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Beyond School Walls: Education Whiz Kids

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.”—Mark Twain

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.”—Mark Twain

These days most public schools, at least in metropolitan areas, offer special programs for academically talented students. Certainl most high schools have enough options to keep even the brightest of students challenged—or they know where to send them if they do not. Too often, though, parents of preK- grade 8 students will remark, “My son is bored in school,” or “My daughter already knows everything her teacher is covering.” If you are such a parent, and if further enrichment at school does not seem possible—either because the opportunities do not exist or because your child has failed to test into them—what can you do? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Short of the radical—and often problematic—alternative of home schooling, you might consider private education for your child.

In recent decades especially, private preK-grade 8 schools for the “gifted” have sprung up. Three notable ones in the Chicago vicinity are DaVinci Academy in Elgin (130 students), Quest Academy in Palatine (290 students), and The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove (378 students).  All three are nationally accredited day schools, praised by their clientele. Drawbacks? They are expensive (annual tuition runs close to $18,000 at each one), they may be inconveniently located for you, and they rely heavily on standardized tests for admission. You may have a very bright child whose particular talents, for whatever reason, do not surface on traditional tests.
Of course in the case of every student, you can—and should—supplement what is happening at school with intellectual and artistic experiences at home. Keep reading aloud with your child, long after he or she is reading fluently alone, and discuss what you read. Einstein’s suggestion was “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” While the celebrated genius may have been being facetious, he was also speaking to the power of stimulating the imagination. In addition, have political conversations at the dinner table, go to the theatre, play music with your child, and try some science experiments. Take enlightening trips, if you can afford them. Although this kind of enrichment requires a heavy time commitment and more than a little ingenuity, few investments a parent can make are so likely to pay off.
But for those after-school, Saturday, and summer times when you desperately want supplemental programs, the Chicago area offers a wealth of options. Premier among them is the Center for Talent Development in Evanston (www.ctd.northwestern.edu), run by Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. Founded in 1982, CTD has served over 500,000 families in the last three decades, and it has evolved into “a multi-faceted operation with four central foci:  talent identification, talent development, research, and advocacy (CTD literature).” CTD offers a wide range of courses for ages 4-18, showcased in its Saturday Enrichment Program and in a great many summer options.  Last summer, for example, a seventh or eighth-grader could choose among such courses as “Biomechanics: Understanding Human Movement,” “Illusions and Solutions: The Art of Math,” or “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Honors.”  Older students attending the summer three-week courses may live in Northwestern dormitories. Costs vary according to age and type of program, but some scholarship aid for “underrepresented” populations does exist. CTD also allows applicants to submit an admission portfolio in lieu of taking standardized tests.
Another good option for you may be out-of-school foreign language instruction for your child. Language Stars (www.language-stars.com) has fifteen Chicago area locations and offers Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Italian, and German courses for children preK- Grade 5.  Another website, www.chicagokids.com, can inform you about the Alliance Francaise, Casa Italia, Cervantes Kids, China Kids Chinese Language Center, the Japanese-American Service Committee’s Tampopo Club, and other cultural centers that offer language classes for children of all ages
Extra-curricular music instruction is also a fine way to provide
stimulation for lively students. While many kinds of instruction are available, the Music Institute of Chicago (www.musicinst.org) offers some of the best options. Begun in 1931, the Music Institute is an accredited not-for-profit institution that has three branches to serve children: the Community Music School, which offers lessons, musical theatre productions, and group events; The Academy, which offers individual and group lessons to particularly gifted young musicians; and Therapy Through Arts, which focuses on the healing properties of music and other arts. The Music Institute has several metropolitan and suburban locations.
If you’re looking for supplemental science instruction, Lincoln Park’s Kids Science Labs (www.kslchicago.com) provides “stimulating hands-on science programs designed to enhance cognitive abilities” for gifted children ages 2-12 (website literature). KSL offers a variety of after-school classes, field trips, and summer day camps.
In addition, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park (www.naturemuseum.org) offers a range of special science courses and camps for children of all ages, some of them involving foreign language. The other major local science museums also have some, though more limited, possibilities for children: the Museum of Science and Industry (www.msichicago.org), the Field Museum (www.fieldmuseum.org), the Shedd Aquarium (www.sheddaquarium.org), and the Adler Planetarium (www.adlerplanetarium. org).
The Chicago Zoological Society at the Brookfield Zoo has numerous programs for students in their new Center for Conservation Leadership, including studies on endangered species and dolphin research,
Supplemental writing and theatre experience for talented children is available from two excellent local institutions, among others. Second City (www.secondcity.com) offers improv, acting, writing, and comedy classes throughout the school year and in the summer as well. The assorted summer camps, for ages 11-18, all last for two weeks and culminate in performances. In the “Rising Stars” option during the school year (for ages 9-12), students rehearse and present their own original musical theatre show. Other fine writing and theatre opportunities exist at the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston (www.piventheatre.org). Piven offers a host of classes for grades 4-12 during the school year, as well as numerous summer courses.
For further information about opportunities for especially talented children, you may want to consult the website www.giftedparent.org, a valuable nation-wide resource that supplies information about camps, classes, and other programs as they become available.  Another useful agency is the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org), along with its local partner, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children (www.iagcgifted,org).
One final caveat: beware of over-programming your bright child. As wise French priest and writer Ernest Dimnet once noted, “Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.”

Published: December 02, 2012
Issue: 2012 Philanthropy Issue