Let us begin this article by making one important point: Intelligence, true intelligence, is a notoriously difficult thing to measure. During his childhood, Thomas Edison passed on to his mother a note from his teacher, saying that his child was “addled” – an old-time word for “dumb.” Edison was many things, but dumb he was not. In fact, he was a truly gifted child.
One of Einstein’s teachers also said he was “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” Perhaps he was dreaming about physics. Maybe he was simply developing what was arguably the greatest mind that history has ever known. You certainly get the picture. (And what on earth was wrong with teachers in those days?)
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines giftedness as “ability … significantly above the normal for [a child’s] age.” A child may be gifted in one or more areas, including:
- Intellectual (I.Q.)
- An academic field such as language arts, mathematics, or science. (1)
“Gifted children already know nearly 60 percent of all kindergarten material on the very first day of class.” – The National Association for Gifted Children (source)
Eight Areas of Intelligence
There are likely many more areas of intelligence than those listed above. The theory of multiple intelligence put forth by Harvard Professor Dr. Howard Gartner proposes eight abilities that can be considered elements of human intellect:
- Bodily-kinesthetic: physical abilities; bodily agility; hand-eye coordination; handling of objects.
- Intrapersonal: abilities applied “within the self”; self-awareness or introspection of beliefs, emotions, goals, and motivations.
- Interpersonal: interacting with and understanding others – verbal and non-verbal communication; sensitivity to others’ moods and temperaments.
- Logical-mathematical: understanding abstract and complex ideas; deductive reasoning; detecting patterns; working with numbers.
- Musical-rhythmic: discerning pitch, rhythm, and tone; movement to music; development of rhythms; the creation, recognition, reflection, and reproduction of music.
- Naturalistic: relation to physical surroundings; growth of natural foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables); nature survival; knowledge of animals, plants, etc.
- Verbal-linguistic: understanding and use of language; verbal and written skills; use of rhythm, sound, and tone in words; memory of images, faces, and fine details.
- Visual-spatial: cognition involving images and pictures; spatial judgment and reasoning; visualization of objects. (2)
The Differences Between “Gifted” and “Bright”
We need to understand that gifted children are not just “bright” – a highly subjective label. This is certainly the first step in understanding how to give them the help they need to succeed. Christopher Taibbi, M.A.T., an expert in the field of gifted education, explains four critical differences between the gifted child and the bright child:
Smart kids work hard to achieve. In contrast, gifted kids quickly can become bored.
Smart kids are a teacher’s dream-come-true. They show up on time, behave themselves, and work hard. As a result, they succeed in the classroom. In fact, smart-yet-not-gifted kids are more likely to succeed in the traditional academic setting, as they are motivated primarily by grades and recognition. Therein lies a big problem for gifted kids: neither grades nor recognition typically drives them.
Gifted kids often already know the answers without much effort. This can cause problems in the traditional classroom. Without internal incentives and external stimulation, gifted kids will often withdraw into their rich inner worlds.
Smart kids know all the answers; gifted kids ask all the questions.
Bright kids are excellent at processing and retaining information. This fact, combined with their work ethic, leads to outstanding academic achievement. Gifted learners, often, do not need nearly as much repetition to become familiar with the material. As a result, gifted kids are forced to sit through hours of class time when they could simply “pass a test” and move on.
Since the gifted kid’s insatiable curiosity is not being quenched, they’ll dig more deeply into the subject – and will want to know everything about it. They’ll ask themselves questions and use Google or a book to find the answers – and effortlessly retain their newly acquired knowledge. So, when the next class comes around, the gifted kid is already well beyond anything that the teacher teaches.
Bright kids like the classroom; gifted kids don’t (usually).
As mentioned, the typical classroom setting is the perfect place for a bright child to succeed. In contrast, this is often not the case for gifted kids. Gifted children’s incompatibility with the traditional classroom setting is generally attributable to a lack of stimulation.
Due to opposing extremes – extreme curiosity and extreme boredom – gifted kids usually become self-directed learners, taking responsibility for their own education. Unlike the classroom setting, self-learning allows the gifted child to indulge their highly inquisitive nature – an absolute must for them to learn effectively.
Bright kids are clever, while gifted kids are original.
Think of the great innovators throughout history – da Vinci, Tesla, Graham Bell, Edison, Gates, Jobs. All original minds, these men were (likely) what we now recognize as “gifted.” It is most noteworthy that some of these guys didn’t have the best scholastic records.
