Yes, every child is a gift. But no, not every child is gifted.
Maybe it is the word, “gifted” that gets people tied up in knots. But decades of trying to find a better word, has not revealed that perfect term to explain what it means to be a gifted person. Oh, and no, it isn’t only children who are gifted.
In my article, “The Funnel Analogy of Giftedness” I talk about the sensitivities and processing issues that gifted children contend with internally. It is hard to be a gifted person, and the more gifted a child is, the harder some aspects of childhood are. Worrying about death when you are three, or being concerned about the government when you are five, is troubling for both child and parent.
It is true that gifted people have abilities that other people don’t. And people who are not gifted often have some pretty impressive abilities, that certainly not all gifted people possess. But there are characteristics of being gifted that simply do not show up in the rest of the population.
This is not to say that being gifted is “better” than not being gifted. It means that just as people who are exceptionally tall, have to work to fit into a world built for average height folks, gifted people have to work to fit into a world built for the majority.
Gifted people are a minority. A sub-culture, if you will. With special needs.
It seems to me, that when most people think of “a gifted child” they imagine a kid who is easy to raise, does well in school, and gets along well with peers. Unfortunately that is often not at all the case. Children with intelligence above average, may fall into that category. But my definition of gifted is not above average but rather, exceptional.
In any society, it is hard to be exceptional. By definition, it means different. The more gifted a person is, the more exceptional they are, the less likely they will find true peers, or fit into regular classrooms.
In my research on assessing early signs of giftedness, parents have written to me some descriptions of their children. Rather than me explaining to you what is so different about these kids, I will share some descriptions with you.
Judge for yourself, if you think these descriptions are remotely “normal” or that “all” children are something like these kids.
She recognized most letters in her puzzle at 14 months, and at 16 months knows all of her letters and most of their sounds (all hard sounds, not really vowel sounds). Yesterday she matched lower case and upper case puzzle letters without help. I showed her this once over a week ago. She’s trying to figure out numbers…spends 20-30 min looking at a number book we have. She makes counting intonations and points at each thing, but doesn’t double tap items like most kids I’ve seen. Her dad is very smart too. (But she also calls all colors besides blue, yellow…so she’s not a complete smarty pants!)
The child described was 16 months old at the time.
She is physically extremely well coordinated. She held her head up at birth, and could stand by holding onto my fingers, at 6 weeks old. She can hold detailed, multi phrase conversations. Having had a conversation about gravity, she will now tell me that gravity makes her balloon fall down. Having been to a museum with some science experiments, she told me that when the balloon burst it didn’t make any noise because it was in a vacuum. If I forget to brush her teeth, she reminds me that we need to because otherwise the bacteria will make her teeth fall out.
This child was 2 years, 8 months old when the mother wrote this description.
He appears to be stuck in a kindergarten class where they are teaching letters, colors and shapes. They think studying the calendar is math. He is probably reading on a 2nd grade level, and already doing double-digit addition.
This mother clearly did not realize what is standard for kindergarten. Her child was 5 and a half years old.
She learned to name pictures on flashcards at almost 7 months, she learned her colors, shapes, and alphabet at 18 months, can memorize bible verses at 20 months, and phonics at 2 years old. She reasons well, corrects adult basic grammar like, likes to ask about things in her human body book, like heart, kidneys, liver, etc. Extremely sharp memory, can construct sentences with correct grammar, can rephrase a sentence and not lose the main thought or idea, can repeat instructions back to me, and can follow a series of instructions.
This child was not quite 3 years old when her mother wrote this. Note that the mother mentions naming the pictures on the flashcards. That means the girl was speaking all those words at 7 months old.
She read more than 800 words by 12 months old, count one to one up to 20 at 17 months old, up to 100 by 18 months old, read any words including names at 17 months old. At 2 years and 11 months old – her reading level was tested at the 5th grade, and 6 months later, nursery teachers told us that she reads beyond O level [equivalent to U.S. high school sophomore]. Wrote her first story at 3 1/2 years and can cut any materials and shapes with scissors before 4. Fully self-dressed by 2 1/2 years old, including buckling shoes, zip, and buttoning (self-taught). Put on her own socks at 19 months old. She reads by herself an average of 5 hours a day. And reads 250-400 words per minute (Enid Blyton book). Huge knowledge and has read 1000+ elementary school books before 20 months old, and many children’s encyclopedias since then.
This child was 3 years and 11 months old when this mother wrote to me.
He started speaking words at 9 months, read at least 8 words at 18 months, reads and sounds out words currently. Knows countries in the atlas and always wants to know more. His memory is impeccable and remembers things from when he was just over 12 months and could tell you details! Speaks clearly and fluently like 5-7 year old. I am stuck on what else to do with him as don’t want him to know too much above his peers to be bored when he reaches school age– but don’t want to hold him back either. We try to keep him occupied by doing as many extra curricular activities, like dancing and soccer and music.
This child was 36 months (3 years) old when his mother wrote the description.
Do all children have gifts? ARE all children gifts? Certainly.
Are all children gifted? No. When we assume that all children are gifted, we do the exceptionally gifted children a tremendous disservice when we ignore their needs.
All children have a right to be educated. A gifted child who is sitting in a classroom, being forced to “stay with his or her peers” for some misguided “social reasons” is neither getting educated—because they already know most, if not all, of what the teacher is offering—nor is getting a chance to have a social life, because their age-mates are not their true peers, unless they are in a class filled with children gifted at a similar level to themselves.
Which means that, yes, gifted children really need to be in classes that are for gifted kids. And if those classes do not exist where they live, then they need to be allowed to advance in their grades as their intellectual needs dictate. Even if they don’t get straight A’s. Because being gifted does not always mean naturally excelling at school. There is no benefit to taking a gifted C student out of “the gifted program” to put the kid back in the standard classroom, to continue pulling C’s. (This happens regularly.)
Will a 5 year old have trouble finding friends in a third grade classroom? Maybe, maybe not. But a 5 year old who is reading at the high school level is not going to find friends in a kindergarten room, either. At least we can allow that child to enjoy learning, if we can’t offer true peers.
Gifted programs are not elitist. They are best-practices education.
Next time I blog about giftedness, I’ll talk about adults who are gifted.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_the_g_word.htm