Monday, January 26, 2015

Is My Preschooler Gifted?


My oldest son is gifted. My youngest is smart. Over the last twelve years, I've taught many preschoolers, with about 1/3 each average, smart and gifted. 

The parents ask me why I think their child might be gifted. There are some good lists out there, but I want to give my own perspective from my personal observations.  

Gifted children are different. They feel more intensely, they think differently. Their abilities arise from a brain that is wired in a much more complex, inter-connected manner. 

It starts early and doesn't let up. My gifted students have all had heads shaking from the time they were early toddlers. 

Gifted is not necessarily a blessing. They feel more intensely, they get analysis paralysis, they can be obsessive, their brains never stop and often their mouths as well, and they can easily be overwhelmed and overwhelming. Their view of our very gray world can be sharply black and white, and reality can be difficult for them to handle. 

Here's just a little of my perception of the differences. 

This is very simplistic and generalized and does not discuss varying abilities within children, outside forces that impact performance, gifted issues, etc. 

#1 FOCUS

Even with infants, I can tell a marked difference in their future abilities by their focus and tracking as early as a few months old; along with how they look for reinforcement and information from an adult. It can be a little uncanny to see intelligence shine from someone so young.

  • The average child pays the minimal attention and must be engaged through movement and fun.
  • The smart child will pay attention in order to "get" it, then be ready to move on.
  • The gifted child will pay close attention, ask questions, mull it over and ask questions throughout the day, and bring it back up for a week, or month, in different contexts until they feel comfortable that they completely UNDERSTAND the concept and all its applications. [One of the reasons I leave new material out and available for at least a week.]

Caught Miss H contemplating the whiteboard rather than playing during free time. Just turned 5.
#2 RESPONSES

  • The average child says, "OK," and accepts information as given.
  • The smart child will ask simple questions for clarification purposes or about a specific topic. Once answered to their liking, they move on to the next topic.
  • The gifted child asks big questions about a specific topic. A LOT of them. They will not let it go until they feel thoroughly informed.  "Ok, but what if...", "I know [concept] when [this] happens, but what about when..." "How about...?" 

#3 NEW CONCEPTS

  • The average child needs a lot of repetition and different contexts to understand and retain information.
  • The smart child needs just a few lessons.
  • The gifted child often only needs a 1-2 sentence INTRODUCTION of a concept to grasp the material, retain it, apply it and extrapolate it. 
Group ages 3,3,4 & 5 working on big numbers.
#4 ABILITY

  • The average child has to work to mentally retrieve relevant data and skills when set to a task.
  • The smart child easily assimilates into tasks that they have encountered before, or can apply known skills towards.
  • The gifted child can not only pull from experience, but can also extrapolate their own and observed experience to new situations to easily perform new tasks and skills and create new understanding.

#5 MEMORY RETRIEVAL

  • The average child pulls pockets of relevant memory to perform the task at hand.
  • The smart child pulls linear, linked strands of memory to perform the task at hand. Performs most tasks more quickly. They can extrapolate within a limited distance from the current learning.
  • The gifted child can pull un-linked pockets and strands of memory and knowledge and combine them into an entirely new, seamless, whole. Information retrieved can be as seemingly random as an overheard conversation when they were 2, combined with a tower they built when they were 3 that fell in just a certain way, along with a PBS show on physics that was playing in the next room one Friday night, and currently watching another child try to build a bridge. They can take these flashes of information from their memory and almost instantly have a solid insight or understanding of something new. 

#6 KINETIC

  • The average child needs to manipulate the world to understand, as appropriate to their developmental level.
  • The smart child still needs kinesthetic learning, but is able to do much more mental processing.
  • The gifted child spends much of their time in mental processing: daydreaming, mentally running through scenarios, contemplating concepts, imagining, thinking of possibilities, mulling over societal issues, and playing with words and ideas. While initial instruction is still best accomplished through hands-on learning, gifted children easily move forward to worksheets and board work as the level of difficulty increases.
#7 LEARNING

  • The average child is stimulated by new or interesting information and experiences, but can quickly be diverted in other directions.
  • The smart child pays attention long enough to get the gist of something.
  • The gifted child would rather learn and discuss than play. They seem to have an innate need to fill a seemingly bottomless knowledge pit within them. They simply blossom when learning something new or discussing ideas. They play with what they learn. If they learn about bridges, there will be bridges of all kinds all over the place. They naturally experiment and mentally record data for analysis and will want to talk at length and in-depth about their observations. It is not unusual for them to figure out the next level of instruction before it can be presented to them. They will also initiate learning objectives.


#8 SENSITIVITY

  • The average child is generally happy with the status quo. 
  • The smart child will manipulate to gain advantage.
  • The gifted child is emotionally hurt by injustice, perceived cruelty, unfairness, bad sportsmanship, and other societal issues. They have a tendency to worry about such issues and to try to bring peace and fairness about for all. They are more empathetic and willing to negotiate, and do not understand other children who do not have this same awareness.

#9 OVER EXCITABILITY

  • The average child will move on if things don't go their way. They will find another toy or another playmate.
  • The smart child will try to manipulate things to their advantage or view point.
  • The gifted child wants things, "Just so." They have a firm belief in how things should be and when others don't go along with that vision, they can have trouble dealing with it. They can't be happy with the way things are if they are WRONG, and they can't manipulate others, because that just wouldn't be RIGHT, and why can't these other kids not just see how it should be and do what they should? Then the world is too loud, or their clothes are too itchy, or someone took their favorite doll, etc. It can be overwhelming for any child, but for gifted children, it can be exceptionally overwhelming when they know how the world should be and it doesn't conform to their expectations.

#10 BOREDOM

  • The average child will usually be able to find something to occupy their time, even if it is twirling a stray piece of string around their finger.
  • The smart child will get bored and complain about it, looking for direction.
  • Many gifted children need constant stimulation of higher level learning to fill that knowledge pit within them to be their happiest. Whether it's doing a new art project, listening to new music, learning a new word, a new science experiment, etc. They are constantly craving new knowledge and experiences and the ability to explore known ones at a new level. When forced to participate in activities lower than their abilities and knowledge, they can grow depressed and anxious. 
These are simply my observations.

I keep hearing lately the comment, 
"Not all gifted children read early, but all children who read early are gifted."
Miss A 4 and Miss H 5. Yes, they can read it all, even with my bad handwriting.

If this is true, then my current three preschoolers are definitely gifted. But then, I pretty much already knew that.
Tags: preschool, child, care, child care, daycare, kindergarten, gifted, preschooler, homeschooling, 

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