Blog Archives

Guest Tom Clynes and Extreme Parenting

gtchat 08212015 Extreme Parenting


This week our guest was Tom Clynes, author of The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting & How to Make a Star. If you work with gifted children, advocate for gifted education or are the parent of a gifted child, you will love this book. It is the fascinating story of Taylor Wilson, a science prodigy, who became the youngest person in the world to achieve nuclear fusion at the age of 14.

Our topic this week was ‘Extreme Parenting’ which by any measure would describe the Wilsons’ parenting style. Their counter intuitive approach to parenting flew in the face of conventional wisdom, but proved to be exactly what Taylor needed to reach for the stars and eventually create one for himself.

Beyond a great read, author Tom Clynes makes a convincing argument for the need to provide an appropriate education for gifted children who are languishing in classrooms across the U.S. It is refreshing to hear from someone outside the gifted community establishment come to this conclusion after extensive research into the history of gifted education and seeing first-hand the role education plays in identifying and supporting our nation’s best and brightest.

Boy Who Played with Fusion Bookstore

Photo courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

We first discussed the history of gifted education beginning in the 1950s and how support has declined over the years. Tom told us, “I wrote in The Boy Who Played With Fusion that Nikita Khrushchev did more for gifted education in America than anyone else. The Sputnik launch provoked all kinds of support for intellectually precocious students who were seen as strategic resources. The boom years for bright kids continued into the 1970s; then hit an ideological roadblock in the late 1980s. Specialized education for the academically talented was attacked as being elitist. After 2003, funding for gifted programs was diverted to support the long-overdue focus on the nation’s underachievers. Unfortunately, support for the top of the talent curve is now enjoyed mostly by students who are near the top of the socioeconomic curve. Most of the nation’s gifted students (especially minority and rural children) now have little access to an appropriate education.”

Boy Who Played with Fusion Taylor Wilson TED Talk

Taylor Wilson during a TED Talk. (Photo courtesy of Tom Clyne)

The discussion then switched to the future and what needs to change in how we educate gifted children. Tom had lots of advice on what to do next, “We’ll need to shift the course of an educational culture that has been surprisingly slow to accept its own research. Many educators still cling to the unsupported belief that acceleration hurts children emotionally and socially though hundreds of studies show that most children are happier among intellectual peers. Acceleration has positive, long-term affects on careers, productivity and life satisfaction. Another persistent myth is that it’s expensive to help gifted children develop their talents. Some interventions (such as ability grouping and acceleration by subject) require few resources. These kids don’t need expensive new programs, they just need what older kids are already getting. We also need more teacher training to identify gifted students, and policies to ease early college admission for qualified kids. And educators need to cast a wider net to identify gifted rural and minority students who are often overlooked in talent searches.” You can read more about acceleration here.

“Many educators still cling to the unsupported belief that acceleration hurts children emotionally and socially though hundreds of studies show that most children are happier among intellectual peers.” ~ Tom Clynes 

What are the implications for a nation that chooses to ignore its top students? Tom offered his insights in telling us, “It’s becoming clearer that a nation’s prosperity will depend, increasingly, on the intellectual capability of its population. But U.S. efforts to develop the high end of that capability have stalled; other nations have pushed ahead with innovative programs. By forsaking potential world-changers, we’re hobbling our economies and denying our civilization its next generation of innovators. These are the future Salks, Mozarts, and Curies who will figure out the riddles and push the frontiers of knowledge forward. Instead of trying to rebuild the nation’s talent pool, we are squandering a crucial resource: our brightest children.”

In ‘The Boy Who Played with Fusion’, we see Taylor Wilson’s parents use what Tom Clynes refers to as an ‘extreme parenting’ style which challenges traditional parenting. Tom explains, “By the time Taylor was 11 years old he was collecting and experimenting with radioactive materials, some supremely scary stuff. Instead of doing what most parents would regard as common sense – keeping their kid away from things that could kill him … Tiffany and Kenneth took a counter-intuitive approach to nurturing Taylor’s talents. The lengths to which they were willing to go to support Taylor as he pursued his unnerving interests were, to me, even more impressive than Taylor’s intrinsic talents. At 14, he became the youngest person to build a working nuclear fusion reactor, a miniature sun on Earth. His parents brought in educators and mentors to guide Taylor…so he could pursue his interests safely.” You can read more on that here.

Boy Who Played with Fusion Wilson Family

Taylor Wilson with his parents, Kenneth and Tiffany, and brother Joey (Photo courtesy of Tom Clynes)

In his book, Tom talks about a household culture of “intellectual spoiling”. How can parents create such a culture? Tom suggests, “Compare to “Helicopter parents,” who push their children as hard as they push the system hovering over their every move, steering them toward the parents’ choices. Child psychologists and educators say there’s a better way: Let children pilot their own helicopters. I call it Helicopter Parenting 2.0 . Parents provide the fuel—supplies, mentors, encouragement and then jump aboard and let the kids fly as far and in whatever directions their developing passions and talents take them. Under this new model of parenting, parents create household cultures that encourage children to take intellectual risks. They feed their children’s curiosity by developing customized, hands-on opportunities and by building a base of support that’s both intellectual and emotional.”

