Every year around this time, my son and I eagerly count down the number of days of school left. I dream about relaxed mornings, sunning myself around a pool, and creating lazy family adventures. What I often forget during these fantasy moments is that for many gifted children, including my son, it’s impossible to put their insatiable curiosity on the back burner, even in summer. For us parents, knowing we have at least 75 days of activities to plan is enough to send shivers down the spine —not unlike the sudden chill of a dip in the pool on a hot summer afternoon!

As I talk with fellow parents of gifted children, I’ve found there’s no secret to summer success.  Some parents send their children to camp from that day school lets out to the day school starts.Others view summer as a time to take a complete break from intellectual pursuits to enjoy unstructured time or recreational activities. Most parents I know do a little of both —plan a few weeks of camp so their children can explore their passions with like-minded peers, balanced with a few weeks of downtime to hang out in the neighborhood.

How can you find the right recipe for summer?

First, pay attention to your child’s cues: Does your son need a break to recharge? Is your daughter a bundle of energy who craves constant stimulation to be happy? A straightforward conversation with your child about his preconceived ideas of summer, overall mindset, and current interests can guide you on how to organize his summer calendar.

Second, assess the types of experiences your child has had throughout the school year. If enrolled in a full-time academic gifted program, your child might need some downtime.
However, if your child has had limited interaction with like-minded peers in school, summer may be a perfect time to explore a new passion or to meet other gifted kids.

Teachers, help your gifted students plan for the summer by:

  • Sending home extra packets, books, and materials. Parents love extra materials they can pull out in a pinch. My son’s teachers often send home packets of puzzles, word problems, or brainteasers to keep their student’s minds active over the summer. They’re great for a rainy day or quick midday activity.
  • Providing a sneak-peek into fall projects. Parents of twice-exceptional students who struggle with long-term writing or Language Arts assignments appreciate a heads-up as to what’s coming in the fall. Reading the first semester’s Language Arts novel over the summer may help these students decrease their anxiety and start the new school year on positive footing.
  • Reassure parents that it’s normal for all kids to lose a little momentum over the summer—and gifted kids are no different. In fact, an academic focused summer can also backfire. A friend of mine placed her son in a highly advanced enrichment math class last summer and spent the next school year regretting it. Her son was frustrated all year because his summer class had already covered the material they were now learning in school.

Parents, here are a few back-pocket ideas for when your child’s curiosity kicks in:

  • Build up your supply of creative materials—paints, clay, paper, glue, pastels—so you’re ready when the creative itch strikes. Allow your child to display his or her creations around your home.
  • Science kits or ready-to-go supplies for at-home science experiments make rainy afternoons fun.
  • Adult or college-age mentors who share the same passion and interests with your child are a great way to help your child learn more about a particular profession or hobby.
  • Camps and Enrichment programs come in many shapes and sizes—online, day, and residential—in nearly every part of the country on nearly every topic imaginable. Check out NAGC’s Gifted and Talented Resource Directory or the article in the January issue of Parenting for High Potential for summer enrichment ideas. Many still have space available.
  • Teacher supply stores carry a gold mine of games, workbooks, problem-solving puzzles, and craft kits.
  • Want to splurge on a new game or toy for the family? Check out NAGC’s 2013 Toy List, where the newest, most entertaining games and toys were recently hand-picked by gifted students.

Our gifted children do not have to be busy 24/7 to have their needs met. Gifted kids are still kids. Even the most everyday activities can be a learning experience. So, this summer, in between the camps and enrichment activities, be sure to squeeze in some good old-fashioned campfires, bike rides, swimming lessons, and trips to the local museum, zoo, and library.