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“Why Do We Do That Anyway?” Traditions and Gifted Kids

apple fall basket

With the cooler fall weather comes a time of year that many of us cherish, a time that brings some of our favorite traditions. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas: these celebrations and the traditions associated with them can be exciting, comforting and overwhelming, not only for us as parents but for our children. The dual sense of disruption and comfort that comes with tradition can be grounding – or unsettling – especially for bright kids.

Gifted children like those we serve at Mackintosh Academy may revel in these traditions, or they may not be willing to go with the flow and simply “do what we always do.” As James Webb writes in A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, “Bright children become aware of alternative choices early in life, and many of them start to realize that they need not be controlled by the traditions that guide others.”

Perhaps, after cooking turkey and dressing for the umpteenth time and washing approximately 346 dishes, you too might question the value of traditions that sometimes feel like just another thing on your “to-do” list. But if we back up and reflect, we can see what traditions do for us and for our children.

Traditions help to ground busy minds. A gifted child’s mind can be like a whirlwind, always spinning, always busy learning and taking in new things. In the middle of this mental windstorm, it can be profoundly comforting and grounding for a child to step into a tradition that is familiar, comforting and warm.20161219-building raina new playhouse-021

Traditions can connect children to each other. Some gifted kids feel different. They feel like outliers or like nobody understands them. When children can participate in shared traditions, whether at home, in the classroom or a place of worship, they see that there are others out there like them, others who enjoy and value the same things.

Learning about traditions connects kids to cultures other than their own. An important part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum at Mackintosh Academy is learning about traditions in other cultures. We infuse this into our Spanish classes and into many other topics throughout the curriculum. Children learn that there are common themes in different cultural celebrations; for example, in the winter many cultures have traditions that celebrate the idea of light amidst darkness.

Traditions create a connection between past, present and future.  Because their brains move so quickly and their bodies are changing rapidly too, kids can sometimes feel unmoored from the past, disconnected from the present and apprehensive about the future. Gifted kids are often learning so much that they are continually focused on “what’s next” and don’t take the time to pause and reflect. Traditions can help children think back to their past selves, find peace and enjoyment in the present and have something to look forward to in the future.

grad studentsSchool traditions can be an important part of a child’s life, reflecting milestones and accomplishments. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary year at Mackintosh, we are mindful of the traditions and rituals that comprise our community. From starting our assemblies with the salute to the flag, to honoring each child with a birthday celebration, to special occasions like “Spirit Week,” we try to weave tradition into our daily practice at Mack Littleton. At the end of the school year, Field Day is a cherished tradition led by our Physical Education teacher Patty Weston (herself a school “tradition” after 20+ years at Mack!). At Field Day, younger students look forward to the day when they will become “big kids” and be able to help with lower school field day. Big kids enjoy the growth and relative freedom that comes with getting to go off campus and swim, play tennis on real courts, and explore the Ken Caryl athletic club.

Perhaps our most cherished tradition as Mackintosh Littleton is graduation. Unlike many schools where commencement ceremonies are reserved for the graduates and their families, at Mack the entire school shows up to celebrate our graduates. When the grads are escorted into the gym by their PreK buddies, a visible reminder of the growth that occurs in a child’s journey from PreK to 8th grade, there’s not a dry eye in the house. Graduation at Mack offers an opportunity for each student to give a special performance that represents his or her interests and accomplishments. And finally, when those graduates turn their tassels and toss their hats into the air, they are partaking in a centuries-long tradition that celebrates education and personal growth.

Whether your child is an eager participant in rituals and tradition, or an intrepid questioner of all things routine, you can be sure that traditions hold value for children, giving them (and us) a way to pause and reflect on the experiences that bring connection and meaning into our lives.