The term gifted is often thrown around when it comes to high-achieving kids but what does it really mean? Having a gifted child means your learner shows above-average ability that can result in intellectual and creative achievements at a young age. Gifted children are capable of high levels of performance, but many are also in need of special attention, especially when it comes to their social and emotional development. Some gifted kids may perform above average in one area but lack skills in another.
“It is actually up to the child’s school district to identify each student for gifted services,” says Lynne Henwood, president of the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children. “Each district has their own identification process based on the needs of their student population. This process should consist of different types of assessments (portfolios, observations, creativity tests, etc.) and not just testing.” It’s important that parents understand that a label of “gifted” should not be the end goal, Henwood says. “The goal should be matching learning needs with services,” she says. “If a child is exhibiting gifted behaviors as a preschooler, the best course of action for a parent is to harness interests and curiosities by exposing them to new experiences, providing an environment that invites inquiry, reading to their child and allowing them to experiment and explore.”
“The ideal timing for a child to be evaluated clinically for giftedness is during early childhood, beginning at four years of age, if possible,” says D’Arcy Natale, managing director of The Gifted Child Society in Ramsey. Natale says it’s important to note that although early identification is ideal, a child may be evaluated for giftedness at any time between the ages of 4 and 16. “This is particularly helpful for parents or educators who may not be aware of or recognize traits of giftedness in children until later developmental stages.”
Clinical cognitive assessments administered by psychologists are the ideal means of identifying giftedness, says Natale. “These assessments are conducted one-one-one with licensed or certified psychologists and can take up to 1.5 hours for a screening or 2-3 hours for an in-depth assessment.” Natale notes that test scores and grades alone do not accurately define a gifted child, as their individual challenges and gifted traits can create obstacles to their success in the classroom.
Finding an IQ score is not always the necessary course of action, since it can be an expensive pursuit and doesn’t always tell the whole story of the child, says Henwood. “An IQ score that is not in the gifted range does not mean that a child doesn’t have gifted potential or abilities, and a school does not need to accept outside testing in their identification process.”
GIFTED THROUGH THE SCHOOL YEARS
Gifted programming differs from school to school, as well as among different age groups. “There are many ways to serve gifted learners, but they should all be targeted to the areas for which the gifted learner has been identified,” says Henwood, adding that there is a common misconception that gifted children are gifted in everything. “A very important component to any gifted program is an understanding that gifted children have unique social and emotional needs,” she says.
“Many gifted children are prone to perfectionism, anxiety and overexcitabilities. Some students are gifted in one area and may even have a disability in another area,” she says. “Another misconception is that gifted children are those that have neat and organized desks, raise their hand and never interrupt, always produce beautiful work, which is handed in on time and are always polite. Some of our most gifted learners are the opposite of these things.”
Almost all gifted learners are asynchronous, meaning that they have uneven development. “A young child may have the cognitive ability to understand complicated world events but may not have the emotional maturity to process the events,” Henwood says. “Sometimes a gifted child has difficulty relating to peers, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Social and emotional learning should be woven into any gifted program, and professionals who understand gifted children should be available for support as well.”
In elementary school, programming can include clustering groups of students with gifted learning needs in the regular classroom, pullout classes, push-in enrichment, advanced opportunities to enter contests or take leadership roles in school and time and space to develop interest-based projects.
“Another misconception is that gifted children will be fine on their own,” says Henwood. “These learners need adult support in order to grow as much as any other child. Their needs shouldn’t be ignored just because they can pick up concepts quickly. It’s up to educators to ensure that all of their learners are exposed to new information and are learning new skills, not just receiving more or extra work, or being asked to tutor other students. Everyone needs productive struggle in order to grow, and if these students do not develop tools to persevere through this struggle, they may be ill-equipped to manage the rigor of college.” High school programs can utilize their IB and AP programs to help meet gifted learning needs, but they also should provide talent development opportunities for them as well, says Henwood.
High school students should have opportunities to intern with working professionals and to work on authentic, real world problems. Service projects and involvement in the community are great ways for gifted students to develop talents and skills. Students may take classes at a local college to support their advanced needs.
Middle school programs can involve advanced/accelerated math classes, differentiation within classrooms, enrichment opportunities, mentoring, real-world application of skills in authentic projects, contests and competitions (Destination Imagination, Continental Math League, etc.) and specialized clubs in which students can be in the role of the practicing professional (school newspaper editor, photographer, etc.)
RESOURCES FOR GIFTED KIDS
“The New Jersey Association for Gifted Children publishes a monthly NewsNet newsletter that provides resources and nearby events for curious children,” says Henwood. “Some universities run gifted programs in the summer, and some offer classes throughout the school year, such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). Mensa for Kids has resources and opportunities as well. The National Association for Gifted Children has resources and tips for parents on their website.”
Parents can also look for opportunities for older children to intern with organizations of interest, such as helping on a political campaign or volunteering at the hospital. “Young writers can submit their works to publications like The New York Times and Stone Soup,” says Henwood. “NASA has contests and interesting activities for kids who love space.”
“The Gifted Child Society (CTY) is a long-standing resource dedicated to supporting and enriching children with giftedness, in preschool through high school,” says Natale.
“TGCS provides tailored programs and experiences for advanced learning, plus socializing and collaboration, for likeminded, gifted children. We recommend resources like ours, where the one-on-one interaction can be much more tailored and truly differentiated for the children who are gifted, as a supplement, not a replacement, to ‘normal’ schooling.”