by Jennifer A. Jilks
It was one day, long time ago, when I walked past my daughter's room, I noticed that my three-year old was examining a book carefully. I asked what she was doing, each page seemed to take longer than a picture book ought to. She told me she was reading. Asking her to "read" for me, I realized that that she was exceptional! It has led me to a long interest in the field of Gifted Education. I am now the parent of three identified gifted children. They are my pride and joy, my sorrow and my fears and they never cease to amuse, amaze and challenge me as an educator and a parent. All three are in University.
I gave a presentation, sponsored by the Carleton Board of Education, to the parents of young gifted children back in 1993. Having been asked to deliver another presentation to our local Association of Bright Children (ABC) in Ottawa in November, 2000 I thought I would put pen to paper, or keyboard to HTML. The following is the gist of my talk. Please bear in mind -I have much more fun talking, and it is hard to translate a speech into print, I hope you can take from this what you will!
My references are available, should you wonder about my background and qualifications! Sometimes, parenting is just doing what comes by instinct and by being a good role model.
- Characteristics of young gifted children
- Definition of Giftedness (Ministry Of Education)
- Domains of Learning
- Key Experiences
- Questions to foster critical and creative thinking
- Gardner´s Multiple Intelligences (7 or 8 or 9!?)
- Computers: my thoughts!
- Question: what are your goals for your children?
- What *are* employers looking for?
- Do´s & Don´t's
1. Characteristics of the Young Gifted Child
The characteristics of young gifted children include some of the following signs.
- Developmental Milestones are achieved early
- Advanced vocabulary is demonstrated
- Complicated games are a keen challenge
- Exceptional Memory
- Abstract concepts are easily mastered
- They handle money with ease
- Good grasp of Temporal Relations
- THE question: Why????
- Advanced emotional development
- Creative and active imagination
- Long attention span
- Abstract thinking Problem identification and solving
- Concern with social and moral issues
- Learning and recall of information
- Unusual sense of humour
- Leadership skills
- Wide background knowledge
- --adapted from Gould , et al.
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Often children who are gifted achieve the normal ages and stages well before their peers, and this certainly stands out in the minds of experienced parents. In my case, as a young parent, I had very little with which to compare and while I guessed my daughter was developing quickly, I really wasn´t sure. Many children achieve these milestones early, they walk and talk on the early side of "normal" yet this isn´t a definitive clue. Einstein, for example, didn´t speak until capable of uttering full sentences at the age of three. My premise is that he realized what quality speech should sound like and wasn't prepared to utter these telegraphed sentences young children, still in the early stages of speech development, tend to use. "Mommy, juice!"
Gifted children tend to use a much more complex vocabulary than their peers. They hear complex words and phrases, remember them, understand their usage and call them up at the appropriate times. One of my children liked to use the phrase "Actually, Mummy..." at age 3, when he wanted to disagree with me! I only wish he still used it now!
Young children enjoy the challenge of games. They enjoy following rules, the challenge of achieving them, but not necessarily losing and will spend a long time learning and playing games.
Gifted children have exceptional memories... They excel at memory games, and my even beat adults at them! Also, they recall incidents that happened a long time ago very clearly. Incidents that parents and adults may or may not recall, including details.
It is not until about the age of seven or eight that children are easily able to grasp abstract concepts. These are concepts that require the manipulation of ideas and language in their minds - mental arithmetic, problem solving. Such children do not need as much practice to master a new concept, nor do they need the hands-on material that the theorists recommend for most early learners, and educators usually use, in order to teach such concepts.
Some children may demonstrate an interest in handling money. The may understand the value of it and may be able to give change. My kids had piggy banks and they loved to sit and count out their money. Gifted kids are able to save for a major purchase, understanding that over time they can be patient enough to save for something big, checking their list and adding it twice! Mine would carefully sit and count out financial birthday gifts from distant relatives, carefully calculating wish lists and establishing priorities.
The young gifted child has no problem grasping the abstract concept of telling time. They comprehend yesterday, today, and tomorrow easily, with or without a calendar, sometimes crossing off the days and anticipating future events. They can imagine the future and the past easily. Another abstract concept, beyond the realm of many young children. Many families use the "3 sleeps until the party" strategy to explain time to their kids. Many gifted children do not need these types of assistance.
