Parenting Gifted Learners

Wrestling with uncertainties and misconceptions?

Parents whose children exhibit exceptional ability in one or more areas may be unsure about how best to support their child's development—or what giftedness is.

Here is some information to help clarify understandings for parents who want to know more about gifted-level development, or who struggle with understandings about gifted education.

Seeing Giftedness More Flexibly

"A child's current achievements are works in the making, and future accomplishments are unknown. Cultivating gifted-level development is a multi-faceted endeavor." ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 50 (from the Chapter "G is for Gifted")

There are many different ways of being gifted. It is domain-specific in its development—so, for example, a child may have mathematical, musical, linguistic, emotional, social, artistic, or other kinds of strengths. Moreover, there are continuities and discontinuities across the life span. Thus, a person's capabilities, interests, learning preferences, and requirements are always in flux.

The best and perhaps simplest way to think about giftedness is to conceptualize it as a current need for special education in one or more areas. Giftedness is dependent upon experiencing new and appropriately-targeted learning opportunities over time. Therefore, it's important to find the right educational fit for children to help them flourish.

What Does the Right Fit Look Like?

Appreciate children's learning differences and personal characteristics. Provide choice. Honor their curiosity. Help kids recognize and build upon their strengths and talents.

Two essential factors to consider are suitability and relevance. That means matching curriculum to ability (adapting curriculum for those who are advanced relative to their age or grade), and making sure that the learning is meaningful.

Encourage children to connect what they already know with new understandings and experiences; to explore; to find creative outlets; to ask questions; to play, interact, and collaborate with others; and to develop a "mastery orientation." This is akin to a love of learning—valuing and building upon knowledge, and being willing to seek and embrace challenges. (See "How Children Learn" at https://www.rootsofaction.com/how-children-learn/.)

Parents can model a desire to learn, curiosity, resilience in the face of difficulties, and openness to ideas. This kind of approach will also serve children well as they encounter different programs, and develop the means to navigate academic landscapes from one school year to the next.

Assessing Giftedness – How Can Parents Help Kids Navigate Effectively?

A child's learning needs should be determined on an individual and on-going basis.

Parents often find assessment and gifted identification practices confusing. Let's cut to the chase. Assessment practices should be comprised of multiple measures and inform learning. That is, they should be fair, flexible, subject-specific, and continuous—integrated into instruction, and woven into classroom learning processes. However, this is not always the case, and parents may feel that educational measurement and evaluation protocols are riddled with controversies, inconsistencies, and complexities.

A good rule of thumb is to envision the goal of assessment: which is to make carefully reasoned decisions about how to meet a child's ever-changing learning needs. And, the best way to accomplish this is if teachers take a diagnostic approach and use children's understandings to inform daily instruction. Although a one-time test such as an IQ test may provide some information (and maybe even a label of sorts), rather than trying to find out "Is my child gifted?" it makes more sense to seek answers to the question, "What does my child require in order to thrive?" Encourage connections between activities and domain-specific learning (and other) needs, day by day.

4 Practical Take-Aways for Parents

Every child is entitled to an education commensurate with his/her abilities. Parents can help make this happen! Here are some tips:

  1. Collaborate. Create effective and respectful partnerships with your child's teacher. "By understanding what teachers do, and how they go about doing it, parents are better equipped to be effective collaborators and advocates for children's learning." ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 137 (from the chapter "T is for Tips for Working with Teachers")
  2. Be vigilant and responsive. Children who have exceptionally advanced learning needs require flexibly responsive educational attention. Engage in effective dialogue with others to enlighten (and possibly transform) your thinking, attitudes, and actions.
  3. Advocate. Spread the word about the importance of acquiring more teacher development programs that will enhance service provision for gifted learners, and fortify the conceptual framework of gifted education.
  4. Empower yourself! Gather—and use—information and resources on giftedness, gifted education, and ways to support and encourage children's optimal growth at home, school, and beyond.