Posted by: waikatogifted | June 25, 2011

The Young Gifted Child at Home

The WAGC series on the young gifted child continues as we look forward to our visit from Sue Breen.

Download the flyer for our visit from Sue.

In terms of family life, it is both enjoyable and important to spend time together, being who we are as people and doing whatever it is that we most like to do. Some families are at their happiest when eating their favourite foods together, some when enjoying life outdoors together, some when engaged in playful exchanges of humour. Your family has a culture – you may or may not be able to express it in words, but you know it when you see it, and you experience a sense of connection when you discover similar cultural expressions outside your own family group.

The gifted preschooler is often born into a gifted family. It is highly likely, then, that some form of cognitive activity will be dominant in the culture of the gifted preschooler’s family. Further, it is likely that some form of thinking together is one of the vital ingredients in the custom blend of social glue that makes this particular family strong.

How do you think together with a preschooler? 

It starts with those very first copying, peeping and cooing games. Vocalising and taking turns. Changing something in the pattern and seeing how long it takes for the other player of these baby games to learn the new pattern. Who is leading – baby or Grandma? It can be hard to tell!

Once language or spatial skills become evident, the thinking exchange moves to a whole new level. The persuasive power of the toddler to get Mum down to the library to find yet another book on steam engines seems to have at least as much force as the engines themselves. It can be as hard to peel Dad away from the Lego construction zone as it is to extricate little Jimmy when bedtime rolls around, and at Christmas it may be difficult to decide whether to write Daddy or Jimmy on the new construction set after it is wrapped. Sally realises early that she can get Nana’s eyes to shine in a certain way by asking about every plant in the garden, and then reciting what she has learnt. Wanda knows that the longest and best conversations with Aunty Gwen all begin with “Why?”.

The young gifted child exudes an urge to learn, question, create and understand. This urge flavours the quality of family interactions – interactions with people cut from the same cloth, and who enjoy the same things.

Intense and frequent questions are valued and answered.
Sudden discoveries and realisations are shared, enjoyed, and reciprocated.

Even the bad times in family life may be flavoured by the thinking culture: Junior devotes enormous energy to discovering successful strategies to bend and break the rules. Parental responses about why this is unhelpful risk being so informative and educational that they become interesting and rewarding. (That way lies danger…)

And then the school years come along!

At school, learning is the core business, but thinking may not be the core passion. A teacher’s core passion may be sport, the arts, or people, rather than thinking. That doesn’t make him or her a bad person, nor even a bad teacher. It does mean that the new gifted child who routinely fires 17 good questions per minute is more likely to be seen as some kind of android verbal assault weapon than a wonder of thinking power endearingly wrapped in a five-year-old’s body.

Discovering this tends to feel bad for all concerned.

So what should we do?

Families can help by identifying that their gifted preschooler is growing up in a thinking culture, and also by helping their child to develop some cross-cultural skills. School is a classroom management culture, a sitting-and-listening culture, a sporting culture, a culture where being able to enjoy the contributions of people with diverse skills and interests brings more joy throughout each day, and a culture where teacher time must be shared.

Teachers can help by realising that young gifted children offer their best thoughts and questions as great treasures. When they offer these things to their nearest and dearest, they are received as precious gifts. When they offer these thoughts and questions to you and you don’t appreciate them, it is like putting another child’s gift of wildflowers in the trash.

With the wilting bunch of wildflowers, we learn to recut the stems and add a little sugar to the water in the vase (or paint jar) to combat the droopiness. We learn to stand them on the sunniest windowsill because that dandelion will close in the shade.

The gifted child’s enthusiastic donation of a thousand questions also requires gentle handling, or another kind of wilting – sometimes quiet and lonely, sometimes with theatrically over-stated boredom and distress – is likely to ensue.

The photo above, by Flickr member adlpated, has attribution and non-commercial licenses.

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