I have three wonderful, precocious daughters. I didn’t think of my girls as gifted, especially when they were young before classrooms and standardized tests, but I instinctively knew that they were naturally inquisitive learners with seemingly limitless potential. With two of the three now in college, this seems like a good time to reflect on the years they were at home and how my husband and I tried to nurture their minds and spirits. I still have a lot to learn, but there are a few things that I have gleaned along the way. So here is my list of the top 10 things that I have learned about raising gifted children, but it is really a top ten list for raising any child to remain a lifelong, enthusiastic learner with a plentitude of amazing gifts.
(1) Start with a Sign. A bright baby or toddler can become easily frustrated when she cannot communicate her needs. Before most children can speak, they can sign. I frequently used the signs for, “more,” “done,” “milk,” “eat,” and “airplane” with my children. They picked them up quickly and used them, too. It prevented many temper tantrums and was a lot of fun. Here‘s a list of some of the most helpfu signs: http://www.parenting.com/gallery/baby-sign-language-words-to-know?page=12 .
(2) Make Music. Young brains learn music like they learn a language, with a natural ease. Parent-Child music classes and Suzuki music lessons are among the programs specifically designed for teaching young children in ways that are playful and age-appropriate. Youth choirs are also fantastic as is playing music in the car and around your house! Even if a child doesn’t stick with an instrument, he will gain an ear for pitch and rhythms that is much more difficult to acquire later in life.
(3) The World is a Big Place. Children have a natural ability to pick up languages with little or no accent. Take advantage of this and introduce your child to a second language as early as possible. If you speak two languages, yourself, use both at home regularly. Also look for opportunities to expose your children to other cultures by sampling food, attending cultural events, or by simply taking the time to meet and talk with new people.
(4) Provide Opportunities to Move. It’s important to learn how to balance and control and coordinate body movements. This can be done via dance lessons, yoga, team sports, or with family sports like bike riding and badminton. Learning to control one’s body is something that doesn’t come easily to everyone. It activates a different part of the brain than academic learning and is a great life-long resource for preventing stress, anxiety, and depression--all of which are not uncommon in gifted children. Encourage your child to get involved in something she enjoys!
(5) Open the Door. There’s no substitute for unstructured time outdoors in nature. Let your kids romp and play and explore when they’re little and encourage them to go hiking, canoeing, and adventuring when they are older. Their time spent in nature will seep into their soul and teach them about the natural world around them.
(6) Inspire Greatness. Whether it’s a favorite author, activist, scientist, historical figure, athlete, or artist, seek opportunities to expose children to relevant books, plays, performances, events, or museum exhibits. If their hero is alive and comes to town, make a date to go together. There is no substitute for inspiration.
(7) Nurture Passions and Abilities. What is your child good at? What is he passionate about? Figure it out and seek out enrichment opportunities in those areas whether it is sports, science, math, dance, art, writing, or World War I history. Interest is a mighty fuel for learning.
(8) Provide Opportunities for Great Challenge. For gifted children, many things at school come easily. They may find that they do not have to work very hard to get an ‘A’ and that homework takes just a few minutes. In my experience, this can lead to frustration later in life when she eventually encounters something difficult and hasn’t learned the grit and resilience needed to persevere. I believe that it is important to provide opportunities for a child to do something that is difficult--this could be learning a musical instrument, preparing for a difficult math competition, or playing a sport. Everyone eventually encounters something that is extremely difficult. I’ve found that it’s best if that happens well before graduate school.
(9) Obstacles are just Challenges. Everyone faces obstacles in life. It may be parents getting divorced, dyslexia, ADHD, mental illness, a physical challenge, being bullied, or something else. Be an advocate for your child and be sure he knows that he is not alone in his struggle. You are there to help, as are other adults, and despite this challenge, he is smart and special and capable of great things! Let difficulty and struggle lead to creativity and innovation.
(10) Think Big. Does the universe have an end? How can we stop war or address racism? What happens when someone dies? These and other topics can be explored within a religious community, by seeking out interesting books or speakers, or in spirited discussions at the dinner table. However you do it, find a way to ignite your child’s imagination with the spark of the mystery and magic in our world. Perhaps, one day, she will discover one of the answers!