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Understanding the Unique Needs of a Gifted Child and the Role of Their Parents

If you have a child who has been identified as gifted, you’re aware of all the challenges he or she faces in a classroom setting. Whether the placement is a regular classroom or a specially designed program for accelerated learners, gifted children have unique needs. Of course every individual is wonderfully designed and no two have exactly the same needs, but gifted children  possess characteristics that set them apart.

Mary Ann Paradise, an educator working with gifted students in the Chicago area during the 1990’s, listed these characteristics of the gifted student: They prefer finding answers in their own way, they tolerate high levels of ambiguity, they see familiar things in unusual ways and they enjoy working alone to solve problems.

Joan Smutney, Director of the Center for Gifted at National-Louis University, Illinois, came up with this list:

Gifted children often
  • Express curiosity

  • Show creativity

  • Have an extensive vocabulary

  • Are good at problem-solving in unique ways

  • Have exceptional memories

  • Apply their learning to new situations

  • Are artistic, musical or dramatic with well-developed imaginations

  • Enjoy working independently

  • Display wit and humor

  • Have a sustained attention span
In light of these differences from the average or bright learner, gifted children need instructional settings that honor their high degree of intelligence, challenge them to excellence and support their individual social and emotional needs. Here are some of the ways parents and teachers can meet the needs of gifted children:

Accelerate Instruction Gifted children learn new information quickly and remember it well. They don’t need more than one or two lessons to master a new skill. They will process new information, fit it into their larger picture of related subject matter and they’re ready to move on. Repetitive lessons are not needed and will both interrupt his process of learning and frustrate him.

The better method for teaching the gifted child is to introduce new material and then turn her loose to do research or study a specific topic of her choosing within the subject area. For instance if the class is learning the geography of South America, allow the gifted child to choose a country or cultural group and do independent study. Teachers who require the gifted child to memorize all the countries and their major exports or fill in a chart of that information will find the gifted child’s attention long gone.

Teach in Whole Units A large percentage of the curriculum in American schools is written from a “part to whole” approach. If we want children to learn about the literature of the Civil War Era we take an excerpt from Gone with the Wind and use it to teach about the time period. Gifted children do not want to learn in bits and pieces—they want the broad picture. They want to read the entire book. This is a huge problem in nearly every subject because gifted children need to work with whole concepts to progress to a problem solving level. They want to see all the facts and then move to a synthesis level in which they manipulate the information in new and creative ways.

Allow Freedom to Explore The average classroom teacher doesn’t have time to differentiate every lesson to fit the requirements of various ability levels. She tends to teach to the average student, give the slower students as much attention as she can and throw an extension option into the mix for the gifted student. But gifted thinkers want to come up with their own projects and special areas of study. They want to explore relationships between two bodies of information or they want to try an experiment to test a current theory. They need permission to proceed, and the respect of their teachers or mentors to be trusted to use their time and energies in the classroom wisely.

Even in classes designed especially for gifted learners, there will those students who find it virtually impossible to work in lock-step with others. They need freedom to follow their own interests in their own way.

Understand Quirky Behavior Gifted children are, after all, children. They will have all the emotional and social concerns we expect of their age group. But in addition, many gifted children find it difficult to make friends, or listen to instruction that seems boring to them, or even to follow the expected rules and regulations of a larger institution. Gifted kids can be quirky. They may be hyper-sensitive to noise or light. They may be emotionally fragile and worry about world situations that average children don’t even consider. They may need a high level of encouragement to do their best work. They need acceptance just as they are. It isn’t easy to be different from all the other kids. The kind and encouraging attention of a caring teacher can make the difference between success and disaster in the classroom.

A Word to the Parents of Gifted Children You have a tough job. You know your child’s abilities and you want the best for him. You watch as she struggles with issues beyond the scope of most children. It’s not fair, but the reality is that gifted children have to cope with understandings beyond their years. They know about wars in far-off lands. They know about injustice before they have the emotional maturity to deal with such information. How can you protect them while at the same time support their learning?

You will be your child’s best advocate. Together with the schools in your area you’ll come up with an instructional setting best suited to your child’s needs. You may find that the regular classroom works just fine for your child, or you may choose a gifted classroom. You may choose to home school with advanced curriculum through a local college or an online course of study. You may find that a mentoring relationship is important to your gifted learner.

Know that there are other parents in your shoes. Get into a support group with other families of gifted children. It will be of invaluable help. Whether this group is local or an online forum, you’ll have the opportunity to share your “war stories” and glean information on the things that work for others. You can find curriculum, materials, courses of study and more. You can share struggles and get encouragement for difficult circumstances as you support your gifted child.

It’s important to distinguish between the bright learner and the truly gifted learner. This chart, created by Diane Heacox and widely quoted in literature about gifted learners, compares the learning styles and abilities of these two distinct groups.

  • Knows the answers

  • Has good ideas

  • Learns with ease

  • Copies accurately

  • Absorbs information

  • Pleased with perfection

  • Enjoys sequential learning

  • Enjoys peers

  • Answers accurately
  • Asks the questions

  • May have wild, silly ideas

  • Already knows

  • Creates new designs

  • Manipulates information

  • Can be self-critical

  • Thrives on complexity

  • Prefers adult company

  • Discusses in detail, elaborates

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Tags: Education, Featured Story, Parenting

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