“Helicopter Parenting 2.0: Parents provide the fuel—supplies, mentors, encouragement and then jump aboard and let the kids fly as far and in whatever directions their developing passions and talents take them.” ~ Tom Clynes

Finally we discussed what it takes for ‘scary smart’ kids to succeed. Tom said, “Kids whose abilities are identified early and whose talents are supported are most likely to grow into creative, high-achieving adults. The support includes individualized learning experiences, acceleration when appropriate, mentorship opportunities, and social-emotional support. At school, children thrive when there’s active, interest-based learning rather than forced effort. But…beware of labels: Once a child is labeled gifted, the pressure to perform can become an emotional burden. Some students become worried about protecting their image and start avoiding opportunities to grow if there’s a chance of failure. Encourage children to take intellectual risks and open themselves up to failures that will help them learn.”

A final thought offered by Lisa Lauffer of Create Miracles was, “We parents get to enjoy guiding these unique kids along their paths. Let’s enjoy the journey!” A transcript of this chat may be found at Storify.



Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented and sponsored by is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7E/6C/5M/4P in the U.S., Midnight in the UK and Saturdays 11 AM NZST/9 AM AEST to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

Head Shot 2014-07-14  About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered        by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime  advocate for gifted children and also blogs at  Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:


“Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting…” Extreme Giftedness

The Boy Who Played with Fusion (Popular Science)

Taylor Wilson: My Radical Plan for Small Nuclear Fission Reactors 2013  (TED Talk)

Taylor Wilson The Boy Who Played with Fusion 2014 (You Tube 41:53)

Would You Let Your Kids Play With Fusion?

Why This 14-Year-Old Kid Built a Nuclear Reactor

The “rage to master”: What it Takes for Those Scary-Smart Kids to Succeed

Is the U.S. Overlooking Its Most Gifted Students?

If I burn out, I burn out’: Meet Taylor Wilson, Nuclear Boy Genius

The Boy Genius and the Genius in All of Us

Igniting a Renaissance

Taylor’s Nuke Site

Taylor Wilson, Teenage Nuclear Scientist, Redesigns Nuclear Power

Taylor Wilson, Nuclear Prodigy (video)

Tom Clynes: The Boy Who Played with Fusion Interview (audio)

Cybraryman’s Parents and Teachers Page

Graphics courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Locating Age-Appropriate Books for High Ability Learners

M3352M-1009Young Reader*

Locating age-appropriate books for high ability learners can prove difficult  for several reasons. Asynchronous development may mean that a very young child could comprehend reading material well beyond what may be considered appropriate for their age. As Lisa Van Gemert of American Mensa pointed out, interest levels and sensitivities also play important roles when finding appropriate yet challenging books for these children. Jo Freitag of Gifted Resources commented that material deemed appropriate for a child’s chronological age might be considered too simplistic and unsatisfying to the child. Leslie Graves, President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, noted that the depth of thought embedded in the content and the pace of information offered would also make many leveled offerings inappropriate as well.

Young reader black and whiteChild Reading**

Reading patterns found in gifted readers can be different than those of typical readers. These kids often start reading earlier than their age peers and demonstrate deeper comprehension of what they read. Kate B.  stated they may be self taught, read faster and be voracious readers.  Justin Schwamm, Latin teacher at Tres Columnae, related that many gifted learners read and enjoy multiple books at once; which can drive others crazy. Moderator, Lisa Conrad, added that it’s still important to respect the developmental process and allow a child to enjoy reading at various levels. Parents should resist the urge to ‘push’ a child to read simply because they excel in other academic areas.

Parent readingParent Reading to Child*

Reading to children was still considered an important role of both the parent and teacher even after children were reading well on their own. Jerry Blumengarten, well known content curator Cybraryman and former teacher, remembered family reading time as enjoyable and an important time to be set aside even after children were reading. When he taught Language Arts, his 9th grade students loved when he read dramatically to them. Jayne Frances reminded us that reading aloud is important for pronunciation of words and sharing more precise or alternate definitions than those gleaned from context. Many also related the importance of emotional bonding that occurs when adults read to children whether it was a parent or teacher.

The popular school reading program ‘Accelerated Reader’ did not fare well in the opinions of many at this chat. This program seemed out-of-sync with high ability learners. Justin Schwamm told us that he was not a fan because extrinsic rewards for an intrinsically-valuable task are problematic at best.

Questions for this chat are here  and a full transcript of this chat can be found at Storify. Links from the chat and additional links are below.  Thank you to all chat participants who shared links with us.

gtchat thumbnail logoGlobal #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZ/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Pageprovides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.

