Understanding gifted children

This opinion piece intends to shine the light on who gifted children are by identifying physical and behavioural characteristics that are identified with them.

GIFTED people are as scarce as the teeth of a hen. Despite the scarcity of this outlier of a group of people, Zimbabwe has had its fair share of gifted people in the likes of Professors Jonathan Moyo and Arthur Mutambara, the late former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the late Learnmore Jongwe, the late Dambudzo Marechera, the late Professors Masipula Sithole and John Makumbe and Tendai Biti only to mention a few. This opinion piece intends to shine the light on who gifted children are by identifying physical and behavioural characteristics that are identified with them.

Gifted children are those who have a superior degree of general intellectual ability. Essentially, gifted children are highly intellectually-tuned and their intelligent quotient (IQ) is upwards of 140 in terms of IQ range. Gifted children grasp and understand new ideas quickly and have a keen general interest in a variety of disciplines. They are curious — always seeking new knowledge, asking many intelligent questions, exploring new games, toys, objects and experiences at length. Gifted children challenge the system in that most teachers are ill-equipped to deal with their diverse intellectual needs.

The retentive memory of gifted children is super good, as they may remember things you wish they had forgotten. They are found in most cases being leaders among their peers and the peers do not quite understand them as they may label them as having psychosocial disabilities. The gifted children may also not understand the cognitive structures of their peers, as they may fail to comprehend why the peers are failing to solve given tasks which may be game to them (this is easy or Aaaah zvakapusa izvi).

Research has it that gifted people die early because of stress and loneliness triggered by society’s little understanding of them.

Gifted children also have unusual and advanced vocabulary spans, superior conversation skills, as well as an early development of a sense of humour (The late president Robert Mugabe was good here). They have advanced reasoning ability as well as accelerated physical and verbal problem-solving skills. Pursuant to the above, this category of children under discussion also has early speech and language development.

They also learn to read on their own at an early age, enjoy and become absorbed in challenging tasks and experiences and have longer attention spans and are able to handle frustration more easily than their peers. Gifted children are also keen observers and are more advanced and become bored with activities that are still of interest to their peers. Research has also revealed that gifted children are advanced in gross and fine motor coordination. They are easily bored with routine tasks or repetitive programmes. Over and above the foregoing, they are self-motivated. They create new games, activities, experiments, and experiences and learn foreign or second languages much faster than their peers.

Gifted children do not give common answers to questions. For example, if you were to ask a gifted child how one would gain access to a classroom, instead of saying through the door, a gifted child may say through the window or through the roof.

Dealing with gifted children requires parents and teachers to think as if there is no box, because an emphasis on conservative thinking may stifle the acuteness of their intellects. Parents and teachers should provide greater challenges for gifted children so that they do not become bored which in turn can lead to them withdrawing from their social networks. Open-ended activities and opportunities should be provided for these children. For example, in a teaching and learning environment gap filling questions should be avoided, context should be provided for expanded capabilities for gifted children.

Arguably, for this group of learners, conformity should be stressed only where necessary (rules for safety, taking turns, sharing and so on). Observably, gifted children may need help in developing social skills, as they may disengage from their social networks because of two things which are: their failure to understand them and the failure of the significant others and peers to circumscribe them. Guardians and teachers should endeavour to stimulate the intellectual energies of these children by also providing advanced equipment and materials.

In a classroom situation, the gifted children should be used as the teacher’s crutches in assisting struggling peers through pair work, group work and peer tutorials. Where inclusive education is concerned, gifted children become handy as an internal support system that can be used to assist their peers in various areas of learning.

The gifted children can be a source of indiscipline in a classroom environment if their intellectual energies are not correctly harnessed to and productively aligned with their capabilities because they finish their tasks faster and remain with nothing to do. In light of the above understanding, their tasks should be tuned to their level-quantity and quality of work should match their intellectual prowess. It is also worth considering to give them extension work and have them skipping some grades where necessary.

Teachers who are not creative may misconstrue gifted children as difficult. These children are not difficult but are just different from the average students who define the door as the only point of entry into a classroom. A gifted child in either a family or school environment should be considered as an asset that can add value to the family, school, community, or society.

However, the family or school can either make or break a gifted child by either missing or dismissing his or her precocious abilities. For every goose to lay golden eggs, nutritious food should be provided and similarly for every gifted child to realise his or full potential a rich, nurturing, and conducive environment should be provided.

Nicholas Aribino is the ZimCare Trust country director. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Related Topics