P.O. BOX 1586



FALL 1997




Ms. Sharon Buzzard -- Supervisor of Gifted Education, East Liverpool Ohio Schools and Past President of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children

Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida

Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado

Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education

Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon

Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island

Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented

Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois

Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan

Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College

I would like to welcome Dr. Jerry Flack to our Advisory Panel -- Professor of Education at the University of Colorado and a Presidential Teaching Scholar. Dr. Flack’s latest book, which expresses his concern for educating gifted children at the elementary level, is entitled From the Land of Enchantment: Creative Teaching with Fairy Tales (Teacher Ideas Press, Fall 1997). Two other panel members also have new books that I highly recommend: Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of 4 Exceptional Individuals and an Examination of Our Own Extraordinariness by Howard Gardner (BasicBooks, 1997), and Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom by Joan Smutny, Sally Walker and Elizabeth Meckstroth (Free Spirit Publishing, 1997).

During the last eleven years of publishing GEPQ, we have attempted to present innovative and in-depth ideas concerning the education of the gifted. Because of past and continuing efforts to reduce or eliminate programs for these children, we have renewed our efforts to locate authors who have a different perspective or potentially useful approach to addressing the serious problems in this field. Like all areas of education, the gifted field is littered with methods and ideas that were initially ballyhooed as cure-alls and end-alls of differential education. But, they were eventually shown to be ineffective or disappeared with the demise of their proponents. Professor Ellen Winner’s book, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities (BasicBooks, 1996), not only analyzes many of the invalid ideas concerning gifted children, but it shows that current popular enrichment approaches are leading gullible educators and citizens in wrong directions concerning the best interests of gifted children. Chapter I (Nine Myths About Giftedness) is included in this issue to emphasize that simple enrichment solutions to complex differential education problems are detrimental to children, educators and parents. Such simplistic solutions to the difficult problems of educating the gifted are based on a weak conceptual foundation that will eventually crumble like a house of cards, leaving educators of the gifted holding the joker. I urge you to read Winner’s book!

Dr. James Carroll’s excellent article, written for parents, continues from the Summer 1997 issue. This article was the basis for his comprehensive resource for parents and teachers, Helping Gifted Children Succeed at Home and School (Gifted Education Press, 1997). I am honored to include a poem by Millicent Borges, recent winner of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Michael Walters concludes with a poem dedicated to our new Minnesota subscribers.

Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher


(From Gifted Children: Myths and Realities by Ellen Winner. Copyright © 1996 by Ellen Winner. Reprinted by arrangement with BasicBooks, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.)


One evening not long ago I took my young son to a concert. A small orchestra was playing a Mozart concerto. As the concert began, I noticed a boy intently reading the orchestral score from a thick book of music. As he read and listened to the performers, he also hummed the music to himself, in perfect pitch. The boy was sitting with his father. At the intermission, I turned to the father and asked whether his child was really reading the music or simply looking at it. Listening to music and following along with a multipart orchestral score was one of Stephen's favorite pastimes, his father told me. Later I noticed Stephen in my son's after-school program. While the other children played basketball or cards, or talked to one another about classmates they did or did not like, Stephen sat in a corner alone and read a music theory book. Sometimes he climbed the stairs to the empty gym to improvise on the piano.

Talented, gifted, creative, prodigious -- children with these labels have always intrigued us, inspiring fascination and awe, as well as intimidation and envy. Gifted children have been feared as possessed because they know and understand too much too early. Like retarded children, gifted children have been feared as strange, as oddballs, as freaks. They have been rejected as nerds. Their parents have been derided as over ambitious zealots living vicariously through their children’s achievements and depriving them of a normal childhood. Our schools often refuse to alter the curriculum for such "extreme" cases and insist that they adapt to the existing programs. When parents get upset about this, they are seen as people who have lost all perspective, people who do not realize how lucky they are to have a child with high, rather than low, abilities.1

Deviant people -- whether atypical in personality, intellect, or both -- have always interested psychologists, especially if the deviance involves negative personality traits or severely limited abilities. We know far more about psychopathological aspects of personality than about ideal traits such as compassion, moral courage, or leadership ability. A similar focus on deficits can be seen in psychological studies of cognition. While standard journals in developmental psychology publish articles on retardation, they rarely publish studies of giftedness. Such articles are relegated to less prestigious journals that specialize in giftedness. This state of affairs reflects the mistaken assumption that giftedness does not have much to tell us about the typical. I believe it is also due to the fact that retardation, like psychopathology, has been seen as a problem in need of solution, while great strengths have been seen as privileges rather than problems.2

