One of the youngest persons to ever get accepted at Mensa Philippines is Sam Pelingon. At five years old, he gained admission into this exclusive organization by virtue of his scoring at or above the 98th percentile of a standardized intelligence test.
Sam was clearly gifted. At two, he was counting. At three, he was disassembling and assembling his train sets, numbering more than 50. At four, he was a second-grader, having been accelerated twice.
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the United States defines giftedness as such:
“Children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age. Giftedness may manifest in one or more domains such as; intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or in a specific academic field such as language arts, mathematics or science.”
The definition is deceptively simple. In reality, it can take quite a bit of work to spot a genius as they come in all shapes and sizes. They do share some common characteristics. They are unusually alert, even when they were still babies. They are super fast learners with large vocabularies and excellent memories. They are curious and idealistic. They love performing experiments and solving problems. They are sensitive. They are intense.
These are subjective cues, for sure, but asking your child to take a range of tests and assessments could confirm your observation.
So let's say your child is gifted. How do you transform him from a smart aleck type of kid who can recite the Table of Elements into an Albert Einstein type of person who can possibly in the future help save the planet?
One of the most exciting articles about giftedness to come out in recent years was written by David Lubinski, a gifted education scholar from Vanderbilt University who analyzed the findings of two long-term studies covering the last century.
In From Ternan to Today: A Century of Findings on Intellectual Precocity, Lubinski found out that gifted kids generally grow up to be accomplished adults. They got their doctorates, they got their tenures. They run Apple!
However, those kids didn't just rest on the laurels of their intellect and ability. They worked it! They were kept stimulated and engaged by a range of educational intenventions and opportunities which helped develop their talents.
Educating the gifted child
Naturally, the gifted child would not be satisfied with the routine of everyday school. How could a genius be possibly content with doing one plus one when he's already extracting limits and derivatives?
In Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science, writers Rena F. Subotnik, Ph.D., Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D., and Frank C. Worrell, Ph.D., identified several educational approaches which could help stimulate and engage the gifted child.
- Enrichment classes. These allow the gifted child to study a particular subject with more depth than he would have in a regular class.
- Acceleration. Because a gifted child learns faster than his peers, accelerating him to a grade level more appropriate to his intellectual level seems most logical. Accelerating a gifted child also serves as encouragement for him to pursue higher education beyond the college diploma.
- Academic institutions. Enrolling a gifted child into an educational institution with a high degree of academic standards would most definitely serve to stimulate him. It also gives him the opportunity to find children who are as equally gifted as he is.
- Athletic training. A gifted child will certainly benefit from some type of athletic training.
The type of training that athletes go through is not just physical, but also mental. They are trained to focus, set goals, be persistent, be disciplined. These are precisely the same set of skills that a gifted child needs to withstand hours of rigorous work and study.
- Musical training. Musical training also develops the same set of mental skills which athletic training does.
Parenting the gifted child
The role of parents in nurturing and developing the talents and abilities of the gifted child can never be underestimated. Numerous studies reveal that parents who give emphasis on intellectual or creative excellence and who offered encouragement and motivation on achieving those have children who grow up to be politicians, reformers, artists, and musicians. There are also enough anecdotal stories to support this prevailing notion.
“Parents of gifted children are typically the single most important influence in their child’s development, outlook, and fulfillment of talent. In addition to being their child’s primary caregivers, parents of gifted children alternately function as mentor, praiser, disciplinarian, playmate, teacher, and sometimes best friend—to name just a few,” says author James Alvino in Considerations and Strategies for Parenting the Gifted Child.
Needless to say, the parents of gifted children have their work cut out for them.
Alvino, who has worked in the field of gifted education for more than two decades, shares some tips which could help in parenting young geniuses.
- Your child may be gifted, but he is still a child and thus needs to be parented. Establish rules and routines at home, which are fairly reasonable but consistently enforced.
- Check your parenting style. Check your temper. Some gifted children tend to be highly sensitive so adjust accordingly.
- Let your child's mind explore and wander. Provide him with both the materials and the opportunities to stimulate his intellect and practice his creativity. Take cues from his interests.
- Engage him in conversation. Ask him questions. Share your views, but don't impose. Encourage an atmosphere of acceptance and openness at home.
- Guide him in his studies. Don't assume, for example, that just because he's a genius that he already knows how to manage his time, organize his notes, or identify his priorities.
- Cut him some slack. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
- Gifted kids are prone to stress so teach him stress-relieving techniques and practices.
- Allow him to make his own decisions. Allow him to make his own mistakes.
- Nurture him with nutritious meals. Encourage exercise and time outdoors. Assign him chores.
- Hug him. Kiss him. Love him with all your heart.