Gifted Children: The Differences are Real
A whole lot has been written about them, and I’ve done my share of putting information out there about the ups and the downs of life with a gifted child. The parents who are raising gifted children and the teachers who understand gifted children know the complexity and uniqueness of giftedness in their children. They are different.
Yet, despite all that I know, all that I have experienced, and all that I have read and written about gifted children, there are very real but unconventional traits of gifted children that seemingly pop up from some forgotten place in my gifted child, surprising me, and reminding me yet again that my child is very different because he is gifted.
Gifted children, at a young age, understand they are different from their same-age peers as they realize their quirks and uncommon interests contrast—sometimes a great deal—with the long-held traditional school norms.
Traditional schooling and all its constructs have been around a long time, and age-old practices such as age-based grade levels, daily schedules, typical subjects, textbooks, tests and report cards are second nature to us all. How many times have you asked a child, “How’s school?” What comes to mind when you hear the popular, late-July proclamation, “back to school?” What is typically learned in kindergarten? First grade? Do you make plans for Spring Break? Homework, after-school activities, fund raising and summer all relate to school in some way and influence so much in our lives.
Recently, as I was registering my homeschooled high school son for the ACT test, I had to figure out a way to provide the information that he is technically in 11th grade, but because he is more than prepared to start college next year, he will graduate after three years of high school. The online form continually threw back my entered information saying that 11th grade, three years of high school and his anticipated graduation date all conflicted. For the sake of successfully registering for the ACT, I skipped my son from 11th grade to 12th grade in the course of 5 minutes. Yes, traditional school norms dominate how we think of education, school, and how we should fill out ACT forms.
Gifted children seem to defy these traditional school standards because gifted kids are just not very standard. Like my own gifted child who jumped from 11th grade to 12th grade with the click of a mouse, the standards of traditional school are not often relevant for gifted children. Yet, even as a parent of a gifted child, I sometimes unknowingly allow traditional school frameworks to influence my judgement concerning my gifted child. But out of the depths, his gifted traits come barreling out at unexpected times and remind me again that I am not dealing with a standard child.
“I could go there every night and hang out with all of the adults there because they are all so intelligent, they know so much, and we talk about ideas, philosophies and science, not gossip or criticizing other people. I learn so much from them. I’m learning about all of the things I care about! I feel like I could go there every night!”
My son was referring to his months-long project of converting a gas-powered minibike to an electric-powered one at our local maker space under the tutelage of some of the adult members. When my son, with emotion and conviction, told me this, I was again thrown back into recognizing the sheer atypical-ness of having a child who possesses those very different-from-the-norm gifted traits. I was quickly reminded that yes, gifted children do prefer the company of adults and are voracious learners.
I’ve written time and again that many gifted children prefer the company of adults because they are more of an intellectual peer than same-age peers which fill their classes at school. But because of the inescapable age-based school norms that influence me as they do so many others, I hadn’t realized the real truth of it until my son voiced how important this maker space experience was to him and why.
Many times I’ve written about the insatiable, high-powered minds of our gifted children and their need to take in knowledge, to learn and to satisfy their intense curiosity. Hearing my son talk about all that he learned through his time spent at the maker space seemed as though he was talking about having satisfied his need for food when starved or water when thirsty. I had to pause to take this in because once again, those old traditional school conventions I grew up with were not at all relevant to my gifted son at this moment.
The differences are sometimes deep and wide, and gifted children don’t always fit in with the norms we hold.