Despite being split off from mainstream psychology, the study of giftedness has made great progress since its inception in the 1920s at Stanford University. There, the psychologist Lewis Terman, who initiated psychological research on the gifted, conducted a massive longitudinal study of more than fifteen hundred high-IQ children, a study that continues to this day (see chapters 2 and 10). Yet myths and misconceptions about the nature of giftedness abound, perhaps because the study of giftedness is a sensitive, politically charged topic, one often branded as elitist and wrongheaded. I offer here a critical look at some of the myths that have developed about giftedness and that have clouded our understanding.3

Let me first make clear that I use the term gifted to refer to children with three atypical characteristics:

1. Precocity. Gifted children are precocious. They begin to take the first steps in the mastery of some domain at an earlier-than-average age. They also make more rapid progress in this domain than do ordinary children, because learning in the domain comes easily to them. By domain, I refer to an organized area of knowledge such as language, mathematics, music, art, chess, bridge, ballet, gymnastics, tennis, or skating.

2. An insistence on marching to their own drummer. Gifted children not only learn faster than average or even bright children but also learn in a qualitatively different way. They march to their own drummer: they need minimum help or scaffolding from adults in order to master their domain, and much of the time they teach themselves. The discoveries they make about their domain are exciting and motivating, and each leads the gifted child on to the next step. Often these children independently invent rules of the domain and devise novel, idiosyncratic ways of solving problems.

This means that gifted children are by definition creative. But I distinguish sharply between little c and big C creativity. Gifted children typically are creative in the former sense: they make discoveries on their own and solve problems in novel ways. But they cannot be creative with a capital C, for by this I mean transforming a domain the way Jackson Pollack's renunciation of the paintbrush transformed painting or twelve-tone music transformed music. Only adults who have worked for at least ten years to master a domain can hope to leave it forever altered.4

3. A rage to master. Gifted children are intrinsically motivated to make sense of the domain in which they show precocity. They exhibit an intense and obsessive interest, an ability to focus sharply, and what I have come to call a rage to master. They experience states of "flow" when they are engaged in learning in their domain -- optimal states in which they focus intently and lose sense of the outside world. The lucky combination of obsessive interest in a domain along with an ability to learn easily in that domain leads to high achievement.5

In these three ways, gifted children remain qualitatively different from ordinary children who are motivated to work hard. Children who are alert, bright, and curious may put in many hours while trying to master a domain. Their parents may enroll them in a chess class and play chess with them daily, sign them up for violin lessons at age four, or enroll them in Saturday academic drill classes. Children with such parents, dedicated to helping their offspring develop their full potential, almost invariably impress us with how much they have achieved. And they show us how our expectations of what children can do are embarrassingly minimal and in sharp contrast to the expectations in some other cultures, such as Japan.

Yet these children are not the subjects of this book. These children are not particularly precocious. They do not learn at an especially rapid rate. They require extensive adult scaffolding -- instruction, support, and encouragement -- in order to make progress. They do not make discoveries about the domain on their own. And they do not show the intrinsic rage to master shown by gifted children. Moreover, they typically do not reach the levels reached so seemingly effortlessly by gifted children. We would not confuse a Suzuki-trained child with a violin prodigy like Midori, or a child socialized to work diligently and efficiently on her math homework with a math prodigy like Norbert Wiener.

Which brings us to the subject of prodigies. A prodigy is simply a more extreme version of a gifted child, a child so gifted that he or she performs in some domain at an adult level. When I use the term gifted, I mean all gifted children, including those we call prodigies. When I use the term prodigy, I refer only to the most extreme children.6

I focus on giftedness in two academic areas, language and mathematics, and two artistic areas, visual arts and music. It is in these four areas that childhood giftedness has most often been noted and studied. One reason for finding gifted children in these domains is that these areas are appealing to children. Another reason is that these areas are rule-governed and highly structured, making it possible to ferret out the underlying regularities. Unlike areas such as law or medicine, they do not require vast accumulations of knowledge and can be mastered when one understands a relatively small set of formal principles.