These are kids that ask "Why?" constantly, above the normal North American norm of every two hours or so! They show an interest in the world. They want to know how it works, what things are made out of, where things will go, and what they will do. This curiosity is something to encourage and foster, irritating as it may be when you are late or in the middle of an onerous chore. This is the child who will show initiative for learning. After being introduced to a new idea, they will go home and research it, take the concept further than peers, pursue the idea on their own for days, weeks, months, years!
I recently traveled on a plane with a young boy and his mom. It was every sentence. This became more than just curiosity. The mother endlessly explained why to her son. What I wanted to do was to suggest the mother ask the CHILD why he thinks it is so. This would develop a few more brain cells and give the weary mom (who was toting an infant!) a chance to solicit some thoughts from her son.
Gifted children are capable of understanding a wide range of emotions. Young gifted children often exhibit more mature, sophisticated emotional development. They are capable of having empathy for play mates, and will help a friend who is upset. They are very sensitive to these emotions in the media to which they may be exposed. They may find it difficult to separate out the abstract notion of a story and the real world, feeling oversensitivity to the characters in literature and dramas. They understand how characters are feeling, and often project their own feelings on to these characters. Young as they are, they do not always comprehend the difference between truth and reality, yet their hearts are in the right place.
As adults, we may project our own feelings on characters in novels, in an escape from the world of real-life emotions, and this is perfectly healthy in a well-adjusted individual. We need help little ones understand this difference.
Children who develop imaginary playmates may well be gifted. Theorists and psychologists have decided that this, too, is a sign of healthy development. It reflects creativity, it allows the child to try out emotions and behaviours within a type of safety net.
Generally, children who are gifted tend to use their imaginations well, they will think up elaborate games and play schemes. They require little to amuse themselves, making toys and games out of everything and anything.
Many of these characteristics are interrelated; you will find that in all of the aforementioned descriptions. Our gifted children will persevere until they have mastered a concept. They will spend long periods of time at anything they enjoy, above and beyond the age norms.
Some gifted children have no patience for TV, however. As with the computer, they have too much interest in the world to live by ten second sound bytes. They require a depth and breadth of information well beyond this medium.
They know the rules, the why and wherefores, strong sense of the world around them. This is a sign of future leaders, standing by their guns, taking the reigns. They are anxious to listen and learn and understand, and they can be quite rigid in their thinking. They internalize values quickly and want the rest of the world to do so too. They may show great intolerance for those around them. These kids insist on doing everything themselves. They only need watch you once to know how to operate the CD Player or VCR!
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From the Ministry of Education
"An unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated." (1985)
The definition must taken into account in the light of new learning theories and new ideas on what it means to learn. With research in the field of the brain and learning, we are realizing that whatever we learn builds pathways to new learning. Some of these new pieces of data support the psychologists and social learning theories developed long ago: Piaget, Kohlberg, Maslow and Erkison.
In this day and age with cut backs and reintegration of special education students, due to cut backs in funding, teachers are hard-pressed to learn everything there is to know, it is very difficult for the class room teacher to find the resources and the time necessary to differentiate programs for a wide range of abilities. that we face in our classrooms. Teachers now must be experts in many exceptionalities and many are spending a large amount of time in in-service workshops attempting to understand developments in literacy, numeracy, cooperative learning and other initiatives. A.D.D., A.D.H.D., autism, Asperger's Syndrome, E.S.L.,, Learning Disabilities, as well as attempting to gather information on physical safety issues such as Anaphylactic Allergies, diabetes, and information on all of the other social-emotional needs of our students has made the "average" learner most complex as our classrooms are now filled with children with a wide range of languages, religious backgrounds, socio-economic influences that affect them as learners.
It is my view that with the preponderance of the range disabilities found in the "regular" classroom, we are finding it difficult to manage such programs. We have had a number of changes, not only to the delivery model of special education, but also to the curriculum, increased class sizes, reduced Professional Development days, fewer Professional Activity Days (interview days) reporting procedures and, indeed, to the philosophy of reporting procedures.
Children of High Abilities and Teachers
Having taught gifted students, I have found that some students, exhibiting their great strengths and background knowledge and sophisticated vocabularies, can threaten a teacher who is trying to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse group of students. The cry of "I'm bored!" is one which we abhor, yet may be powerless to cure. Gifted kids, as well as their parents, need to understand that they are different, in the top two-percentiles, and have some tolerance and understanding for those less able.
