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Gifted and Talented Education Tips

Shellie Braeuner
July 3, 2015

How to stay one step ahead of your gifted child.

All parents think their children are gifted. But having a 2-year-old who reads or a preschooler who sits down at the piano and plays a concerto instead of "Three Blind Mice" can be daunting. How do you recognize true giftedness? Should you pursue a gifted and talented education for your child? If so, how do you bring out the best in your student?

Ways to Identify Giftedness
"There are as many definitions of giftedness as there are gifted children," says Kathleen Nilles, manager of parent services and communications for the National Association for Gifted Children. "It depends on how the child is gifted. She might be gifted academically, musically, artistically or athletically." But here are some common traits to look for:
 

  • An Early Reader
    Many gifted children are driven to read early. They may teach themselves to read as early as 2 or 3.
     
  • High Energy
    Gifted children may not sleep as much as other children and may be more driven when they are awake.
     
  • A Large Vocabulary
    Many gifted children routinely use large words or express complex and abstract ideas at a young age.
     
  • Very Independent
    Often gifted children push themselves to learn and achieve with little help or encouragement from teachers and parents.
     
  • Highly Curious
    While most children ask questions, gifted children will regularly ask questions that send Mom and Dad to their browsers to find answers.


How to Help Gifted and Talented Students
Gifted and talented children have special needs. "A common misconception is that gifted students can fend for themselves," says Melissa Reed of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. "

All students, including gifted ones, need to be nurtured with access to an education that helps them learn and achieve at a level appropriate to their abilities." But that doesn't mean that you have to start searching for expensive private schools. There are a wide range of low-cost options for a gifted and talented education. Reed suggests parents consider the following:
 

  • Early Entrance
    Look for early admission to kindergarten or first grade. This gives your child a chance to work with children who are a closer educational match to them.
     
  • Multi-Age Classes
    Talk to your school, and see if multi-age classrooms are an option. This groups children by ability and allows the teacher to tailor classes to your child's advanced needs.
     
  • Acceleration
    Some schools allow for children to accelerate in specific classes. This works extremely well for young gifted children. "Many gifted children develop asymmetrically," Nilles offers. "That means that the preschooler that can multiply and divide might still be working on her alphabet."

    In some cases, your child might be able to stay with her age mates for some subjects and work with older classes for others. This supports your child over the full spectrum of her abilities.


Should You Test for Giftedness?
This is a question that splits the experts. Some private schools or gifted programs require specific scores for applicants. But don't test just to test, says Nilles. "Tests just show how well the child performs on that particular test on that particular day," she points out. Test anxiety, new surroundings or just a bad night's sleep can affect your child's score.

If you do choose to test, "make sure your IQ testing is done through a professional psychologist," Reed advises. Talk to your school and pediatrician, and look for professionals familiar with testing gifted children.

Other Tips
Augment your child's scores by presenting examples of your child's abilities when applying to a gifted program or school. "Create a portfolio of your child's work," Nilles suggests. This might include drawings or stories your child does at home or a video of him playing an instrument. Don't just emphasize how the program would benefit your child. "Focus on what makes your child a unique applicant. Include how your child's participation would be a benefit to the community," Reed says.

In the end, the most important thing you can do for gifted children is to make sure they're happy. "Follow your child's lead," Nilles offers as a final note. "If she is happy and content then she's being challenged enough."

Shellie Braeuner is an award-winning children's author. She earned her master's degree in education in human developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University and has worked as a nanny for more than 25 years.

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