Certain childhood behaviors—milestones—can tell us when children are ahead of or behind others who are their same age. Most of the charts on childhood development show the typical range of behaviors for each age group. Yet if your child is ahead of those tables, that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is on the fast track or slated to become the next Einstein. Levels of giftedness range from those who are simply bright to those who are intellectually astonishing.

Here’s an overview of the various levels of giftedness and milestones that are common—but not necessary—to each level. It is the overall “feel” of your child that truly tells you the level.

Level 1

  • These children show interest in many things before they are even 2 years old, like knowing colors, saying the numbers in order, and playing simple puzzles.
  • Most of them are good talkers by age 3, and by 4, many print letters and numbers, recognize simple signs, their name, and know most of alphabet.
  • By the time they are 6 years old, many read beginner books and type at the computer, and most read chapter books by age 7.

Level 2

  • These bright children love looking at books and being read to, even turning pages without ripping them, by 15 months. Some shout out the name of familiar stores as you drive past.
  • They’ll sit for what seems like hours as you read advanced-level books, especially fiction and fantasy, to them. They require a bit less of your time by age 6, because most of them read for pleasure and information on their own by then.

Level 3

  • They know what adults are telling or asking them by six months. You say a toy, pet, or another person, and they will look for it.
  • By the time they are barely 12 months old, they can get family members to do what they want before they are actually talking.
  • By 2 years, many like 35+ piece puzzles, memorize favorite books, and know the entire alphabet—in or out of order! 
  • By 3 years old, they talk constantly, and skip count, count backwards, and do simple adding and subtracting because they like to. They love to print letters and numbers.
  • They ask you to teach them to read before 5 years, and many figure how to multiply, divide, and do some fractions soon after.
  • Most of these children are a full two to five years beyond grade level by age 6, and find school too slow.

Level 4

  • Level Four babies love books, someone to read them, and pay attention very, very early.
  • They have extensive, complex speaking while still in their toddler years, and their vocabularies are huge!
  • Most of them read easy readers before kindergarten, and then read for information and pleasure soon thereafter, with comprehension for youth and adult-level books in the early years of school.

Level 5

  • Level Fives have talents in every possible area. Everything is sooner and more intense than others levels.
  • They have favorite TV shows when barely out of infancy, pick out letters and numbers before they can talk, and enjoy shape sorters earlier than most children.
  • They print letters, numbers, words, and their names in their early toddler years, and often use anything that is available to form these shapes and figures.
  • They show ability with 35+ piece puzzles often before they actually speak, and show interest in complex mazes while still only toddlers.
  • Musical, dramatic, and artistic aptitudes usually start showing by 18 months.
  • Most speak with adult-level complexity shortly after they speak at all!
  • They understand math concepts and basic math functions well before they begin formal schooling.
  • They can play card and board games for ages 12 and up when they are still in preschool.
  • They have high interest in pure facts, almanacs, and dictionaries by age 3½.
  • They read six or more years beyond grade level, with comprehension, by 6 years old, and they usually hit 12th grade level by age 7 or 8.

Once you have a sense of your children’s abilities, you can provide them with more activities and experiences that build on these strengths and take advantage of their talents. To do less is truly depriving them of chances to do what they are good at and what they enjoy, and probably chips away at their potential—for how can we get good at the things we don’t get to practice? There are more potential geniuses—children who are remarkably intellectually different from their same-age classmates—than most people believe, and your child may be one of them.

Deborah Ruf, Ph.D., from Minneapolis, is a private consultant and specialist in gifted assessment, test interpretation, and guidance for the gifted. She developed the Ruf Estimates™ of Levels of Gifted, which is delineated in her book, 5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options (Great Potential PR., Inc. 2009), as well as in the new online assessment at talentigniter.com.