I learned very early on with my children that it was OK to let them know that you didn´t know. We designed open-ended activities, in a Constructivist classroom, that would generate the maximum amount of creativity and challenge for our students. It would be impossible to learn all the facts that there are in this world. We don´t need to. We must only be able to help our children to learn how to learn. We need not fill their mind with facts and ideas. We have no idea what it is they might need to know later on. Who would have figured that we would have moved on from those lovely punched computer cards, invented by somebody or other in the 1800s, to voice-activated computers?
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One curriculum delivery model looks requires the teacher to examine all the domains of learning. Parents, as the child's first teacher, knows that there is much to teach: walking, talking, toileting, socially acceptable behaviour. A good educational plan must take into consideration the whole child, not just, for example, the cognitive/intellectual domain. One strategy for parents is to ensure that the child´s activities encompass, but do not overwhelm him/her, is to take an overview of these domains, determine whether a child is overburdened in one or more areas and doesn´t have the time s/he needs to look after, for example, their intuitive side. I firmly believe that a child needs time to just sit and look at clouds.
As parents of gifted children we feel a certain responsibility to ensure that our child "achieves his/her potential". The problem is, IMHO, that we can overwhelm, overburden kids with too many organized activities which do not allow the child to be a child. I counsel parents to take an overview of their kids´ schedule, check out to see which activities enrich which areas of their lives and try to balance them out. Give kids time to just be and do and to play, the very first learning strategy -common to all infants and toddlers.
Here is a brief outline of the various domains.
If we look at the physical skills domain, run through the list of activities you child participates in. Lessons, clubs, teams. Is there balance? Do they have time to play pick-up hockey, or just to run and bike and use their bodies for pleasure and enjoyment?
Does you child have a chance to meet like-minded children? Sometimes a child´s cognitive development outranks social or emotional maturity. This is the reason many educators do not recommend advancement , but thinking is mixed on this subject. My first child skipped the last semester of kindergarten. My other children, who were less shy, took early and late immersion which challenged them cognitively. One fit into that peer group; cognitively, socially, emotionally, while my other two seem to hang out with kids who are their age.
Do you have friends with similarly gifted children, with whom your children can hang out-neighbours?
Remember Maslow´s Hierarchy of Needs?..... children need to find a sense of belonging, after their physiological and safety needs have been met.
Allen Moyer said, "The affective domain may be described as the realm of feelings, an understanding of which leads to the development of attitudes, values and emotional control.
Daniel Goleman (191995) has written extensively in the area. He is convinced that what will make us successful as participating members of society is to understand ourselves, being able to articulate our values, ideas, to show emotional control and to have good interpersonal intelligence. This link to Gardner's Intrapersonal Intelligence theory.
Our gifted kids need to sort out a lot, in their own way. The need chances to talk about things that are bothering them. Children who are perceived as being exceptionally bright face a lot of pressure to have the right answers all the time. They may be afraid to make mistakes and may not try something for fear of failure. There are survival guides out there, but to talk about feelings, emotions and stresses will help a child with low self-esteem. Many gifted kids only know how much they cannot do, and do not realize how truly gifted they are. They see their failures and not as lessons but proof of their lack of ability.
What may benefit your child is creative exercises, fantasy, relaxation responses, meditation, yoga, and other mind opening activities. Many of us are stressed and our children feel these stresses to achieve as much as we do. The Centering Book (Hendricks, G. & Wills, 1975) provides some exceptional activities that open up the mind´s eye.
"Some people march to a different drummer, some people polka!"
Read, read, read with your kids! Have fun with stories.
Stimulate them with trips, historical sties, interactive museums, concerts, fun places to be and do. In a great article by Voss, (1987) says that she used to talk to parents, fill their heads full of ideas about literature their kids should be exposed to, activities that are a must, tools and other methods of helping gifted children achieve their potential. She determined that most gifted kids are involved in a ton of activities, are overburdened to perform, and she has changed her tune. I believe that many of our kids have lives that are focussed on getting to the next music lesson, soccer game, and other organized, structured activity, when kids should just be learning to be kids. She feels that it´s not the what that parents do, but the how.