Many gifted children live for putting their ideas into action. When something (like an academic subject) catches their attention, gifted kids want to both learn and apply what they learn. This penchant for original thinking and innovations is another reason why an alternative educational environment is often optimal for gifted kids. (3)
15 Signs of a Gifted Child
You may be wondering how to identify a gifted kid. Well, here are 15 signs to look for:
1. They sound like a professor:
Gifted children often reach knowledge milestones much faster than average. Language skills, in particular, seem to come more naturally for the children with gifts. An extensive vocabulary and speaking in complex sentences are two ways that a child may exhibit these skills.
2. They identify patterns:
Pattern identification (e.g. a jigsaw puzzle or what time of day Mommy comes home) isn’t something too ubiquitous in little ones. Unless that is, your little one possesses gifted-level intellect.
3. They’re voracious readers:
Gifted kids, as mentioned earlier, have an insatiable curiosity. To satisfy this curiosity, they’ll read every book they can get their little mitts on. This sign is especially evident when something piques their interest.
4. They’re incredibly talented at something:
Gifted is just another word for “exceptionally talented.” Some kids are naturals at certain things, like sports, science, or the arts. Extreme talent is almost assuredly a sign of gifted intelligence.
5. They like the company of adults or older kids:
Gifted kids, because of their advanced intelligence, have difficulty relating to their peers. They may be misunderstood – or just plain bored. As such, they may seek out older kids, teachers, and other adults for stimulation.
6. They have excellent focus:
Okay, so there is a caveat to this one. Most gifted kids have an exceptional ability to focus on the things that interest them. A gifted kid stuck in a boring classroom will quickly lose this ability, however. As such, they might even be considered as having poor focus in a typical classroom setting.
7. They are mature:
A gifted child can also have deep emotional intelligence. If you have a gifted child, they may shake their heads at the antics of their peers. Gifted children won’t pull too many pranks or get into (too much) mischief.
8. They are original:
Being gifted and problem-solving often go together. Not only do these kids approach everyday problems differently, but they may also offer up suggestions on how to improve something.
9. They are leaders:
Because of their maturity and uncanny ability to solve problems and think outside the box, some gifted kids show a remarkable aptitude for leadership. Of course, these skills are more evident when the child is in a desirable setting.
10. They don’t need directions:
While some kids patiently wait for the parent or teacher to say how they want something done, gifted kids jump right into it and ask questions later. Or not ask questions at all, having figured things out on their own.
11. They’re high energy:
Gifted kids, probably because their brain is always going, seem be in perpetual movement. Notice, too, that really smart and gifted kids tend to speak way too fast. The reason for this verbal assault is that they’re trying (unsuccessfully!) to get their words to catch up with their thoughts.
12. They need some “me time”:
Like most children, gifted kids love spending time with people. But solitude allows them to be alone with their thoughts and exercise their creativity. Gifted kids enjoy solitary activities such as reading, writing, and drawing.
13. They love nature:
Some gifted kids, especially those with high artistic intelligence, love the sights and sounds of nature. Their curiosity and talents of observation may be on full display when out in nature.
14. They underachieve:
Yes, you read that correctly. While highly intelligent, gifted kids tend to devote most of their mental energy toward things of interest. It is not altogether uncommon for an advanced kid to excel at one subject and struggle with another. Underachievement for gifted kids is usually attributable to short attention span, carelessness, frustration, and most of all, flat-out boredom.
15. They think learning is fun:
Gifted children love learning so much that it becomes a hobby. Because of their advanced intelligence and love of learning, the child may share few interests with his or her peers. (4, 5)
Final Thoughts: The Importance of Identifying A Gifted Child
“An accurate label, and a clear explanation, and ongoing guidance about what it means to be gifted will help gifted children adapt.” – Gail Post, Ph.D.
In spite of all the problems associated with identifying intelligence, it is vital to a child’s development. Finding out if a child is developmentally challenged, for example, can mean the difference between success and failure. This also applies to a gifted child.
Gifted children who remain unidentified often become targets for labeling and bullying. Certainly, we cannot afford to let this happen. In fact, a gifted child has the potential to become a leader in this complex global society. Above all, children with unique gifts must be placed in the right situations and allowed to obtain success – on their terms.