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Finding Wisdom on the Path of Giftedness

by Kathleen Julicher

What is giftedness? Aren't all children gifted? Giftedness is a quality allowing some people to learn easier and faster than is normal. Just as some children are good at baseball, some of them are "gifted" at learning. However, regardless of the label, whether our children are gifted or not, we must determine the answer to the same questions: How can I help my child learn in a way, which is best for him or her? How can I help my child acquire the wisdom to use that learning well? For a gifted child, those methods of learning might be slightly different and proceed at a different pace, yet the goal is the same: to acquire wisdom. Homeschooling parents approach education mindful of the particular needs of each child and so they need to ask what those abilities and needs are. Is my child gifted? How are the needs of a gifted child different from the norm? What should be the goal of our homeschool education?
 
The first question we must consider is the last. What should be our goal? Solomon said, "Get wisdom, though it cost all you have." Rene Descartes agreed, saying, "It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well." His sentiment works for all children, not only gifted ones. Let us discuss what giftedness is and how one approaches the education of a gifted child, remembering always that our long-term goals should be to teach him wisdom and to use his mind well. First, what are some of the traits of gifted children.
 
Just as some people can see or hear better than others, some people can think faster or learn faster then others. This characteristic is, for better or worse, called giftedness. Perhaps a better term would be highly able learners. Regardless of what we call them, these children are able to learn much more quickly than the average and perhaps understand things more deeply. Some gifted children are good in just one area while others excel in many areas. Other gifted children, or highly able learners, may have difficulty learning and can be afflicted with learning disabilities or perception problems which cause them to not achieve to their potential. Most gifted children have characteristics, which point to their abilities. The tests usually used by schools to identify giftedness merely test for these characteristics. By using these characteristics, parent can identify giftedness without using a test.
 
Here is a limited list of gifted behaviors, which may serve to identify a gifted child:
 
Displays higher level thinking than peers
Displays a precocious sense of humor
Develops faster than average (walking, talking, etc.)
Enjoys puzzles
Catches on quickly to concepts
May be into collections
Uses an advanced vocabulary
Very active imagination
Curious about everything
Non-conformist
May attempt to do math in head*
 
For other characteristics of giftedness, see the resources at the end of this article.
 
Suzy's mom wondered about her daughter. Suzy spoke early at 6 months, but that didn't seem very significant to Suzy's mother because her other children spoke at about the same age. The baby books never did seem very accurate, so Suzy's mom just discounted the early speech. Later, when it came time for school, other people began to notice that Suzy did not sound like other children. She used vocabulary which was advanced for her age group. Her mom wondered: Is Suzy gifted, or is she just highly verbal? When her mom began compare what Suzy talked about to what other children talked about, she discovered that there were real differences. Five-year-old Suzy was interested in dinosaurs and the causes of war. Other children did not talk like Suzy and were more interested in cartoons or ice cream. What did this mean? What other differences did Suzy have?
 
Can Suzy read? Yes, and like many gifted children, she read early. Suzy also uses language in advanced ways such as making plays with words and puns. A gifted child will tend to catch on quickly to concepts and Suzy does exhibit this quality. Whereas you may have to explain fractions three or more times to one child, a gifted child may understand after only one or two explanations. Suzy also has other characteristics which might not be described as pleasant.
 
Like Suzy, a gifted child might have several or even most of the pleasant characteristics listed above, but he will probably have other, not so wonderful ones also. For example:
 
Perfectionism
Super sensitivity
Over-emotional reactions
Persistence
The ability to manipulate others
Time-management problems
May hate to do detail work
May be very concerned with morals and existence at a very early age
 
These characteristics explain some very difficult behavior which make living with a gifted child interesting. Perfectionism can be a driving force, controlling the actions of the child almost to the point of obsession. For example, Jean must deal with perfectionism every day. Her son will not come out of his bedroom until he is wearing the "right" clothes. Today, he is upset because the coop teacher said she wanted 1-inch margins for the research paper and his are 1.25 inches. Already having recopied his paper 5 times, he has finally come to Mom with the problem. Dealing with a perfectionist child can be very frustrating.
 
Super sensitivity is another frazzling problem. Imagine the child who cannot stand the smell of chalk. Or, who complains at incandescent lighting. The super sensitive child is the one who tears the tag out of his shirts, or who refuses to wear socks with stitching on the toes. These are not behavior problems, but problems of super sensitivity. Homeschooling allows the family flexibility to accommodate these problems between a gifted child and his environment. In a regular school situation, these accommodations may be impossible.
 