The more formal and rule-governed the domain, the more likely it is to yield gifted children. Mathematics and classical music, in which it is clear what needs to be mastered and how excellence can be recognized, are prototypical examples. Language is also highly structured, if by this we mean mastery of oral language and of reading; we often find children who are linguistically gifted in these ways. Creative writing, however, is less structured, and we find fewer linguistically gifted children who write at an advanced level than who read at an advanced level. The visual arts are even less well structured. However, drawing systems are highly rule-governed, and it is here that one finds gifted child artists -- mastering realistic drawing (in the West) or allusionistic, schematic drawing (in Asia) .

Sometimes gifted children are found in the area of biology, a domain that is clearly accessible to children. Charles Darwin, Jean Piaget, and Edward O. Wilson showed an exceptional ability as children to make fine discriminations in the natural world. We rarely notice gifted children in diffuse areas like leadership, interpersonal understanding, or self-awareness. But this does not mean they do not exist; we just do not know how to find them. And we do not classify children who show exceptional empathy, morality, or courage as gifted, but rather as having sterling character.7

But this is a cultural decision. The Pueblo residents of New Mexico have no word for "giftedness," but they do have terms for certain valued special abilities -- ones that psychologists might call instances of giftedness -- such as linguistic ability, the possession of abundant cultural knowledge, and the ability to create with one's hands. But the fourth valued area is one in which we do not normally recognize special abilities -- the humanistic area of compassion, self-sacrifice, empathy. Also different from the mainstream Western individualistic view of giftedness is the Pueblo belief that special abilities should not be used as a basis for elevating one person over others. For this group, a special gift is meaningful only if it is used in a way that benefits the community. Even more anti-individualistic is the Confucian view that all can be skilled, and that differences in skill reflect only effort and moral commitment, not any special talents.8

Other highly rule-governed areas where Western cultures have identified children as gifted could have been included in this book: chess, bridge, ballet, gymnastics, skating, tennis, or swimming, to name just a few. And of course there are child actors like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, or today's Macaulay Calkin, children exceptionally good at mimicry and role play. Instead of trying to cover all areas, I chose what I felt to be representative scholastic and artistic domains. Other domains are mentioned when comparisons to them prove revealing.

Myths and misunderstandings can be identified in any area of study, and the topic of giftedness is no exception. Here are nine strongly held assumptions about giftedness that I believe are wrongheaded.


The label gifted is most often reserved for children with academic gifts -- that is, children gifted in language (oral and written) and mathematics, the two major areas valued in schools. And psychologists and educators have typically measured academic giftedness with an IQ test that yields a global score. Children are admitted into special school programs for the gifted on the basis of their IQ scores, just as they are admitted into psychologists' studies of the gifted on this basis.

The underlying assumption here is that gifted children have a general intellectual power that allows them to be gifted "across the board." I call this the myth of global giftedness. But scholastic giftedness is often not a global capacity that cuts across the two major areas of scholastic performance. The child with a combination of academic strengths and weaknesses turns out to be the rule, not the exception. Children can even be gifted in one academic area and learning-disabled in another. Highly gifted children as young as two or three show clear domain-specific abilities. The specificity of their abilities is a strong indication that these children are predisposed toward particular domains. They are not generally gifted individuals who have by chance chosen to focus on math or language.


While children who are precocious in those kinds of scholastic skills assessed by an IQ test are called gifted, children who show exceptional ability in an art form such as the visual arts, music, or dance or in an athletic area such as skating, tennis, or diving are called talented. Two different labels suggest two different classes of children. But there is no justification for such a distinction. Artistically or athletically gifted children are not so different from academically gifted children. Both classes of children exhibit the three characteristics of giftedness mentioned earlier.9


Although children with high ability in art or music are called talented, not gifted, we still assume that these children could not do what they do without a high IQ. "Giftedness, however interpreted, nearly always involves high IQ even if this is not to be considered the only ingredient,” writes one of today's leading experts on intelligence and giftedness.10

But IQ tests measure a narrow range of human abilities, primarily facility with language and number. There is little evidence that giftedness in nonacademic areas such as art or music requires an exceptional IQ. One can even find extraordinary levels of giftedness in so-called idiots savants -- individuals, often autistic, with IQs in the retarded range and exceptional domain-specific abilities.


