Let your gifted child set the pace


September 08, 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.

You've watched in amazement as your child grouped his plastic dinosaurs by types, immersed himself in imaginary play for hours on end and one day simply picked up a book and started reading. All before going to kindergarten.

Seeing these signs of giftedness, parents often wonder, "What now?"

In last week's column, we talked about how to tell if your young child is gifted and whether a preschooler should take an I.Q. test. (Generally not, according to gifted-education experts, unless an I.Q. score is needed for placement in a specific program.)

This week, parents of gifted children and the experts talk about fostering the child's potential. Some of the most important things you can do are the simplest, like reading to your child. Follow the child's lead, and as hard as it may be, don't push.

"What your child needs is to be stimulated," says Ellen Winner, author of the newly published "Gifted Children: Myths and Realities" (Basic Books, $28).

Hands-on learning, doing and exploring are the best ways to enrich your gifted preschooler, says Sally Yahnke Walker, author of "The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids" (Free Spirit Publishing, $10.95).

If your preschooler shows an interest in insects, get a net and go hunting. Then look up what you find in a full-color bug book from the library. Visit a butterfly garden, or better yet, grow one in the back yard.

"Concentrate on making it fun," says parent Barbara Super of Eastlake, Ohio. "You shouldn't be focused on making a genius."

Avoid falling into the trap of signing your gifted preschooler up for every dance, dinosaur and art class that comes along.

"I think it's bad to over-schedule young children," Winner says. "Free time is important. That's when children discover."

Focus on being the enabler, Winner says. There's no need to push the child, she says, because they're constantly doing that themselves. "I call it a rage to master," Winner says. "You beg them to stop to come to meals, and they don't want to."

Kaci O'Neal, a 15-year-old in gifted classes in Yelm, Wash., e-mailed Child Life with her first-hand advice to let your child set the pace.

"Everyone pressured me to be so good when all I wanted to be was a normal kid," she says.

Reading to your preschooler is another way to enrich, Walker and Winner agree. But Winner and Walker don't recommend teaching preschoolers to read. Many will "crack the code" themselves, Walker says, but others won't read until later. That's fine.

Here are more tips:

* Follow your child's lead as far as his interests, but introduce him to new topics, too.

* Even though gifted preschoolers may sometimes sound like miniature adults, consistent limits are still vital. All children derive security from the knowledge that their parents are in charge.

* "Don't assume your child is gifted in everything," Winner advises. In academics, children can be gifted verbally, mathematically or both. "There are many children who are far more gifted in one than the other."

* Read everything you can on gifted children and gifted education, recommends Rose Whittaker, a parent from Smyrna, Ga.

* Seek out other gifted children as playmates for your child to keep him from feeling isolated or alienated.

* Try not to put all your emphasis on your child's giftedness. DTC Make sure he knows you love him for who he is and not just his brain power.

* Join a support group of parents of gifted children to share ideas and information. (To find a group in your area, contact the coordinator of gifted programs in your school district or call the college of education at your local university.)

Free Spirit Publishing specializes in this area. For a free catalog or to order books, call (800) 735-7323.

Another invaluable resource is the American Association for Gifted Children. Its newsletter, published three times yearly, contains resource guides to a myriad of publications and programs relating to gifted children. Request a free copy by writing the association at 1121 W. Main St., Suite 100, Durham, N.C. 27705. Yearly membership is $25.

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 bevmillol.com. Divorce dilemma: When parents are about to split up, what practical considerations do the children need? "I wonder about the timing of this with the beginning of school," says B.H. of Sarasota, Fla. "We will not be able to stay in our house permanently, but I wonder if we should put off moving to an apartment as long as we can. Or should we go ahead and get all the changes over with at once?"

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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