perfect opportunity is doable.

If your child is of high school age, check out this article about summer college programs for gifted high schoolers.

What to Consider

The first question is whether the activity you’re considering will be interesting and challenging for your gifted child. Most summer classes and activities group together students of different ages, which can be a benefit for gifted children who may prefer to interact with older (sometimes much older) kids. Still, while your child may be in a suitable group for her age, the activities that the group participates in may not be as stimulating as she needs.

Keeping this in mind, you will need to ask additional questions to determine whether a potential offering will be a good fit for her. If you believe she would thrive with an older age range, ask to have her placed in this older — and often more challenging — class. If possible, ask to speak to the instructor or counselor, or better yet, set up a brief visit and bring your child along to pose questions about the class. It may take some effort on your part, but once the instructor or group leader meets your child, it’s likely to be clear why a higher level class would be a better fit for her.

I’ve been in this situation myself when I was registering my gifted child for a computer class with different-aged students and a topic that seemed perfect for him. Once he began the class, the instructor quickly discovered that his skills went beyond what was being covered. Luckily, she enlisted my son as an assistant to help the other students, and it turned out that he enjoyed the opportunity.

Age and Ability Concerns

In my own quest to find an activity that best fits my child, I’ve fretted over having to ask for exceptions to be made to the suggested ability levels or age divisions of programs my child was interested in. Thankfully, I can say that I haven’t had much pushback or resistance to my requests.

Summer camps, enrichment classes, and extracurricular activities are optional experiences for children, and as such, are usually less structured than school. Consequently, they tend to be less bound by the strict age requirements most traditional institutions impose. They are often very accommodating about making exceptions to the suggested age ranges or requirements. Moreover, many gifted children prefer socializing with older children and adults, and may well have had these experiences before. Program directors and instructors are more apt to make exceptions as long as you vouch that your child can meet the behavior expectations of the older age group and that the content of the activity is appropriate for your child.

In the end, having your child placed in an older age group or more challenging class is really no different than a child who is a talented middle-school tennis player playing for the high-school tennis team, or a child who is no longer a novice pianist skipping the beginner class and moving into the intermediate group despite being the youngest in the bunch. Age restrictions and social concerns should have no more bearing here on determining a best-fit placement for your child. The focus should be on her ability and interest; the optimal scenario is one in which she is appropriately challenged and engaged.

Diplomatic Persistence

A little persistence pays off when you’re asking for an exception to the preset age range or structure of an activity. Your first call or email will often be addressed by an office staffer who may not have the authority or knowledge needed to make the exception. When faced with this situation, I’ve simply asked politely if I could speak to the instructor, director, or counselor in charge of the activity I was interested in. And once I made my case to these individuals, my request were generally better understood — and successful.

Overcoming Skepticism

Sometimes, even though your request for placing your child in the older, more challenging activity is granted, there may be lingering skepticism on the part of the camp director or class instructor. As a parent, I knew which age range or level of challenge was best for my gifted child, but I recognized that the instructor didn’t necessarily share my conviction.That said, once it became clear that he fit right in and was able to keep up with the activity, this skepticism usually disappeared. I even had one instructor who popped his head in through my open car window as I was parked in the pick-up line and sheepishly admitted that he had had his doubts, but that my son’s performance dispelled them very quickly.

Unsuccessful Requests

What do you do if your request to move your child up to a higher level is denied? You then need to decide whether to look for another activity or to go ahead and sign her up anyway. If you do decide to have your child try the class, be sure to ask what the refund policy is in the event the program doesn’t meet her needs.

Where to Look for Programs

Universities and Colleges

Universities and colleges often have programs and classes for school-aged children, so call or check their websites to learn about possible offerings. These programs don’t have to be geared towards high-ability or gifted children if the program focuses on a topic your child loves — as long as the school will enroll kids of her age.

Most often, enrichment classes or summer programs include two or three age levels in one class. Since gifted children are frequently more comfortable around older children, these types of groupings can offer an ideal solution. Ask if you can register for the program or class for older children, particularly if your child socializes well with older kids and the content level is better suited to her abilities.

Volunteer organizations

There are a wealth of volunteer opportunities for older children and teens, and volunteering is a wonderful growth experience for them. The simplest way to find volunteer jobs for your child is to search sites like Volunteer Match, Create the Good, and Idealist.

Do Something, a large, global organization that empowers kids to enact social change, invites young adults to register to volunteer for issues they feel passionately about. For somewhat older children, this organization too may offer opportunities for them to become involved in areas they’re deeply interested in.

Government agencies, nonprofits, and cultural organizations

Many government agencies offer summer programs for children. For example, local parks and recreation departments often have camps or classes, and libraries too may offer courses, activities, or volunteer opportunities. Museums and other local attractions have programs related to their institutional missions, from docent training to science education.

If your child is fascinated with animals, for example, groups like the 4-H Club, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildlife Federation offer a variety of programs. Moreover, if you live near a zoo or aquarium, many of these institutions run summer programs that may meet the interests of your gifted child.

Finding a summer activity for a gifted child is both a challenge and a thrilling treasure hunt. There are a wealth of opportunities out there, and the fun — for everyone — of the summer months is that you’re free from many of the confining structures of traditional schools and their offerings — and on to a wonderfully engaging and rewarding experience for your gifted child.

Additional Resources:

  • Noodle has thousands of classes, summer camps, afterschool activities, and other learning opportunities for parents to search on as well as a Q&A tool to connect families with Noodle Experts.
  • Facebook has hundreds of groups and pages for parents of gifted children and those who support gifted children. Simply “like” one of these public pages and query the other members about promising offerings.
  • Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and Hoagies Gifted Education provide advocacy and resources to families of gifted children.
  • Pinterest also allows parents to search on specific topics or interests for their children and to locate offerings in their area.

Parent Forums and Websites:

You can find further education advice from Celi Trepanier on Noodle, as well as other expert guidance on education for gifted students.