Where does giftedness come from? The commonsense myth is that giftedness is entirely inborn. This folk myth ignores the environment's powerful influence on the development of gifts.

Diametrically opposed to this view is the myth held by some psychologists that giftedness is simply a matter of intensive training by parents and teachers begun at an early age. In the recent words of one psychologist, "With sufficient energy and dedication on the parents' part, it is possible that it may not be all that difficult to produce a child prodigy." This kind of statement suggests that gifted children start out with ordinary brains which are then shaped to become extraordinary. This view ignores the powerful role of biology in determining whether there is any gift for the environment to develop.11


Some people assert that gifted children are "made" by overzealous parents intent on their children's stardom. Parents are cautioned not to push their children, to let them have "normal" childhoods. Otherwise, they are told, their children will resent them and lose all interest in achieving.

It is true that parents of gifted children are highly involved in the nurturance of their children's gifts. But such an unusual degree of investment and involvement is not a destructive force. It is a necessary one if a child's gift is to be developed.


Gifted children often face ridicule, taunts about being nerds or geeks. Most children easily pick out the awkward, unathletic loners, or the show-offs with strange interests out of touch with those of their peers. Psychologists have countered this view with an idealized picture of high-IQ children as popular, well-adjusted, exceptionally moral, and glowing with psychological and physical health. In his 1922 address as the president of the American Psychological Association, Terman defined gifted children not only as academically superior but also as "superior to unselected children in physique, health and social adjustment; [and] marked by superior moral attitudes as measured by character tests of trait ratings."12

But children's prejudices may strike close to the truth. We seem to have a need either to deny or to idealize the gifted child. Gifted children are often socially isolated and unhappy, unless they are fortunate enough to find others like themselves. The vision of the well-adjusted gifted child applies only to the moderately gifted child and leaves out the extremes.


Many principals and teachers assert that all children are gifted. Sometimes this means that all children have some areas in which they have strengths; other times it means that all children have an equal potential for learning. This assumption is not made only about academic abilities. When I tried to study children gifted in drawing, art teachers initially refused to identify individual children for me, telling me that all their students were gifted in art. Sociological consideration of the concept of giftedness has sometimes led to the conclusion that giftedness is just a social construction to buttress elitism.13

No one seems to mind the fact that children gifted in music routinely take advanced classes outside of school. But the view that all students are gifted in school skills leads to adamant positions against any form of special education for the gifted. In reaction, parents of the gifted turn to support groups and talk of how misplaced egalitarianism discriminates against their children and makes them stressed as well as bored. When special education for the gifted is offered, it is minimal and is fashioned to fit the moderately gifted.14

We need to rethink education for the gifted. First, we should markedly elevate academic standards for all children. The moderately gifted would then no longer find school so unchallenging. We ought then to focus all of our resources for the gifted on the extremely gifted. These children have special needs no less than do retarded or learning-disabled children. Moreover, they are our human capital, the promise of our future.


When I asked an admissions director of a school for the gifted what her office looked for in applicants, she said both high IQ and creativity. Giftedness is usually seen as synonymous not only with high IQ but also with high creativity.15

Gifted children are typically seen not only as creative children but also as future creative and eminent adults. But many gifted children, especially prodigies, burn out, while others move on to other areas of interest. Some, while extremely successful, never do anything genuinely creative. Only a very few of the gifted become eminent adult creators. We cannot assume a link between early giftedness, no matter how extreme, and adult eminence. The factors that predict the course of a life are multiple and interacting. Over and above level of ability, important roles are played by personality, motivation, the family environment, opportunity, and chance.


These nine myths pervade the intellectually, emotionally, and politically charged concept of giftedness. In confronting these myths, I hope to set them to rest.

But why study giftedness? Some might object that this is an elitist topic, one with little relevance in this time of sharpening economic inequality, violence, and educational crisis. I strongly disagree. An understanding of the most extraordinary levels of the human mind is important both for our society and for the scientific understanding of human potential.

