Some parents are able to identify their child’s gifted qualities from a very early age. They’re engaged and alert from a very early age. They may have passed child development milestones months, or even years, ahead of time. For others, it can be much more difficult. Identifying a first child as gifted can be even more difficult. While identifying individual children, during their developmental years, as gifted can be challenging, society tends to identify profoundly gifted individuals based on their successes -- or their gifted behaviors. Most would agree that the child who starts college at a very young age, the young successful professional, or the innovative engineer are all gifted. Historically, we agree that academic successes such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Leonardo DaVinci were gifted. These profoundly gifted successes all shared three qualities: innate intelligence, creativity, and grit. Moreover, these individuals had access to resources that nurtured these three qualities and allowed them to flourish.
Innate intelligence of a gifted child can be neither created nor changed since it is due to structural differences in the child’s brain. John Geake, co-founder of the Oxford Cognitive Neuroscience-Education forum, once asserted that giftedness was “presumably due to neuro-psychological differences that affect efficiency.” He went on to assess, through multiple studies, that “gifted subjects have greater inter-connectivity between different areas of their brain” -- rooted in several neurobiological differences including: a thicker cerebral cortex, superior cognitive control, greater working memory, and better spatial and temporally coordinated neural networks -- a suggestion that gifted minds are, indeed, wired differently.
We frequently discredit creativity, or dismiss it as being strictly related to the arts. Yet, creativity stands to be so much more. Our truly successful gifted individuals are creative in non-standard ways. They have different ways of looking at the world -- an ability to see connections where others do not. Their thoughts and creations are innovative. True giftedness is seen not in re-creating what has already been created, but by doing -- or thinking -- something new -- by putting the missing piece in a puzzle that no-one knew was missing.
True giftedness is seen not in re-creating what has already been created, but by doing -- or thinking -- something new -- by putting the missing piece in a puzzle that no-one knew was missing.
While some individuals may be more creative than others, creativity is a gift that requires nurture. As children mature, their creativity tends to wane. Imaginary play is replaced by games with rules. Creative play tends be replaced by instruction and direction. Often, students are taught new skills through rote step-by-step directions. These practices, however, hinder our gifted children from achieving true successes. We must ask questions rather than give directions. We must provide them with the resources to explore. We must provide our students with an environment that supports and nurtures their creativity -- an environment in which students are not afraid of failure or the unknown.
Task commitment, or grit, is a characteristic that we must instill in our children from a young age. For some, it may seem to come naturally. For others, it may require more work. In some cases, we might call this stubbornness. In these cases, we must redirect this stubbornness towards healthy and productive outlets. Unfortunately, many gifted children find themselves trapped in classes based on age rather than ability. These students often learn how to manage constant boredom, rather than learning how to overcome challenges and persevere. Gifted children need a stimulating and challenging environment so that they can learn how to apply themselves. They need a mentor to guide them -- to help them learn how to conquer new challenges --- to help them to learn that “if at first you don’t succeed, try -- try again.”
Gifted individuals require access to resources to mature as successful gifted adults. We know that a child will not learn how to add without instruction. They will not learn how to read without books. A child cannot conquer the unknown -- or satiate their curiosity -- without access to resources. They cannot find answers to all their questions of “why” and “how” without resources. They need mentors to guide them -- to nurture them. They need access to classes, books, and information to satiate their unyielding curiosity. They need to be exposed to new and exciting ideas and information. They need someone to nurture their gifts and to lead them in the right direction.
While children receive a basic education in a broad range of subjects in school, parents often find that they need to connect their gifted children with outside resources to develop specific exceptional talents that their children possess. The standard music curriculum is appropriate for most students. However, other children may need private music instruction to develop talents that exceed other members of the school band. Likewise, in-school accelerated math and honors writing programs may adequately challenge a moderately gifted child, but a child with more exceptional talent may need to be connected to resources that exceed their school’s offerings. We do not expect our public schools to provide the specialized instruction of a highly talented music prodigy preparing for Juilliard. Likewise, schools may not be able to provide for all of the needs of a child with exceptional skills in other academic subjects.
Our gifted children may be born with an above-average innate ability, however, without the proper resources, their gifts are wasted.
Our gifted children may be born with an above-average innate ability, however, without the proper resources, their gifts are wasted. For our gifted students, enrichment classes aren’t just “extra.” Our gifted students won’t “be fine on their own.” They won’t be fine withering away day after day in a regular classroom with no additional resources. Our gifted children need resources. They need attention and direction. They need support. They need a challenging academic environment. Our gifted children may be “wired” a bit differently, but they need resources to fully develop their creativity, develop grit, and direct their gifts -- to become successful and happy gifted adults.