Even during periods of social distancing and isolation, children and adults find ways to forge friendships and connections. Online social circles are widening, schooling has become more tech-oriented, and support systems of all kinds continue to fine-tune online offerings (such as exercise sessions, arts programs, mindfulness instruction, resource sharing, and children’s play dates).
A community is a network. Each of us has a constellation of communities comprised of people from different times, places, and stages of life. And, every experience is an opportunity to create additional communities.
Communities may evolve from connections that are deeply rooted, or restored, or newly established. They may be predicated on location, commonalities, diversity, interests, or ways of thinking. A family is a community— so is a cohort of children, an orchestra, a workplace, a team, or any combination of thinkers, doers, or collaborators. And, therein lies the heart of community! Because it is the thinking, doing, and collaborating that make it pulsate.
What does all of this have to do with gifted learners? The truth is that no one, no matter how advanced or independent, lives in a vacuum, and everyone, regardless of age, can benefit from supportive others. Here are five perspectives indicating how community can be advantageous to gifted/high-ability learners—and, potentially, to all children.
Advantages of Community
1. We are stronger together.
It is precisely when the foundational structure of the self is shaken that we are in the best position to pursue new opportunities in our lives.
~ Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American, April 20, 2020
The phrase, “We are stronger together” has been repeated countless times during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has shaken families to the core, and people have come to realize that, as a planet, we are one. Our global community has valiantly fought a silent viral predator. We are co-reliant with respect to using common sense, strict hygiene measures, and intelligence. It’s unfortunate that it takes a crisis to drive home the fact that we depend on one another to coexist safely and look after each other, too.
2. Learning to get along is just the beginning…
This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
From the earliest days of play groups and music circles, children engage in active listening, communicating, and sharing. They develop friendships, and over time they learn about trust, compromise, respect, patience, conflict resolution, and empathy. These relationships are budding communities. Sometimes they last for a very long time. In fact, many of my friends have been part of my life since primary school. (You know who you are!)
A community can be like a gift that endures and also sustains. It may be fluid or rock solid. It may extend across oceans, time zones, and cyberspace. All good! Being part of a community—especially over the years—can nurture the soul, fortify life skills, and be a source of immense pleasure.
3. A community is a lifeline.
Community—a good place to learn, play, and work with others; to develop a sense of self; to volunteer and contribute to the greater good; to make friends; and to acquire lots of neighborhood resources.
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 24
Gifted learners, like everyone else, have areas of strength and weakness. They are not necessarilygifted in everything. Moreover, no two are alike. Research continues to shed light on new neuroscientific understandings relating to differences among gifted learners, including their physiology, mental health, cognitive capacities, and more. There are diverse ways of being smart, across academic and non-academic domains. However, sometimes children feel pressure living with a gifted label—or trying to live up to one. They may question their self-image, become too focused on “being smart,” or not realize that setbacks and failures are opportunities for growth. A caring community can help show the way. It can inform, boost morale, and offer reassurance, coping strategies, comfort, and direction.
4. Technology is a portal.
We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.
~ Carl Sagan
The COVID-19 crisis has been an unprecedented learning curve. A key lesson is that people of all ages have stretched connectivity exponentially through technological means such as Zoom, Facetime, and so on. Physical travel has dramatically declined but virtual outreach has exploded. In effect, this means community growth has expanded, as people welcome “newcomers” from different social milieux, walks of life, and age brackets. Even during periods of social distancing and isolation, children and adults find ways to forge friendships and connections. Online social circles are widening, schooling has become more tech-oriented, and support systems of all kinds continue to fine-tune online offerings (such as exercise sessions, arts programs, mindfulness instruction, resource sharing, and children’s play dates). And, each of these represents another community!
5. Community-based programs are stepping-stones to success.
Most people who attain success in their lives, however defined, are people who figure out who they are—what they have to offer themselves, others, and the world at large.
~ Robert Steinberg
Community-based outlets and organizations can help children develop local and global awareness through meaningful discussion and creative investigations into topics that relate to current issues and challenges. For example, kids can learn about the use (and misuse) of natural resources, how to participate in initiatives that address climate change, and how to contribute to society. There are volunteer groups, mentorships, and youth activities that can enhance children’s growth and also hone their leadership skills in various domains. Community-based areas of focus include the arts, culture, social justice, environmental concerns, science, and whatever else might interest the individual.
Each community is a complex, interdependent place. Parents who act successfully on behalf of their child know the value of nurturing productive relationships and a climate of trust, and the importance of ongoing attunement to their child in order to ensure academic and other kinds of advancement, and well-being.
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 4
There are unlimited learning opportunities to be discovered in communities near and far. Those who reach out to others and embrace life collectively become enriched through experience. Community involvement enables engagement, strengthens connectivity, and offers support, all of which are important for realizing intellectual, creative, and social fulfilment—and the promise of ability.