In the United States, despite lip service to the gifted, we actually pay very little attention to the problem of how to identify and nurture children with exceptional abilities. What public resources we do spend on educating the gifted are primarily reserved for moderately academically gifted children, rather than for those extremely gifted in academics or other areas. Other cultures have done far more to identify and nurture their most gifted. Hungary has produced more than its share of mathematicians and scientists, and much of the creative work in the United States in the twentieth century has been done by refugees from Europe. Today, with our rightful concern for social and economic inequity, we care little about giftedness or about ways to strengthen the tenuous path from childhood gifts to adult achievement and creativity. This outlook is very shortsighted.

In addition, giftedness deserves attention within basic scientific research. Psychological theories of learning and development need to be able to encompass the typical as well as the atypical -- the retarded child, the autistic child, the learning-disabled child, and the gifted child. As Freud showed, the study of pathology can illuminate the normal, and no sharp dividing line marks where normalcy becomes pathology. The study of the gifted tells us many important things about how the mind in general can operate.

Take just the following few unexpected findings revealed when we look behind the myths shrouding the notion of giftedness:

● Children can be gifted in one area but average or even learning-disabled in another. Thus, abilities can be independent of one another.

● Having a high IQ is irrelevant to giftedness in art or music.

● The brains of the gifted are atypical.

● Families play a far more important role in the development of gifts than do schools.

● As with a disability, giftedness can lead to unhappiness and social isolation.

● Personality attributes predict what will happen to the gifted child in adulthood more reliably than does the child's degree of giftedness.

These findings, interesting in their own right, help us develop a full picture of the human mind. And our understanding of the most gifted has even broader implications. If any individuals are to solve the vast array of problems that threaten human survival, they are surely to be found among this group.


1. For more on how the gifted have been feared, see Anastasi and Foley (1941) and Zigler and Farber (1985).

2. Studies of morality, leadership, and eminence conduc-ted (respectively) by Colby and Damon (1992), Gardner (1995), and Simonton (1994) represent exceptions. For a discussion of how giftedness has not been incorporated into mainstream psychology, see Jackson (1993). For more on giftedness as a privilege rather than a problem, see Zigler and Farber (1985).

3. For a critique of giftedness as an elitist construct, see Margolin (1994).

4. For evidence of the ten-year rule for mastery and creativity, see Gardner (1993a) and Simonton (1994).

5. For a discussion of flow states, see Csikszentmihalyi (1990). For other definitions of giftedness, see Sternberg and Davidson (1986). Renzulli (1986b) defined giftedness as a combination of ability, creativity, and task commitment. Sternberg (1991) defined giftedness as superior access to and ability to use basic intellectual strategies. The U.S. Office of Education defined gifted children as those capable of high performance in general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, leadership, the visual and performing arts, and psychomotor ability (Marland, 1971).

6. Feldman and Goldsmith (1991) defined a prodigy as a child who achieves adult mastery by or before the age of ten.

7. For a description of domains where prodigies are and are not found, see Feldman and Goldsmith (1991) and Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, and Whalen (1993). Piaget published a paper in biology at the age of eleven. For a discussion of Darwin's childhood interests in nature, see Bowlby (1990). For more on E. O. Wilson's early naturalist abilities, see Wilson (1994). For a more general consideration of giftedness in the biological domain, see Gardner (1996).

8. For a discussion of the Pueblo conception of giftedness, see Romero (1994). For an additional cross-cultural discussion of giftedness, see Callahan and McIntire (1994). For a discussion of how the domains in which we find gifted children are culturally determined, see Tannenbaum (1994).

9. Gagné (1995) distinguishes between gifts as the starting point and talents as the end point. My point is that all high early abilities should be called either gifts or talents.

10. The quotation is by the British psychologist Hans J. Eysenck, in Eysenck and Barrett (1993, p. 115). For a critique of efforts to define giftedness by IQ, see Gardner (1983, 1993b), Getzels and Jackson (1962), and Sternberg (1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1993).

