Teaching Gifted Kids

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Gifted children are pros at camouflaging themselves and their abilities. Some gifted kids are never identified in school and then accomplish amazing feats in college. Some decide to become high achievers and others decide to blend-in with the crowd. Most, however, start off strong. They’re curious, inspired, engaged, and excited about school until it becomes too routine, too boring, and a place that they no longer go to learn but to just socialize with friends as they get older. Many will drop out altogether, get a GED, and then start afresh in college and end-up as Fortune 500 entrepreneurs, Medical Doctors, or even Ph.D’s. How do I know all of this?  Well, I’ve been intensely studying and researching this unique population since 2002, have been life-coaching them since 2008, and am a member of the “Never identified” and “Drop out of school turned Summa Cum Laude” Ph.D. myself, ironically studying Intelligence & Creativity at Texas A&M University.

Gifted children need wiggle room physically and mentally. No matter what their age, gifted children need recess. They need time to engage their bodies. Riding bicycles, climbing, playing sand volleyball, kicking a soccer ball, hopscotch, jumprope, hula-hoop, whatever. They need to play a couple times a day. They have more psychomotor energy then most children their age, and they need to wiggle so they don’t get misdiagnosed as ADHD or trouble makers.

Mentally, gifted children need the wiggle room to ask questions and excel. We should never halt a child’s intellectual advances due to age/grade level. Let the five year old take algebra. Let the nine year old study geometry. Why not? Why make them wait? Let the children ask questions that the adults don’t know the answers to and encourage that behavior. The children will find ways to find the answers and both child and adult alike will learn more together. Instead of forcing gifted children to memorize, help them learn how to think critically, creatively, and divergently.

Gifted children need likeminded friends.

Gifted children need a handful of like-minded friends. Oftentimes, gifted children feel like nobody really understands them or knows them, because they really are not that interested in what the majority of other kids their age are raving over. Some gifted children have opportunities to connect with other kids due to their amazing athletic abilities, but that is just one area of their life. Like everyone else, gifted children want to be known for who they are, not just what they are good at. They want to be able to have friends who they can connect with heart to heart. They want “nerd” friends, because those are their people! Those kids understand the intensity of curiosity or why philosophical type debates or conversations are so fun and engaging. Gifted children actually like it when they do not know all the answers or are not the “smartest kid in the room.” They would much rather be challenged with interesting questions from their peers instead of being the kid with all the answers.

Likeminded friends help gifted children feel known and fully accepted. Likeminded friends challenge each other and motivate each other to stretch their potential and minds. Likeminded friends get the inside joke and make lasting memories together. Likeminded friends help gifted children not feel alone. Likeminded friends are fun and engaging.

Gifted children need opportunities to be acquire grit. Trained educational guides are able to create environments where gifted children feel safe to fail. Failure is no longer an enemy to the gifted child, because with likeminded friends, the gifted child is already known for who he/she is instead of having an identity mainly or only defined by what he/she can do. Thus, failure is not only safe but encouraged. It’s through the trials of frustration and failure that children acquire superhero traits like resiliency, grit, accountability, and even time management. It’s through frustration and failure that children learn what truly intrinsically motivates them. It’s through frustration and failure that gifted children meet their current potential  and stretch its limits. It’s through frustration and failure that gifted children “Superhero Up” and once they master their task, truly feel accomplishment through their own hard work.

So, how do we best teach gifted children? We don’t. We don’t “teach” them. We watch them. We encourage them. We hold them accountable to each other and to themselves. We take a step of faith, hold our breaths for a second or two, and learn to trust them. When we take a courageous step of faith to trust a gifted child, we  will be blown away at what they will accomplish. Every. Single. Time.

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