Labelling Children as Gifted

Dear Reader,

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:,, and]

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).


8 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with your thoughts here. Sometimes I feel tempted to look for a label for my kids, but I can’t think of a good reason. It might stroke my ego (which would be silly, what did I have to do with it?) but it wouldn’t serve them any. Not if they have a customized education and time for their own interests anyway. And I would hate to distract them from their *interests* to thinking about *themselves.* In fact part of the reason I homeschool is to keep them from comparisons as long as possible, so that being “smarter” doesn’t become part of their identity.


    • Thanks for the comment. Charlotte Mason was big on not allowing children to be introspective. She wanted them to have interests but not to be focused on themselves. I can’t see how the child knowing they are “gifted” could be beneficial to them at all. As I read through the list of characteristics for gifted children, I found myself thinking that two or three of my four (not the youngest yet) could qualify as gifted at least in some area. But I don’t really think they are; I just think it is normal for kids to have particular interests and strengths. We should cultivate that in all our kids.


  2. Agree with this. My son has a friend who has been tested ‘gifted’ and his mother is insufferable (despite the fact he’s adopted and therefore she gets even less credit than some might ascribe to her). The fact he’s always hearing her talking about it must be a huge pressure on him, esp. since apparently many ‘gifted’ children lose this ability to be ahead of the curve when they are older, so it’s more a case of accelerated learning ability. There are lots of studies in a great book with a chapter on this called ‘Nurtureshock’ by Po Bronson. So many gifted kids end up psychologically messed up and leading unhappy/unsuccessful lives, esp. those going to the top Universities very early etc… All totally unnecessary. Education is not a race!


  3. If you look up “genius” on the AO site where CM’s writings are, you might get an idea of what CM thought about gifted children. The chapters on Goethe in Vol. 5 is particularly enlightening. In Volume 6 near the end she almost seems to say that gifted children are the children who really can be unschooled–because they just don’t need prompting for learning, and they don’t seem to need narration because they remember everything they read. (They probably narrate to themselves without realizing it.)

    Miss Mason said over and over that her curriculum was for the average child, even the dull child. She believed that *every* child could have a real, human education–and previously it was only the intellectual elite who received that (well, as a general rule).

    My problem with the gifted idea is that gifted and GENIUS are not the same thing, and I really think when Miss Mason said genius she meant just that–those kids curing cancer or solving complex equations at age 9, not those kids with a 125, a bit above average IQ. I help moderate the gifted forum on the AO Forums, and we always say that the AO curriculum does not need adjusting for gifted children unless their IQ is in the high 140s or above.In fact, the AO curriculum is so rigorous that it occasionally needs be adjusted down a bit for average children.

    I think the temptation when a child has been labelled gifted is to begin to view him as Intelligent instead of Human. I know that with my oldest child I allowed him to become off-balanced because he showed early aptitude (by the way, the other issue I have with the giftedness issue is that I’m not entirely sure that early aptitude is a sure sign of genius anymore than being tall at age 4 means you will necessarily be a tall adult)–so I allowed him to stay indoors and read for hours, even though he was only 3 or 4. This was a HUGE mistake. CM was so wise in her approach to early childhood, and when I read her, I changed what I was doing with him and I am so glad. So what if he taught himself to read? Books were not to be the organizing principle of his life, especially at such a young age.

    Now I’m writing too much. Sorry!

    I love that you discuss these issues, Nebby!


    • Thanks for your insightful comments, Brandy. What you say makes a lot of sense.
      Have you heard of a book called Ungifted? I just finished reading it and will be blogging on it soon. It is pretty dense but it talks about how we label gifted, what IQ tests mean, and what other factors contribute to success.


  4. […] is a noble sentiment and I do think every child should be viewed as unique and able to succeed (I have never been a big fan of the gifted label myself). But at the same time, if we become too focused on this definition of success, we risk losing […]


  5. […] As I have written before, I am not a huge fan of labels like “gifted” and so this idea appeals to me. I think if we were doing our jobs correctly, we would be able to see the giftedness in all children. Gatto expands a bit on this topic. He believes in neither gifted nor learning-disabled students (p. 85). As for the treatment of gifted students by the schools, he says that only slightly more is expected of them. They not only “memorize the dots” but also “what experts say is the correct way to connect those dots” (p. 16). Even at this highest level of education possible within our schools then, it is not the child’s individuality which is really being prized. They are still parrots, just higher level parrots. […]


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