Summer Programs and Intensities

March 14, 2013

By Kate Duey

GirlBubble_YunasaSelecting an appropriate summer camp for a gifted student requires careful consideration of the whole child. Who are they, and how can they benefit from the summer? There are no standard answers to this. Some students want to spend the summer more fully pursuing a passion. Others want to try something new. And some don’t want to go to camp at all, preferring to read, imagine, work for money, visit family, or more. All of these are worthwhile options.

To understand a child’s greatest strengths and needs, and how educational choices can best support a child, I often look to Dabrowski’s Theory of Overexcitabilities, also often called intensities. If we can identify a child’s intensities, we can better analyze which resources best serve him or her. For a good understanding of Dabrowski’s theory of gifted children and their intensities, I recommend Sharon Lind’s article, “Overexcitability and the Gifted.”

Before considering the environment of a summer program, there are a few overarching questions to consider. Do they want to fill their summer with what they already know they like, or do they choose to try something personally challenging? Do they want to stay in their comfort zone, or experience a summer outside of it? After your child has answered these questions, you can think about your child’s needs more specifically. Here are ideas, based on my work with gifted children, to help you think about summer camps and programs based on their personal intensities.

Psychomotor Overexcitabilities

These children are restless, driven, usually in movement, active and energetic. They can successfully attend camps with non-athletic foci, but they must have daily opportunities for physical expression.

Last summer a gifted rising high school senior was in a college counseling seminar I led. The best part of his summer was playing basketball, and it seemed the worst part was sitting in my two-hour meeting. His dream is to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, and toward that he had an aggressive schedule of running and weight lifting. Another student told me he had to practice circus stunts every day or he would be depressed.

A summer experience for this type of student should in some way include:

  • A big campus with easy access to open spaces
  • Fast-paced sports options
  • Challenging physical activities with some sense of riskiness
  • A climate that allows daily outdoor activities
  • Sleeping arrangements that accommodate students who need fewer than average hours of sleep
  • Camp programing that encourages students to settle themselves into some quiet time

Sensual Overexcitabilities

These children are highly sensitive to pleasurable or displeasureable sights, smells, textures, tastes and sounds. They can feel overwhelmed by increased sensory input, especially if they are placed in a displeasureable environment. Food quality is particularly important for these children. Music, language and art camps are well suited to these students.

A summer experience for this type of student should in some way include:

  • Appealing food – One IEA client attended a Chinese language camp, which was a great experience for her – except that she did not like Chinese food. (She did come to like some of the menu’s choices.) Camps with strong kitchen odors can also be a problem for these children.
  • Supportive dining arrangements – Food is what you eat, plus how you eat it. Is the meal rushed? Is the camp turning over tables to feed everyone? Is the eating area clean? Or are students encouraged to sit, have conversation and stay at the table as long as they want?
  • Good air quality
  • Access to music
  • Visually soothing campus – One student told me she would only feel peaceful if she was surrounded by trees.

Intellectual Overexcitabilities

These children need to seek, understand, analyze and synthesize knowledge. They are able to concentrate for long periods and love to talk about theoretical and moral issues. They can be unintentionally critical of other students who are not peers.

Last month, I was in workshops with gifted high school students who aired their frustrations with limits on intellectual exploration. Most of them cited teachers who were sometimes unable to explain advanced material. AP classes are a mixed blessing: there is more advanced material, but so many assignments and a strict curriculum crowd out genuine thought.

A summer experience for this type of student should in some way include:

  • Association with teachers or mentors who have complete mastery of their field
  • Connection with peers who can socialize in compatible ways
  • Intense learning possibilities
  • Opportunities to discuss moral concerns
  • Time to read

Imaginational Overexcitabilities

These children often create their own private worlds with imaginary people and storylines. They tend to prefer fantasies and dreams over facts and have preferences for the unique and unusual.

One gifted student interested in art had a superb summer in an architecture program. He was thrilled when his teacher gave him a viewfinder and told him to walk around the city, looking only at the details of architectural elements. He loved it all, especially working with the viewfinder.

A summer experience for this type of student should in some way include:

  • Creative inlets and outlets such as plays, movies, creative writing, poetry, photography and crafts
  • Storytelling
  • Access to workshop space on an as-needed schedule
  • Free time to imagine and wander
  • Something within the program that is new to the student and out of the ordinary

Emotional Overexcitabilities

These children have intense feelings within themselves and strongly identify with the feelings of others. Their intensity includes physical responses, such as stomach aches, and they can be accused of over-reacting in situations.

This intensity is a challenge for residential camp staff, especially if the camp counselors are young. One student with emotional overexcitabilities was unable to sleep at residential camp until she was allowed a visitor and began to receive daily mail.

A summer experience for this type of student should include:

  • An empathetic environment
  • Mature counselors with good communication skills
  • Camp commitment to accepting all feelings
  • A calm environment, sometimes facilitated by a low staff to student ratio
  • Good medical facilities, especially if the child is on any medication

As an organization specifically dedicated to serving gifted students, all of IEA’s programs keep these overexcitabilities in mind. For programs not specifically designed for gifted students, theses intensities are important to consider and have the potential to make a significant difference in your child’s summer program experience.

IEA is currently accepting applications for summer programs for gifted kids ages 5 to 18. For more information about these programs, please visit the Program page of our website. Apply today!

What factors do you consider when selecting a summer program for your gifted child? Please share in the comment section below.

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