By Samantha Outcalt, Yunasa Volunteer
Gifted kids spend a lot of time in their heads. They devote considerable energy to thinking, wondering, analyzing, drafting, problem-solving, inventing, calculating, composing, planning, investigating, comparing, contrasting, formulating, predicting…and so on. They have great practice living inside their heads and tend to naturally gravitate to these cognitive habits. Thus, gifted kids often view their minds as the central foundation of their identity. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but an identity based solely on intellect is an incomplete one. It is imbalanced and neglects the truth that gifted kids are also emotional creatures who long for connection with others and to a sense of purpose. To attain more balance, gifted kids need the opportunity to quiet their minds and devote time and space to exercise their hearts.
Yunasa offers just that. This week-long summer camp allows the opportunity, time, and space for gifted kids to practice getting out of their heads and to value other aspects of the self. In its mission to develop the whole child, Yunasa emphasizes five aspects of self: the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. These five domains are cultivated throughout the week, helping campers broaden their sense of self beyond intellect and integrate all five domains into a unified identity. After my visit to Yunasa West this June, I can confidently attest that this is a place where gifted kids learn to love themselves and find a sense of belonging among a community of peers.
At Yunasa, I observed intentional cultivation of each of these five aspects of self:
- The physical self is developed through traditional camp activities such as ropes courses, rappelling, kayaking, archery, and more. Campers are encouraged to tune in to their physical body through daily yoga or Tai Chi.
- The intellectual domain is nurtured through discussion of what it means to be gifted, learning about overexcitabilities, and other topics campers choose during workshops. Campers share their passions with one another and engage in stimulating conversation with camp Fellows, who are experts in gifted development and education.
- The emotional life of a gifted kid is celebrated at Yunasa. Campers have daily practice with guided visualization, breathwork and other tools to listen to and regulate their intense emotions. Fellows and camp counselors are closely attuned and responsive to the emotional needs of campers. Campers are encouraged to share their feelings with others in a safe, nonjudgmental, and supportive environment.
- The social benefit of being in community with other gifted kids is a powerful element of Yunasa. For many gifted learners, it is challenging to find a peer group and they feel isolated as they move through childhood and adolescence. There is psychological safety in being able to freely express oneself, knowing Yunasa is a place where gifted kids are valued for their idiosyncrasies. Campers connect with like-minded peers as well as with counselors and Fellows who get them and support them.
- The spiritual traditions that are incorporated into the week help campers connect to the natural world around them and to a sense of purpose. Native rituals, yoga practice, labyrinth meditation, and the spectacular beauty of the outdoor surroundings are all pathways for campers to open their heart and spirit to something bigger than themselves.
When I was at Yunasa West, I saw that the kids brought their complete selves to camp and there they had a chance to let it all out. From belting out Disney songs at the campfire variety show to tenderly supporting a crying friend, from boisterous team spirit during Yunasa Olympics to mentoring a younger camper through homesickness, and from energetic dancing at the camp social to a caring resolution of a painful misunderstanding, I witnessed a sense of comfort among Yunasa campers. I witnessed a deep level of acceptance for one another and for oneself. I witnessed a strong and connected community. Yunasa provided the opportunity for each aspect of self to be valued, supported and celebrated.
The thing is, whether or not we intentionally cultivate these five domains of self, gifted kids already are whole people (and always have been). But they may not know this about themselves. As they tend to live in their heads, they may be taken aback when an emotional meltdown shows up out of the blue or when interpersonal conflict explodes in their face with no apparent warning. Even when attending primarily to the intellectual self, the other four domains still operate beneath the surface, responding to internal states, external environments, and important relationships. Just as a smartphone app running in the background still saps memory and energy, the unattended domains of self are still present and influential. For example, a gifted kid may always have that intense emotionality running in the background (and may be exhausted by it!) even when emotions are not readily apparent. Yunasa helps campers become aware of all five domains of self, to appreciate each one, and how to care for them all.
Yunasa helps gifted kids get out of their heads. My time at camp showed me how powerfully meaningful Yunasa can be. I saw campers grow in self-love, appreciation for emotions, and ability to forge deep interpersonal connections. It was truly an honor to share this time with Yunasa campers, counselors, staff, and Fellows, and to witness campers finding balance within themselves.
Samantha Outcalt works as the staff Psychologist at Sycamore School, a Preschool-8th-grade independent school in Indianapolis with a mission for serving gifted learners. There she directs a social-emotional wellness program, offers individual and group counseling to students, and provides consultation to teachers and parents. She can be reached at email@example.com.