Above-average intellectual or creative ability or talent in a particular area, such as music, art, or athletics.
Intellectual giftedness is generally indicated by an IQ of least 125 or 130 (found in about 2% of all children). Children who are extremely creative are also considered gifted, although their giftedness can be hard to identify by academic performance or standardized tests. Giftedness has been defined not only in terms of specific talents and academic abilities, but also by general intellectual characteristics (including curiosity, motivation, ability to see relationships, and long attention span) and personality traits such as leadership ability, independence, and intuitiveness. In general, gifted children are creative, innovative thinkers who are able to envision multiple approaches to a problem and devise innovative and unusual solutions to it.
In the early days of intelligence testing it was widely thought that a person's mental abilities were genetically determined and varied little throughout the life span, but it is now believed that nurture plays a significant role in giftedness. Researchers comparing the behavior of parents
Parents and teachers can often identify gifted children informally by observing their behavior. However, for formal purposes standardized intelligence tests—most often the Stanford-Binet or Wechsler tests—almost always play a role in assessing giftedness, even though such tests have been criticized on a variety of grounds, including an overly narrow definition of intelligence, possible racial and cultural bias, and the risk of unreliability due to variations in testing conditions. Critics have questioned the correlation of IQ scores with achievement later in life, pointing out that standardized tests don't measure many of the personal qualities that contribute to professional success, such as independence, motivation, persistence, and interpersonal skills. In addition, the creativity and intuition that are hallmarks of giftedness may actually lower a child's scores on tests that ask for a single solution to a problem rather than rewarding the ability to envision multiple solutions, a trait—called divergent thinking by psychologists and educators—that often characterizes giftedness.
Care at home rather than in an institutionalized day care setting is generally considered preferable for a child's intellectual development until at least the age of two, especially during the first six months of life. At home the child can receive a level of attention, stimulation, and encouragement that is not possible in an institutionalized day care environment. Eventually, though, the variety of stimulation that preschools provide can be highly beneficial to a child's intellectual development. Experts have criticized the trend toward academic saturation in preschool, nicknamed "hothousing," that has become popular since the 1980s—especially in major cities—with parents seeking a competitive edge to help their youngsters get into top private schools and, eventually, universities. While defenders view this phenomenon as tapping the great learning potential of young children, detractors criticize the surfeit of structured activities that characterizes such programs at the expense of creativity, play, and emphasis on emotional development. One variation on the hothousing phenomenon is "doubleschooling," a trend that involves enrolling preschool children in two different half-day programs.
Enrollment in special programs
Parents seeking to enroll gifted youngsters in a preschool program need to consider how well it promotes social and emotional as well as intellectual growth, and whether it gives children time for the unstructured activities that "let them be children" and also promote creativity and independence. It is recommended that they take into consideration the institution's physical environment (amount of space, kinds of toys, scheduling); how the children and teachers interact; teaching methods and philosophies; and curriculum content. A common academic route for gifted children is early kindergarten admission. Although state legislatures generally set a minimum age of five for starting kindergarten, at least one-third of the states have provisions allowing local school districts to make exceptions and enroll children who show school readiness early (usually as young as four). Parents who suspect that their child may benefit from early kindergarten admission can have an IQ test privately administered by a trained psychologist to help them and local educators assess whether early admission is indicated. Other signs of readiness for acceleration include early evidence of reading skill, a large vocabulary, and general knowledge levels beyond what is average for the child's age group. In addition to intellectual level, other factors, such as the child's social skills, gross motor development, size, level of emotional maturity, and gender—girls are ready for early admission more often than boys—are important in deciding whether acceleration will be a successful experience. In spite of popular horror stories about school acceleration, gifted children who have a good level of all-around school readiness at an early age generally do well, both academically and socially, when admitted to kindergarten early. In addition, early kindergarten admission avoids the disruption that is caused when acceleration takes the form of skipping grades later on.
Special challenges for gifted children
Gifted children face a variety of different educational settings once they are in school. In some cases, there is no special provision for gifted education, and they participate in regular classes with peers their own age. This option is often unsatisfactory, as gifted children generally
One type of program that is optimal but not often available is a non-structured individualized approach, in which gifted children at different grade levels work independently and in groups, with the teacher gearing each child's assignments to her individual needs. Another successful approach is the placement of gifted children at a particular grade level in a separate, self-contained class, preferably combining whole-class activities with some group or individualized instruction to meet the needs of children who are highly gifted in a particular area, such as math. Yet another alternative in gifted education is acceleration other than early kindergarten admission. This may take a variety of forms, including skipping one or more grades or individualized work in which the student advances at his own pace with the help of a tutor. Entire gifted classes have even been known to collectively skip a grade. At the secondary level, options include simultaneous enrollment in high school and college; early college entrance; and advanced placement (AP) high school classes, which are available in a variety of subjects. Students who take an AP course and subsequently score well on an independently administered standardized test may receive college credit for the course.
Although giftedness has the potential to enrich a child's life in many ways, certain characteristics and personality traits common to gifted children can also create a variety of problems and challenges for youngsters and their parents and teachers. The independent thinking habits associated with giftedness can lead children to question authority in ways that create disciplinary problems and alienate teachers. In gifted boys, in particular, a high degree of natural curiosity and energy often combines with a lag in developmental maturity, resulting in underachievement and causing them to be labeled as difficult by their teachers. Many gifted children prefer working alone to working in groups, and, in some cases, they fail to develop adequate social skills (although the stereotype of the isolated loner—thé "egghead" or "nerd"—is an exaggerated one that is not typical of most gifted children, many of whom are distinguished by their leadership abilities). The long attention span and intense powers of concentration typical of gifted children may make it hard for them to shift from one activity to another, and they may miss instructions and other important information imparted when they are intensely absorbed in a task. Sometimes gifted children develop an unusually wide or narrow range of interests, either of which can pose problems. Another trait common to gifted children is a heightened degree of emotional sensitivity, which may cause unusually strong reactions to events that would be less traumatic for other children. Perfectionism is another frequent challenge to the emotional well-being and academic success of gifted children.
Despite increasingly enlightened social and parental attitudes toward gender differences in recent decades, gifted girls still face certain unique obstacles to academic and personal development. From infancy, girls still receive many messages, either subtle or overt, that impart the traditional expectation that women will place personal relationships and nurturance above academic and professional achievement. Boys still spend much more time than girls playing with toys that they can take apart and put back together, enhancing their skills at spatial relations and their feelings of mastery and accomplishment, and it is still easier to find male than female role models to look up to and emulate in many fields. In many classroom situations, boys, with their high activity level, tend to draw more of the teacher's attention than girls (even if it is negative attention). By adolescence, many gifted girls are concerned that if they appear too competitive intellectually, boys will not be attracted to them. This concern is reflected in the fact that teenage girls are more assertive and competitive in single-sex educational environments than they are in mixed-gender groups. Especially in the areas of math and science, girls' interest and self-confidence (as well as their test scores) decline after the age of 11. It has also been found that gifted adolescent girls are especially prone to develop eating disorders, which are typically associated with certain qualities common to gifted children, especially perfectionism and a strong tendency toward self-criticism.
Recommendations for helping gifted girls develop their talents free of the limitations of gender stereotypes include enrolling them in preschools that actively resist sex role stereotyping in their activities and in the attitudes of their staffs (and that have both male and female teachers to counter the idea that only women teach and care for the young); choosing nonsexist toys and encouraging them to engage in types of play that develop visual-spatial problem-solving skills; exposing them to successful professional women, both personally and through books and other media; and encouraging feelings of mastery and self-confidence over perfectionism and fear of failure.
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