Some gifted children have very high energy levels. Even as infants these children may not sleep for long periods of time. Although only about 25% of gifted children have this unusual sleep characteristic, to the afflicted parent, it can seem overwhelming. Many gifted children, though normal in nap-taking, still have very high energy levels when they are awake.
 
Another interesting characteristic of many gifted children is persistence (some parents call this stubbornness). The persistent child continues to ask for an ice cream for the shopping trip (or until the mom gives in). The unwary parent who gives in to this pressure, may fall prey to another characteristic - the ability to manipulate others. A gifted child may be very aware of world situations like war or death. The death of a pet may have huge significance for your sensitive gifted child. He may not fit into a group easily. Other characteristics of giftedness can be equally frustrating because all characteristics are not happy ones. Many of them force the child out of a regular schooling situation and into homeschooling
where the child can grow and learn in his own way.
 
The bottom line on giftedness is that many children are gifted, or highly able learners. You do not need a test to prove that your child is gifted. Merely a glance down a list of characteristics may be enough to convince you that your child, like Suzy, really is different from the norm. Once you recognize your child's giftedness, you can give yourself permission to be flexible with your schooling plans. Remember the objective is to educate, not identify. Wisdom is still the goal, not achieving a label.
 
OK, so you know that giftedness exists and that your child has some of the symptoms (maybe even a few of the worst ones). Now what? How can this impact your homeschool? The characteristic a homeschooling parent needs most at this point is flexibility and the wisdom to use it (thereby modeling wisdom) If your child knows third grade math, let him do 4th grade math! Skip the entire text! You can do this with whole chapters, with whole books, with whole grades. One of the blessings of homeschooling is that you can skip a year in school material, but remain in the same grade (if you wish) for co-op or Sunday school classes. Adapting curriculum is another way to provide an appropriate challenge. Most curricula are designed for normal children who learn at normal rates and who require a certain amount of repetition. Because gifted children learn more rapidly, most curricula are not totally appropriate for them. In order to personalize a curriculum, parents must be flexible and creative, as well as wise. No one is looking over your shoulder saying "But you can't do that!" You can, in fact you must, if you wish your child to be challenged appropriately. To learn wisdom and develop character, your child must be challenged.
 
The appropriate challenge is the schedule or topic that is reasonably difficult for your child but does not place too high an obstacle so that the task seems impossible. How does an appropriate challenge help teach wisdom? A person learns wisdom through thoughtful experiences and the exercise of judgment with its consequences. A challenge can provide this experience while an easy course of study will not. In other words, the gifted child needs to make some mistakes and to learn to study, neither of which can be done without challenge. When all study is easy, what does he learn, but that he does not need to work? Beyond giving appropriate challenge, what are other techniques you can use to teach wisdom? Give a gifted child the opportunities any average child receives.
 
These opportunities are normal learning experiences for an average child. A gifted child needs these experiences, too. Give your child the opportunity by adjusting the curriculum:
 
1. To have a challenge
2. To work hard (physical labor)
3. To serve others
4. To be considerate of all other people and himself
5. To experience different subjects, not only his own interests
6. To develop his own interests in depth
7. To be accepted as the individual he/she is
8. To allow him/her room to make mistakes and to deal with the consequences
9. To ponder the questions of life and their solutions
10. In the doing, to develop courage, integrity, honor, and lastly, wisdom.
 
Use your own gifts to recognize your gifted children, to observe their educational needs, and to provide challenging opportunities to learn wisdom to use their minds well.
 
Kathleen Julicher is the principal of The Westbridge Academy, a college prep school for academically accelerated homeschoolers. She is a zoologist and the author of Experiences in Chemistry, and other books. Together, she and husband, Mark, homeschooled their four highly-gifted children for many years. Kathleen is co-author of Gifted Children at Home: A practical guide for homeschooling families. www.westbridgeacademy.com
 
Internet resources dealing with giftedness:
www.gifteddevelopment.com
www.hoagiesgifted.org
www.eskimo.com/user/kids,html
www.gtworld.org
Books:
Gifted Children at Home: A practical guide for homeschooling families, by Maggie Hogan, Kathleen Julicher and Janice Baker: Castle Heights Press. 1-800-763-7148;
Guiding The Gifted Child, by Dr. Webb, Stephanie Tolan, Betty Meckstroth, Gifted
Psychology Press.
 
Copyright © 2006 Modern Media