By Rose Blackett (SENG Director, NZAGC President).
As president of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC), parents wanting information on how to connect with other families who have gifted children often approach me. My personal journey as a parent of two gifted children started with reaching out to other parents of gifted children. The information, contacts, and resources I gained this way have been invaluable on my parenting pathway. Therefore, I would like to share with you how to set up a support group NZAGC style.
Most of our NZAGC branches started as support groups. A support group is less formal than a branch and when you are first considering getting together with other parents of gifted children, this is a lot less imposing and overwhelming than forming a branch.
The goal of NZAGC branches is to provide parents and families of gifted children contact with other people facing similar educational, parenting, and social/emotional challenges. A support group offers an informal way to gain this support. An important element of these initial support groups is the social contacts available to parents and their gifted children. I gained just as much as, if not more than, my children from my initial support group. Some of my long-term friends are parents I met in this way.
Gifted children provide their parents with many happy moments and times for celebration. Unfortunately, as with most things, there are challenges on the parenting journey. Many parents of gifted children live with a “bush-lawyer” who has the skill to win any battle… sometimes blindfolded. Research indicates this is particularly true when parenting gifted boys, who may exhibit negative physical behaviors when their needs are not being met, or the environment afforded to them does not meet their current needs. I can now confess that my own son fits this category and when I went in search of answers, the local gifted children’s support group provided many.
If there is no support group in your area you may feel strongly enough to set up your own. How you go about it depends somewhat on the community that you live in. Smaller communities often have networks in place that make communication with the members of that community easier, which will expedite contact. In larger communities other forms of communications may be required.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
· If you would like to form a support group for gifted children, decide on the aim of the group. Speak to other parents who may be interested in forming the group, and ask what they would like to get from it. It may be helpful to have one or two initial outcomes to guide the group.
· Schedule an informal coffee meeting for interested people. Try to decide whom you would like to cater for within the group – will it be preschool gifted children initially? Will you try and have speakers for parents/teachers?
WHAT FORM SHOULD YOUR GROUP HAVE?
· Smaller groups tend to be informal. Monthly meetings at someone’s house or a supportive school may be all that is needed to start with. These meetings offer the opportunity for gifted children and their parents to meet socially, support each other and work in partnership to develop solutions to challenges.
· The group may decide to offer activities (or club days). These could entail visits into the community or having someone in to take a workshop or do a presentation. In my experience the workshops that were interactive proved most popular. For example, a Deconstruction Day, where everyone brings old appliances to “deconstruct” with tools, they then “reconstruct” the parts as robots, using the screws, connectors, and a hot glue gun. These could then be spray-painted as garden sculptures. There are many people in every community that are willing to share their knowledge and skills. It is sometimes just a matter of reaching out.
· Social activities are also a way for the group to bond. A board-game pizza tea is popular as the social negotiation, often the cause for dissent, is taken out of the equation. The games have rules and give gifted children (and their parents) the opportunity to play complex games, at their pace and level, with other gifted individuals. The type of social activities offered by the group will be dependent on the type of community you live in and the interests of the members.
· NZAGC recommends that all members of informal support groups join the National Association so that they receive our Tall Poppies magazine (3 x per year) and gain access to the library. Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) membership is also important, as you will in turn support other parents and get discounts on publications and webinars that will help your group learn and grow together. Receiving the SENG emails will ensure that everyone is aware of upcoming conferences, SENG Model Parent Group (SMPG) Training opportunities, and local SMPG and SENG Online Parent Groups that are forming.
· NZAGC offers an open, public forum where parents ask other parents questions. They may be parenting, educational or social/emotional questions. Other parents can offer suggestions and we have a growing international following.
· When your group grows in numbers, a more formal organization may be considered, such as forming a branch. This requires a more formal structure with designated positions within the group, and representation on the national NZAGC Committee.
· There are some formal aspects to becoming a branch of NZAGC and the current committee assists support groups to become branches by providing information, templates and guidance on becoming a registered charitable group within New Zealand.
· We encourage children from support groups and branches to send submissions to our national publication.
SHOULD YOU CHARGE MEMBER FEES?
· At first, it is suggested to have members pay for charges only (i.e., payment for speakers, room hire, equipment etc. as it arises, proportioned over the attendees). However, as the group grows a fee structure may be considered. Money may be required for ongoing costs, such as marketing, photocopying, or other materials; otherwise the financial outlay may unfairly fall on one or two families.
· Sponsorship from private businesses or funding organizations may be sought, if you decide as a group not to charge a membership fee.
· Once branches are formed, it is usual to charge a nominal door fee for each meeting. This should cover all costs but also allow for additional funds to be saved, covering any shortfall in activity costs, newsletters, and purchase of equipment over time.
· You need to take financial precautions, as charitable groups are often vulnerable to fraud, such as having two signatories on any check account. Also be aware of any national or state legislation around charitable funding.
· Local schools, preschools, or kindergartens that have a culture of encouraging gifted children may make rooms and/or equipment available for your use at no charge.
· Experience shows that people are more likely to value things that have a cost attached to them, more than that which they get for free. Sometimes it can be an advantage to have a fee.
SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO MAKE CONTACTS AND BUILD A NETWORK
· In New Zealand, it is legislated that all schools identify and program for their gifted students. Contacting your local schools, with an open invitation to families with gifted children, may be helpful in gaining members.
· Advertising a public meeting with a nominal door charge may attract new members to your group. Advertising events in your local library, citizen’s advice bureau, online and/or at a local community center helps “spread the word”.
· Contacting SENG and having a SENG SMPG Facilitator offer training to your group may be a consideration. There is a fee to cover facilitator costs and resources. Contact SENG for further information.
· You will often get a better response if you have a speaker at your first meeting. If you do not know of one that would be a “crowd puller”, consult people working in gifted education in your community and do some research online.
· Ask schools and preschool centers to put a notice in their newsletters.
· Contact your local newspaper to do a story on gifted children and/or to advertise your public meetings or events.
· Put details on the NZAGC website or similar. Contact your local state gifted organization to see if they have a newsletter where they can include your announcement.
These ideas may be useful in assisting you to start a support group that will provide you and your community with the help that you require. Contact with just one other family is the first step in forming a support group. NZAGC is celebrating its 40th Birthday in July 2015 at Waikato University. This is an open invitation to attend. Further information can be located online. You might even like to take extra time to explore the raw natural beauty offered in New Zealand. Haere mai! (You are all welcome!)
Rose Blackett is a registered educational psychologist with over twenty years experience in the education system. She is currently working in private practice with adults and children presenting with severe behavior challenges. Rose has worked at the primary, intermediate, secondary, and tertiary levels. She has extensive experience in working with children who are challenged by the education system as a classroom teacher, a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), and a specialist educator in settings for children with significant special needs. Rose is the current president of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC), founding president of Christchurch Explorers, and an advisor for the NZ Centre for Gifted Education. Rose has presented at national and international conferences and workshops on a range of educational topics. Her special interest areas include: learning disabilities, children’s social and emotional development, parenting, giftedness, and sensory processing.