What does being “gifted” mean? That your child reads Shakespeare at five? Plays Chopin’s Etude in G# minor at eight? Solves complex calculus problems at 10? The truth is that when it comes to gifted children, characteristics vary. The definition is as diverse as youngsters themselves. How do you know if your child is, in fact, gifted – and what exactly does that mean?
What is “Gifted”
According to the National Association for Gifted Children, “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one more more domains.” These domains include areas such as language, music, math, painting, dance, and sports.
A gifted child excels in one or more of these domains, showing natural aptitude – and, most often, an intense passion for their area of interest. Other gifted children characteristics include:
- Learning to read at an earlier age than peers and with better comprehension and appreciation for the more subtle nuances of language.
- An appetite for reading.
- An expansive vocabulary.
- The ability to learn, and master, skills quickly.
- The ability to think abstractly and to pick up on nonverbal cues.
- Endless questions! They want to know how things work and why.
- The ability to learn and work independently at an early age.
- Increased focus and attention span (particularly in their area of interest).
- Diverse interests.
- Being able to relate to and converse with older children and adults.
- The ability to handle tasks in an organized, efficient way.
- Love of learning. They don’t need external motivation; they’ll seek out knowledge and practice it on their own.
These individuals are voracious when it comes to learning. They want to know more, do more, see more, experience more to stimulate their brains and activate those unlimited imaginations. They’re curious about the world around them.
The federal government associates “gifted” with “high achievement capability.” And that’s why we think of the tiny prodigies, the 16 year old college graduates, the brilliant 20 year old doctors, etc.
What Gifted Is Not
But it is as important to recognize what gifted is not. It is not a free pass to academic excellence or life achievement. In fact, research indicates that 25% of gifted individuals are underachievers; they quit trying, in school or in a career. Whether it’s because they’re bored or unsatisfied, this is certainly a troubling statistic.
Gifted children can also struggle in school. They may receive poor grades, and you may have to field too many calls about their behavior. For example, a child who completes work quickly or finds it too easy may act out to fulfill their need for stimulation. And, because many gifted children are active and always on the go, they may be misdiagnosed with an attention and/or hyperactivity disorder.
There is also an issue with “twice exceptional” children. Many gifted students have learning disabilities. This may mask their skill and capability in other areas, so they are not considered for gifted and talented services. They essentially fall through the cracks and are not given the support they need to reach their potential.
Other myths and misunderstandings about what being gifted means include:
- Gifted children are good at everything.
- They love school and excel.
- They’ll be fine without specialized programs because teachers challenge all students (this is just not possible all the time and the majority of educators do not have specific training when it comes to gifted children).
How Gifted and Talented Programs in Elementary Schools Help Our Children
Schools are typically geared towards average learners. Please remember that “average” is in no way pejorative. Every child is special; not every child is gifted.
Some people believe that having gifted children in a regular classroom is beneficial because it pushes the other children to perform at a higher level. This is fine in theory, but in practice, average and below-average students do not typically look at gifted learners as role models. They see them flying through work that they struggle with, and it can impact their self-confidence. The gifted children, in turn, may be bored and frustrated when in such a learning environment.
This brings us to another common objection to GATE programs. They’re elitist. Educational opportunities should help elevate students no matter what their starting point. Gifted children come from all racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Thinking that “gifted” solely applies children from affluent, educated families is unfairly limiting.
Gifted and talented programs in elementary schools provide children with the opportunity to grow and develop on their level. It’s not “better” than an average student; it’s different. Remember, the right to an equal education does not mean that every child receives the same education. They receive the support they need as individuals.
Being gifted is can often be felt as a burden to children; they need opportunities to work and grow and explore that meets their needs. Every child should have these opportunities. If you see gifted children characteristics in your own kid, start asking questions. Are their programs at your school that can help? Is it time to transition to a new school that can properly engage, challenge, and support your child?