11. The quotation about parents producing a child prodigy is from Howe (1990, p.138).

12. For the Terman quotation, see Subotnik and Arnold (1993, pp. 17-18).

13. For more on the notion of giftedness as an elitist social construct, see Margolin (1994).

14. For a discussion of discrimination against gifted child-ren, see Silverman (1993c).

15. For an empirical differentiation between high IQ and creativity in children, see Getzels and Jackson (1962).


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Callahan, C. M., & McIntire, J. A. (1994). Identifying outstanding talent in American Indian and Alaska native students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Colby, A., & Damon, W. (1992). Some do care: Contemporary lives of moral commitment. New York: Free Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rathunde, K., & Whalen, S. (1993). Talented teenagers: The roots of success and failure. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Eysenck, H. J., & Barrett, P. T (1993). Brain research related to giftedness. In K. A. Heller, E J. Mönks, & A. H. Passow (Eds.), International handbook of research and development of giftedness and talent (pp. 115-131). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Feldman, D. H., with Goldsmith, L. T. (1991). Nature's gambit: Child prodigies and the development of human potential. New York: Teachers College Press. (Original work published 1986).

Gagné, E. (1995). Hidden meaning of the "Talent Development" concept. Educational Forum, 59(4), 349-362.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Gardner, H. (1993a). Creating minds: An anatomy of creativity seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Gandhi. New York: BasicBooks.

Gardner, H. (1993b). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: BasicBooks.

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Jackson, N. E. (1993). Moving into the mainstream! Reflections on the study of giftedness. Gifted Child Quarterly, 37(1), 46-50.

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Simonton, D. K. (1991). Emergence and realization of genius: The lives and works of 120 classical composers. Journal of Pers. and Soc. Psychology, 61, 829-840.

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Sternberg, R. J. (1986).A triarchic theory of intellectual giftedness. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), Conceptions of giftedness (pp. 223-243). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Subotnik, R., & Arnold, K. D. (1993). Longitudinal studies of giftedness: Investigating the fulfillment of promise. In K. A. Heller, F. J. Mönks, & A. H. Passow (Eds.), International handbook of research and development of giftedness and talent (pp. 149-160). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Tannenbaum, A. J. (1994). The meaning and making of giftedness. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University.

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Answer your child's questions with patience and good humor; take advantage of his/her questions and expressions of interest to guide him/her into further learning and explorations. Good teachers (and parents) promote inquisitiveness in children through supportive interactions. A parent who provides only information to the questioning child is not offering a complete learning environment. Asking questions allows for answers (a learning process) and interpersonal relations (a socializing process). A characteristic of academically gifted and creative children (adolescents, adults) is their relatively high frequency "asking behavior." Parents of gifted children are subject to more questions, and must recognize the importance of allowing children to ask questions, and then attempt to provide answers.


Help your child develop physical and social skills as well as intellectual achievement. Encourage gross motor activities at an early age -- running, jumping, throwing and catching are as important as intellectual stimulation for the young child. Psychologist Jean Piaget would argue that sensorimotor activities early in life are vital underpinnings for later cognitive development as the child gets older, physical activities may include individual or group sports and movement activity from Tia Chia to dance.

As a parent it is your responsibility to demonstrate to your children that they live within a larger social context than just the family unit. Parents should provide an interpersonal climate that facilitates positive social values. Moral values must be modeled. The socialization process must help the gifted child to see that other people may have different needs or interests. Remember that your child will have to function within society that is increasingly complex and diverse -- an attitude of cooperation and tolerance should be fostered.


Provide early opportunities for your child to participate in family decisions. Help your child to evaluate decisions previously made. Chynthia Changaris tells the story of Michael and the grass seed:

One day, I got a call from the man at the hardware store. Bruce, the hardware store man always called me after Michael went there to report on what he bought so I could be ready for whatever he might think to do with his newly bought items. That was especially helpful the time he bought the mouse traps.

He was always buying various and sundry hardware items, like tubing, wiring, batteries, mouse traps, pulleys, plungers, nails, screws, cages, and so forth. Inventions were always appearing and changing and growing in the basement. I cringed at any story my helpful friends told me of the times they had blown up the basement and continually watched for any sign of explosive activity.

"Mrs. Changaris," Bruce said. "Today he bought 5 pounds of grass seed."

I breathed a sigh of relief. Grass seed. That sounds absolutely wonderful, very beneficial, totally innocuous. Mike set about to do his experiments. He cut open potatoes and planted grass seeds on the potatoes. He cut open grapefruit and oranges and did the same. He took some grass seed out into the front yard where the grass was worn away and planted seed there, I was proud and pleased at his creativity. But...

