The subject of gifted children came up recently through a local homeschool group I am part of. A mom had had her child tested, found out he was gifted, and wanted to know how she should educate him now that she had this information.
When it comes to having kids tested and labelled, I am ambivalent. I think labels can hold kids back and can cause the adults in their life to expect less of them. On the other hand, sometimes knowing what the problem is is a huge step forward. I have had three kids (out of four) with speech delays of varying degrees and I think my younger son has some auditory processing issues. He has not been tested and labelled officially but just knowing what the name for something is I think can help. Though I still sometimes wonder what is a disorder he can’t help and what is a personality flaw we can work on. From what I overhear from other moms, the labelling of children, particularly when it comes to ADD/ADHD, has gone way too far. There is no way 90% of boys in a class can have a disorder. But I digress.
The issue I wanted to address is labelling a child as gifted. This is not a pejorative label. It is acknowledging extra-ordinary skills and aptitudes rather than a lack or deficiency in some area. So it would seem that the fear of holding a child back or misunderestimating (if a president used it, it is a real word) them is taken off the table. I have some concern though that the gifted label, even if it doesn’t hold back the “gifted” child, can have a negative effect on siblings or classmates who then become aware that they are apparently not “gifted.”
I will admit I also have some baggage in this area because of a cousin of mine who was apparently extraordinary (not sure if they used the term “gifted” back then; but his mom always let us know how special and brilliant he was). He was pushed into private school and was always given the message that he was more intelligent than most. And he did get a Ph.D. But his life is pretty dysfunctional and not one I think any of us would aspire to. I can think of other kids I knew growing up who had very similar paths; they were always known as the brightest kids in school, but in the world’s terms we would say “they did not live up to their potential” (to the best of my knowledge there was no spiritual life there either).
So I guess my point is that maybe a label of gifted can affect a kid too. Or maybe those kids would have ended up the same no matter what. Maybe the labels made no difference.
To get back in track (again), I wonder what Charlotte Mason would have made of “gifted” children. I looked up lists of criteria for what makes one gifted. Here are a few of the highlights:
— Gifted children may show an exceptional talent in one or more areas. This means that they perform well above the normal level for their age in this area.
— Their motivation comes from within. They are motivated by their interest in a certain area and thrive in challenges.
–They may be sensitive, emotionally and physically.
— They are curious, observant, and creative They have good powers of abstraction and come up with original solutions to problems. They make connections where others might not. They have intense interests and long attention spans.
[My sources on this are: http://giftedkids.about.com/od/gifted101/a/giftedtraits.htm, http://giftedkids.about.com/od/gifted101/p/gifteddef.htm, and http://austega.com/gifted/9-gifted/22-characteristics.html)]
What strikes me when I see these lists is that these are things that Charlotte Mason wanted for all children. She believed that we could develop the habits of being observant and having a long attention span. She developed a method of learning that was designed to allow children to form relationships with the material they studied. These relationships are the “interests” we are talking about. Making connections between very different concepts? That has Charlotte Mason written all over it.
So I guess the question I think we should be asking is not what do we do with these gifted children, but why aren’t all our children gifted? Some children seem to make it through the public schools without losing all love of learning. And we call them gifted. But rather than separating them out as something special, let’s come up with curricula and approaches that foster the love of learning that is in all children. We should expect all children to be “gifted.” Instead we have come to accept a lack of curiosity, an aversion to schoolwork and a general state of apathy as the norm.
So how do you educate your gifted child? First, be glad that they are already at least part way to where they should be. But then educate them, and any other children you are responsible for, in ways that develop curiosity and a love of learning (I am partial to Miss Mason’s methods, you may have gathered).