The best toys, in my estimation, are still simple Lego! My students adore it during indoor recess. Manipulation, play, creativity, co-ordination.
Dr. David Elkind : The Hurried Child - he worries about the stress our brightest and best face in everyday lives, this is evidenced in Silicon Valley where overtime hours , pressure and burnout are becoming increasingly complex problems.
Not that I denigrate all cognitively-based activities, fostering critical and creative thinking, and applying these skills in solving problems, are among the goals of most good programs. Parents can foster this by having fun during day-to-day quality time:
Questions to foster critical and creative thinking, Costa (1985) grocery shopping, walking, after reading the first few chapters of a book, helping kids to solve real-life problems.
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Piaget's brilliance, supported by brain research in the field which shows that the building of knowledge helps to build new knowledge. Piaget (This YouTube video on Piaget demonstrates more of his theories.) saw intelligence as the form of equilibrium towards which all the cognitive structures tend. We know that the brain uses the least energy and lowest part of the brain possible to do its work. Our brains learn something new, then put that knowledge into the older brain stem, mid-brain, to allow the person to multi-task. How many of us have finished an activity, read a page of text or driven from point A to point B and really do not remember either what we read or how we arrived?
Object permanence, whereby infants understand that an object exists even when it is out of site, lets us know that they are capable of holding concepts in their minds. Visibly hiding toys under a blanket and allowing the child to fish them out can establish this developmental milestones. There are many Key Experiences that facilitate the acquisition of literacy, numeracy and knowledge skills.
Piaget was most interested in finding out the wrong answers that children may have, rather than the right. Why were kids egocentric and could not percieve another's point of view?
He determined that there are 4 stages of intellectual growth and development: Sensory motor, Pre-operational, Concrete operations and Formal operations. We can illustrate these changes and the assimilation and accommodation of new lessons as children become able to hold abstract thoughts.
He did another experiment with two rows of blocks or pennies. If he stretches one line out longer, the child will believe that there are more in the longer lines. This is called one-to-one correspondence. It is a good guide to your child's place in the learning continuum!
Piaget's active learning theories have been assimilated and adopted and are common in many theorist's work.
How & How Much We Learn:10 percent of what we read
20 percent of what we hear
30 percent of what we see
50 percent of what we both see and hear
70 percent of what we say as they talk
90 percent of what we say as they do a thing(Elkwell and Shanker, 1988)
In addition, William Glasser added:95 percent of what we teach to someone else
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is similarly supported by current research in the field of the Brain and Learning. He said that human needs must be met in this priority before we can become loving, confident, worthwhile members of society. That means that children's Physiological needs: food, clothing, water and shelter, must be met before learning can occur. Brains under stress cannot learn as the Flight or Flight patterns kick in. Some older Gifted children exhibit this as they become behavoiur problems in schools. Safety needs: children knowing and trusting in their world, having understandable limits, predictable routines (bedtime, discipline strategies). Love: They must feel loved and lovable, we have seen what happens to babies who feel unloved in the development of Failure to Thrive Syndrome. Esteem: Children are able to make choices, to feel self-worthy, to participate fully in the learning process, to become independent and to take risks if the previous developmental milestones are achieved. Self-actualization is possible as high ability learners become full members of society, able to make a difference and to undertake leadership roles, to appreciate beauty and to find a purpose in life.
The Highscope Educational Research Foundation (1985) developed this framework of key experiences which provide an holistic experiences in the early years.
in active learning
in using language (vocabulary => two word sentences => full sentences, written/verbal, expressive and receptive)
in representing experiences and ideas (object/index/symbol/sign)
in developing logical reasoning:classification (attributes, differences)
seriation (comparing,arranging, ordering)
in spatial relations (up/down, above/below, near/far)
in temporal relations
Here are some open-ended questions to challenge your kids. in their thinking. They can be used while driving, walking in the park
Evaluate a Situation
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8. Gardner´s Multiple Intelligences
Another way to analyze your child´s development is to look at the strengths s/he demonstrates.
