Gifted kids who don't fit the mould

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When Robyn Harawira was raising her now grown-up children she never dreamed they were gifted.

The Whakatane woman's oldest son was slow to talk, dyslexic, poor at reading and not interested in any school subjects. Because his giftedness was not identified, his teachers continued to focus on him achieving to read and write like his peers, which resulted in him disengaging from learning.

In frustration, she took him to a psychologist when he was 6 and discovered he was in the top 1 per cent for 'visual spatial awareness'. This gift meant he was talented at activities such as chess (he could play at 4 years old), jigsaws and all strategy games.

Being identified as gifted proved to be a huge turning point. It led to her joining the New Zealand Gifted Association as a branch member and building an 18 year career in gifted education.

Today she is employed as Eastbay REAP's GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) co-ordinator at Whakatane, where she supports schools and parents with GATE initiatives.

Because of her experience as a parent and professional she is keen to raise awareness on her area of specialty. This includes informing parents that being gifted and talented applies to sport, music and art and is not strictly academic - and that identifying giftedness is important.

"The schools did not understand initially how to support my son and because his dyslexia masked his giftedness it was not easy to discern. Having confirmation of this put a whole new spin on things and opened up his world to learning," she said.

This discovery led to many consultations with the school, encouraging each of his teachers to construct an annual learning plan that supported his spatial awareness. They included activities that allowed for creating, problem solving and designing and using 3D delivery and construction.

Robyn, who is a trained teacher and former school principal, also supported his learning at home with games like Chess, Monopoly and Cathedral.

Central to this was her involvement in the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC). She joined as Franklin branch member and held the President's role for seven years, including being the National Representative for four years.

"I also benefited by meeting other parents who were keen to meet and extend their children's needs and share their challenges and successes in a safe and supportive environment."

Through the local gifted association branch, Ms Harawira was able to attend club days where her child was challenged with activities such as visits by science experts or trips away.

Most branches have a 'gifted' library with specialist resources and also appropriate games and puzzles to borrow. By bringing her other son along to club events she also discovered that he too was gifted in comedy and performance when exposed to theatre sports.

"Being able to join the association as a family meant that all my children benefited by meeting other like-minded children. This helped them enormously. Often gifted children feel isolated and can even become depressed because they do not fit the norm or feel accepted."

"This can result in children becoming stressed, dumbing down their giftedness to gain acceptance or even becoming disruptive at school because they are bored."

In 2011, Ms Harawira was privileged to attend the World Conference for Gifted Education in Prague, where she co- presented a paper on Building Spiritual and Emotional Giftedness. A common theme among the presenters was recognising the wide range of areas of giftedness and the importance of community consultation when identifying talents.

Because of this she is keen to promote the benefits of parents forming their own gifted branch.

"If parents are keen to establish a local branch it will help disseminate information gained at conferences, share national or international competitions and provide a social forum for parents and children."

"For instance, there is an online gifted programme that children can undertake as part of their normal school day but parents need to know how to source such opportunities. Visual spatial awareness is also common among Maori children, which if identified can help their educational achievement and school experience."

"By sharing information we can support each other, and help our whole community achieve."

She is also looking forward to planning next year's Eastbay REAP Gifted and Talented mini-symposia. This year the event featured a number of Te Arawa speakers including Jamus Webster and Auckland University lecturer, Dr Melinda Webber who specialised in Maori gifted education.

Jamus presented the NZEI-funded DVD "Whakahau Whakamana, Whakahihi" which showcased Maori educational achievement. To register your interest in attending next year's Eastbay REAP gifted and Talented Minisymposia, simply send an email to Robyn Harawira:

- Rotorua Daily Post

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