Unbeknownst to me, he planted grass seed on a pillow, watered it and put it under his bed. (I found it a month later and it had sprouted and grown.) He planted grass seed in a neat little row across the floor leading to the television. He sprinkled a little grass seed in the left overs in the refrigerator and for good measure, put some grass seed in the microwave. (Yes, grass seed explodes.) There was evidence of a little grass seed in the peanut butter, which I saw when I made the sandwiches the next day. But, his piece-de-resistance we found out about later in the day.

Linda was finished taking her shower, when I heard a scream and a roar of laughter coming out of the bath room. She was screaming and laughing and gasping and coughing.

"The grass seed! The grass seed!," she was gasping.

I couldn't imagine what was going on and she couldn't talk for a long while.

He had planted grass seed in the towels stacked upon the shelf, lots and lots of grass seed so that when she stepped out of the tub to dry off, she planted herself with the plentiful grass seed. It was everywhere, in every nook, crevasse and crack to be found on her totally wet naked body.

We laughed until we cried and then cried until we laughed over the seedy time we had that weekend.

Clearly, the opportunity exists here to talk about wise choices and behavioral consequences! Decision making has an element of creativity to it. Children can be encouraged to generate many ideas (fluency) and to try to see the problem from several points of view (flexibility). These are elements of divergent thinking. Divergent thinking can be stimulated through fantasy, role playing, group decision-making and hypothetical reasoning.


Help find worthwhile and challenging reading materials and television programs. Provide hobby materials and books. Take trips to interesting places. Take advantage of lessons and activities offered by private groups or community organizations.

It is important to provide specific educational and vocational stimulation for gifted children at early ages, since gifted children develop cognitively at faster rates than average peers. Parents should encourage activities to include: (a) activities initiated by the gifted child; and (b) general socializing activities. Although children do need structure, parental selection of all activities can result in the child being denied a variety of environmental stimulants necessary for socialization. Any child, regardless of general or specific cognitive functioning, will rebel if forced to always perform for parents in his/her specialty. Rebelliousness is enhanced when parents relinquish their supervision of activities to special programs and persons. The parents of gifted children should actively seek out, and participate in, programs which foster the socialization of children. A key point to remember is that such programs need not be specifically geared for the gifted child.


Your expressions of attitude and your behavior should set the example you want your child to follow. Being an appropriate model encompasses using language correctly, illustrating flexibility and having good personal hygiene. The child models the parent in the development of attitudes, beliefs and values. The parent who provides the model of succeeding at any cost is not providing an appropriate one. The parent who always asks others to foster his/her child's giftedness is not a good model. Hopefully, you will foster positive values and giftedness in your child. In terms of community, gifted persons share respon-sibilities common to all mature citizens. Such responsibilities must be learned and parents are the primary socializing agents.


Find something to praise when your child shows you his/her work. Resist the impulse to show your child off. Resist exploitation. Some parents, at times, live vicariously through their children -- not a good idea. Parents of gifted children need to monitor the impacts of the child's successes on their own needs and expectations. It is a mistake for parents to transfer the successes and failures of the youngster in judging themselves. For parents to provide a loving, supportive environment for children, they must feel good about themselves. Constructive parents are able to separate the acknowledgments given to the gifted child from their own strengths and weaknesses.


Avoid comparisons with his brothers and sisters or companions. Demonstrate that your child is loved unconditionally and not for intellectual achievement. Give the gifted child household responsibilities and other tasks suitable to the child's age level.

It is probably obvious that when parents consistently direct their attention to one child, the family unit is in serious jeopardy. Parents with a gifted child must recognize the importance of all family members. It is not just relations with non-gifted children that deteriorate; adult supportive relations are also vulnerable. One or both of the parents, and all or some of the children, may feel rejected if the gifted youngster becomes the center of attention. The gifted child, whatever his/her uniqueness, must be dealt with in relation to the needs of all family members. Sibling and adult rivalries can develop in all families.

If the gifted child is given "star" status because of his her unique characteristics, parents must actively search for: (a) special characteristics in other family members; and (b) familial weaknesses, including the gifted child's, which need to be attended to. Since the gifted child often receives recognition from sources outside the family, parents should: (a) modify such accolades within the family context; and (b) orchestrate these extra-familial rewards in an environment which provides recognition for all family members.