There are numerous books and websites that expand his theories: Gardner´s Multiple Intelligences. The cognitive sciences, brain research and further studies of the intellect have led Gardner to propose the theory that our intelligences can work individually or in concert with our other faculties. His book Creative Minds (1993) explores the lives in biographies of some incredibly talented and gifted thinkers and performers of our time. Some of these people excel in their particular field of study, others have shown that when making their life choices, they had numerous possibilities, directions which their careers might take. Gardner's work has been corroborated by the research on the corpus callosum, that part of the brain which connects the left and the right sides.
- We know that particular parts of the brain are responsible for certain physical, social, emotional and intellectual activities.
- We know, too that the brain works best in holistic, multi-dimensional activities.
- We also know that the pathways built while learning many be used when the brain is learning new things.(Dendritic pathways, built by the brain to pass on information can be reused.)
- The brain center for music and math are in the same area.
(See Kathie Nunley's research: www.brains.org for more information.)
I draw your attention to
Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
"Confronting and assessing objects and abstractions." (Scientific American, 1998) Einstein!
People who move their bodies through space with adeptness and grace. Dancers, athletes.
Artists and visual spatial creators of beauty.
Musicians, composers, conductors.
Those who best understand others, psychiatrists, politicians, religious leaders.
Those who understand themselves, their own moods, feelings and other states of mind.
These are people who love to play and work with language, poets, writers, linguists.
Recognizing and classifying natural objects. Biologists, naturalists. Audubon.
Those who question fundamental ideas of existence. Sartre, Kierkegard.
When I work with my students, I ask them to identify themselves, place a star beside the areas in which they think they are very strong. I also ask them to think about their parents and think about who it is that they are most like.
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Computers are not the answer to all learning problems. Young children, especially, need to play, jump, love and laugh -and not in front of a keyboard. They do appear to change how we think, theorize, remember, communicate, process information, solve problems, explore.
Saddy (1996) wrote an extensive article on these topics. The premise, and I agree, is that children need to learn to make sense of the environment, best done in a hands-on, activity based manner. Piaget, amongst others, figured this out! It is not by viewing data and assimilating information that we learn, but by synthesizing this information into knowledge.
Computers may give us data or information but they cannot give us knowledge. This comes with the manipulation of data and information, into complex, abstract ideas, formulated for increased critical thinking skills and the firing of brain cells.This, according to Brain Research, is what increases our ability to think.
It is the left hemisphere processes language. The right processes the visual, and the right hemisphere does not process and filter information as critically as the left. We used to have to trust our cave-woman eyes to warn us of danger, and we have a biological bias to react quickly, and to accept what we see. "A picture is worth a 1000 words."
Visually we do not critically assess the information. If we use our left brain, higher-order critical thinking skills, we can logically sort out fact from fiction. Most kids, viewing a multimedia CD Rom, some refer to them as "Edutainment Software", do not read the text, & absorb the information. They process the pretty pictures and watch the action. This is why sensible, logical, intelligent people can be entertained by something like "The Blair Witch Project", "Mission Impossible" or "How the Grinch Stole Xmas" when they are looking for entertainment. How much more creative to imagine the scene, setting, action than to have it created for you on the computer screen? My son uses the analogy: Dungeons & Dragons are to video games, what books are to movies.
When we similarly view a simulation of a complex system (computer modelling of scientific phenomena; behaviour of ant colonies, Canada geese: V-formation. Saddy proposes that this is how it is that we might recreate a system without understanding it.
This is how Newton devised a new mathematical system (calculus), and to show how planets orbit around the sun. If we recreated it on a computer, perhaps we would not have had such an understanding of this system.
Pythagorean theorem. The hypotenuse squared is equal to the squares of the two sides. We need to manipulate these ideas and work with them, to think about our thinking. Artificial intelligence *is* artificial.
"In the past, intelligence was used as a substitute for calculation. Now calculation is incredibly cheap, so you can be dumber." (Saddy 1996, p.58)
Think of your Palm Pilots: "When you write things down, you don´t remember them as well. And worse than that, you don´t think about them deeply because you´re not committing them to memory, you´re committing them to electronics and paper."
Younger students writing essays, think screen by screen. 3 or 4 paragraphs-worth. They do not see the big picture: the thread of the argument. They must be guided in this endeavour, do overviews and plan out their logical thoughts.