Head Shot 2014-07-14About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered byTAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:


Search Book Titles by Conceptual/Vocabulary Difficulty Age from Armadillo Soft

67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers (Amazon)

Guiding the Gifted Reader (1990)

Reading Lists for Your Gifted Child from Hoagies Gifted

Best-Loved Books: A Unique Reading List for Gifted Students Grades 6-12 (pdf)

Book List for Very Young Precocious Readers (link on bottom right of page)

Book List for Pre-teen Gifted Readers from Suki Wessling

The Challenge of “Challenged Books” Gifted Child Today Magazine Spring, 2002

GT-World Reading Lists

Books for Young Readers from the MN Council for the Gifted & Talented

Appropriate Content for Gifted Readers from Duke TIP

13 Age-Appropriate Books for Young Gifted Readers

Gifted 101: Choosing Books for Your Young Gifted Reader

3 Reasons I Loathe Accelerated Reader from Lisa Van Gemert, The Gifted Guru

Dear Google, You Should Have Talked to Me First from Jen Marten

Reading Lists from Jo Freitag of Gifted Resources

Appropriate Expectations for the Gifted Child from SENG

Slow Down and Look at the Pictures

Early Literacy Page from Cybraryman

Mensa Foundation Excellence in Reading

What Should I Read Next 

Reading List for Key Stage 1 Gifted Readers (pdf) from Potential Plus UK

Reading and Literacy Skills Page from Cybraryman

Books Page from Cybraryman

Newbery Medal Winners 1922 – Present 

Caldecott Medal and Honor Books 1938 – Present

Mrs. Ripp Reads

Additional Links:

Orientation (The School for Gifted Potentials Book 1) by Allis Wade

Revelations (The School for Gifted Potentials Book 2) by Allis Wade

Gifted Readers and Young Adult Literature: A Perfect Match from Duke TIP

Book Lists from Davidson Institute for Talent Development

The Gifted Reader’s Bill of Rights (pdf) by Bertie Kingore

Mind the Gap: Engaging Gifted Readers 

Resources for the Middle School Gifted Reader 

Books for Gifted Readers (Middle School)

Reading Projects for Gifted and Talented Students

Just Because They Can Doesn’t Mean They Should: Choosing Age-Appropriate Books for Literature Circles

*Photos: Courtesy of morgueFile

** Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay

All Kinds of Gifted

New Years Eve

For the last chat of the year, our topic  was All Kinds of Gifted. This included gifted, highly gifted, profoundly gifted, twice-exceptional,  minority and low-ses. Throughout the chat, it was emphasized that educators need to recognize and understand that giftedness comes in many different forms. A full transcript may be found here.

The difference between gifted and high-achievers was discussed. A common misconception is that these terms are inter-changeable which greatly affects the approach many teachers take to gifted education to the detriment of all gifted students.

I’d like to take a moment to thank all our readers here at #gtchat’s blog. I encourage you to join us on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 7 PM ET/6 PM CT. Our topic will be, “2014 The Year Ahead” and I plan to use crowd-sourcing to determine the future of #gtchat. This will be your opportunity to tell me what you like and what you would like to see changed.

Until then, may you all enjoy a joyous holiday season and very Happy New Year!


Many Kinds of “Gifted”

Exceptionally Gifted Children: Different Minds from @SENG_Gifted

Profiles of the Gifted and Talented from @DavidsonGifted

High Achievers, Gifted Learners, and Creative Thinkers

Gifted Children and the Overachievement Fallacy

Educators’ Guide to Gifted Children from @GiftedHF

Why Are Gifted Students Different & What Does That Mean For Us As Educators?

Cultivating a Gifted Mind from @giftedbooks

What We Have Learned About Gifted Children from @GiftedDevCenter

Gifted, and Different

12 Lists of Characteristics of Gifted Students from @ByrdseedGifted

Different than the Rest: Social Challenges of Gifted Adolescents

The “Problem” with Gifted Kids

How Being Gifted Means Being Different

Exquisite Minds

Gifted Advocacy: What’s the Point?

What’s the point of gifted advocacy? This is the question we tried to answer. Too many advocates these days seem to be focusing on everything except the gifted child and their ‘right’ to an appropriate education. Of all groups studied in today’s classrooms, the identified gifted learner is making the least progress. Having topped out on most standardized tests, what will make the difference in the life of these kids? A full transcript may be found here.

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented on Twitter happens weekly on Fridays at 7PM ET/6PM CT in the U.S., Midnight in the UK and 11.00 in Australia (ET) on Saturdays. Polls for topic selection are posted on Tuesdays and the link is posted by @gtchatmod on Twitter. Please join us!


Why Geniuses Don’t Need Gifted Education” 

The Wrong Argument for Gifted Education” via Gifted Exchange

Why Gifted Students Still Need Gifted Education!!” via @davis_joy 

RED ALERT: Gifted Education is a Civil Rights Issue” via @DeborahMersino

Preaching to the Choir: Thinking About Gifted Advocacy” from Crushing Tall Poppies

Professor James J Gallagher: “Advocacy for Gifted Education a National Priority

Paradise Valley USD in AZ Gifted Program with Self-contained Classrooms.

Cybraryman’s Gifted Advocacy Page

Needed: Parent Advocacy

Social Networking – Impacting the World of Gifted Education

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