Gifted child doesn't really need testing

Child Life

September 01, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Can someone please tell me how to recognize whether a 4-year-old is gifted? Should I have my child tested?

Susan Allen, Lebanon, Tenn.

Watching a 4-year-old at play, listening to his questions and taking note of his energy and interest levels are probably the most important ways to tell whether a preschooler is gifted.

To find out exactly how smart the child is, you'd have to take him to a psychologist for testing. But that I.Q. score is of questionable value in a preschool setting, many experts in the field of gifted education say.

"Observation is a much more powerful tool than a test at that age," says Sally Yahnke Walker, author of "The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids" (Free Spirit Publishing, $10.95).

The technical definition of being gifted is an I.Q. of 130 or above, putting the child's I.Q. in the top 2 percent. That is the score most schools use for placing children in programs for the academically gifted.

But unless your preschool child needs an I.Q. score to be admitted to a program, which is rare before elementary school, testing really isn't necessary, says Walker, a gifted education consultant in Rockford, Ill.

Ellen Winner, author of "Gifted Children: Myths and Realities," (Basic Books, $28), agrees: "What are you getting your child tested for? If it's for your own curiosity, forget it."

Preschoolers also are notoriously unreliable testers, making any results questionable.

"If you have a child reading at age 3 and he comes out with a low I.Q. score, what would you believe? You'd believe the reading at age 3," says Winner, a professor and researcher at Boston College.

Several parents wrote Child Life to say they believe testing preschoolers unnecessarily rushes them through early childhood.

"Everyone's trying to make their kids too old too soon," says Patricia Arthur, a parent from Phoenix, Ariz.

"Let him be a kid. Let him get his hands dirty. Let him play," says Val Leroux of Dundas, Ontario, whose two children have been identified as gifted.

Probably the most obvious sign of a gifted preschooler is early reading. Many will pick up a book and start reading on their own at age 2, 3 or 4, with little or no help from adults.

But experts caution that not all gifted children read early, and that early reading should not be used as the sole criterion.

Here are more characteristics of gifted preschoolers:

Has obsessive curiosity about a favorite subject, turns everyday situations into math problems, plays alone, seeks out older children or adults as playmates, has high energy level, is interested in why things happen, possesses extraordinary imagination and creativity, thinks of different ways to solve problems, absorbs information rapidly, has extremely good memory and a well-developed sense of humor.

An advanced vocabulary can be another giveaway.

Walker, who has worked with gifted children for 18 years, says she recalls telling a 4-year-old child over and over to pick up his toys to get ready to go home. Finally, she asked him why he wouldn't cooperate. His reply: "I'm procrastinating."

Very smart youngsters may also ask questions about such difficult topics as death, or they may worry about things they hear on the news.

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to

Happy birthday: "What's the best way to handle a birthday party for young children? I'm seeing parents leaving kids at birthday parties for three and four hours at a time," says Lisa of Scottsdale, Ariz. "What is the host parent supposed to do when children are having fits and throwing tantrums when their parents aren't there?"

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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