E-mail standards are lowering. Friends used to be careful about writing to me, a teacher used to marking spelling, grammar and punctuation, now it is acceptable to fling into cyberspace flawed pieces of writing, quaint emoticons and inadequate pieces of work. In a 1988 piece of research at Perdue University, as discussed by Saddy, they found that students did write longer sentences and more words on a computer, but the longer sentences did not result in increased complexities of thought. "Word processors don´t make better writers.", they concluded, "They make more writers."
Visit three Internet sites, and you'll find three different birth dates for the same person...unreliable information abounds. Here we are relying on a tool to find something basic, and not being able to find accurate information. Often kids don´t know how to look it up information in an index and they are used to firing off one word work search topics, finding loads of information at their fingertips. How much more exciting to go to the Museum of Civilisation and walk through exhibits, interact with the sites at the Science Museum in Toronto than to pop in a CD Rom and let real life pass you by. The Internet is very a sexy medium, but I am finding more and more children who are unable to look up information in an index, or to do some leg work to pursue a fact, if it doesn't come up on the one search engine they have chosen. They become frozen in real-time!
A huge fear in this day and age, is the amount of time children are spending alone on computers. The Media Awareness Network has developed some points to consider if you leave your child alone in front of a computer. The Ottawa Police Services has a similar message: Internet Safety. Far too many young people are entering chat rooms and meeting predators. Please protect your children.
I have developed a fairly full bibliography on computers and education. If you would like to read more visit that link.
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- What are your goals for your children?
- What do you wish for them in the future?
- What would you see as making your child happy?
- How do you get them to where they need to be?
How, then, will you guide them to that destination, whatever the individual, personal goal may be? I believe it is in creating caring, co-operative, sensitive young people, who care about them selves, their families, their lives and their futures, whatever road they may choose. They say that our children will experience a number of careers in their adult, working lives. They must be prepared to be lifelong learners. Employers are perfectly willing to train employees, if they show the kinds of abilities that will stand them in good stead in the workplace.
I believe we must balance out real-life experiences: quiet moments for reflections, identifying shapes in the clouds, walking in the park through the leaves, grocery shopping, house cleaning and blowing bubbles, with the cerebral, cognitive experience that will improve their logical-mathematical minds. We must take time to play in the snow, jump in leaves and run and laugh with our children.
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- Information Management Skills
- Communication skills
- Valuing Skills
- Research & Investigation Skills
- Critical Thinking Skills
- Design & Planning Skills
- Management & Administrative Skills
- Human Relations/Interpersonal Skills
They want their employees to have determination, motivation/drive, initiative, self-confidence, positive "can-do" attitude, team player, problem solver, fast learner, open minded, innovative! Go visit any employer´s website. These skills are developed well before the age of majority. They are developed by learning how to interact with others and not by tutoring, by endless hours on a computer and in conert with others.
Remember the good old days when you *didn´t* hear kids say, despite owning every computer game know to humankind: "I´m bored!" When we went outside, played with sticks and mud in the rain puddles, rode our bikes (safely) until we were tired, played pick-up games of ball till we heard that "D-I-N-N-E-R" cry? We´re now adults making our way in life, we have learned to operate and create all kinds of incredibly complex technologies.
Wayne Gretsky honed and developed his skills on his back yard rink. We know that there are optimal ages and stages for the development of second language and motor skills. These skills are developed in comfortable, fun active learning opportunies in our youth. Not in innumerable lessons on skills on the ice rink and in the music studio.
Open and Maintain communication with your child, before it´s too late.
Listen to your child: their fears, worries, heartaches, repeat it back to them. "What I think you´re saying is: you are..."
Allow your child some decision-making powers: do you want to wear the purple one or the green one?
Help them to establish time priorities: all work and no play.... :-(
Do not compare siblings.
Praise your child.
Teach them to take risks and not to fear failure. "If you don´t make 10 mistakes a day, you´re not really trying.
Be a welcome person at your child´s school.
Remember: gifted kids are kids first, their giftedness is simply an added bonus. (Or cross to bear!)
Have fun with your child.
Help them understand the difference between their behaviour and who they are deep inside.
Give them unconditional love.
Thanks for visiting the site. I hope some of this has helped. Enjoy them, love them. They are our greatest gifts. Here is a bibliography of articles and publications related to giftedness.
Most of the icons on this page are free GIFs from Jay Boersma. I developed Piaget's experiment gifs on my own!