Be aware of needs for security and individuality. Share your gratifications and frustrations with your child. Initiate real and hypothetical dilemmas which require actions of yourself, your child, and others. All parents, including those with gifted children, need to orient themselves to assume primary caretaker responsibilities of socializing succeeding generations. Socialization attempts should emphasize social, as opposed to egocentric, values. Parents can initiate and foster positive social values in their preschoolers and monitor competitive values in their school-age children. Competitive values are not necessarily inappropriate. Egocentric, "the-end-justifies-the-means" compet-itive values are. Parents are responsible for their child's awareness and acceptance of values. Since values are learned, the older generations are responsible for those values advocated by younger generations. Parents can foster social values in their children by emphasizing the process (means) rather than the product (ends) and by encouraging interpersonal and personal commitments rather than materialism.


Support the child who fails to meet your and others' expectations. Be aware of frustrations. Children, like adults, learn from both their successes and failures. However, because of the pervasive competitive value in our society, failure is often reacted to negatively by the person who fails and those who evaluate the performance. Supportive parents can limit their evaluation of a child's failure to reflect what has and has not been accomplished, and what can be done to assist the child in related endeavors. I am not suggesting that parents overlook failures of their children or themselves. We need objective feedback about how well we perform. When children fail, parents need to provide a realistic appraisal, advice on future tasks and expectations, and recognition of the child's worth as family members and individuals. Hopefully, most of us deal effectively with failure by realizing our strengths and weaknesses. Children need to develop self-concepts which permit evaluation of failures in the context of positive self-worth. Failure should not be linked to the worth of the child. Parents then should assist the child in understanding his/her strengths and weaknesses. Parental modeling is valuable in this process. Parents who illustrate a sense of personal strengths and weaknesses provide the child with opportunities to match expectations with personal capabilities. In my notes I have an old faded copy of a handout that someone at some conference gave me. That person, as well as the conference, is unknown to me and the handout has neither the author’s name nor the date. (My best guess is that it is 10 to 20 years old.) I have kept it because of the inherent wisdom it possesses and, in conclusion, I present it to encourage parents:


Gifted children are expensive and time consuming. They usually need less sleep than you do, ask more questions than you can answer, want 100% of your attention 24 hours a day, have obsessive hobbies, are not stimulated by school curriculum, react intensely to everything, endlessly long for the best friend who understands them completely, hold perfectionistic standards for themselves and you, want to know the meaning of life when other children only want to know how to tie their own shoes, and keep their bedrooms in a condition you can never show company.

If you have three or more of them, and there are only one or two of you, you’re outnumbered.

In order to be the perfect parent, you need unlimited funds, unlimited patience, and encyclopedia mind, and someone to sleep for you.

But don’t despair. Gifted children grow up even better with imperfect parents than with perfect ones.

Eminent adults rarely come from peaceful homes where all their needs are met; they came from families that exploded and made up often; that shared their interest; that stimulated their thinking; that recognized and encouraged their abilities; that loved them a whole lot; and that had faith in them.



(Originally appeared in Westerly -- the Center for Studies in Australian Literature.)

Based on the Jan Lukas photograph of Vendulka Vogelova, taken a few hours

before the young girl was transported to a concentration camp.


I am the mirror for one who speaks;

these fresh gaps are wind in the linden trees,

cotton flowers of life. A mirror is not much

for all of us, but if we listen for reflection,


the clear twin face of a groan behind the looking glass,

we hear the cat's hair sounds of all people

grumbling in the same manner about the air

the food the earth the sidewalk.


I am the mirror for all the world's silence,

and the ones who slipped through without drawing

blood, whose suicides number nothing next

to vast doors too tall to reach heaven, locked

forever, whose breaking takes generations,

sometimes, dull copper paint on the back of a lake.


I am the mirror for one who is trembling

like a child who has noticed too much, eyes

hard olive pits. I think about how life

cracks when the vanity glass overturns

our hands. Sharp pints in bars. Uneven edges

of ale. Crisp indignities of foam. I am the mirror for all who choose

not to speak. I crack

in the dark. I shine in the snow.

Millicent Borges Describes Her Education in Gifted Programs

When I was in the 5th grade (placed in my third combination class!) at Luther Burbank School in Long Beach, California, a counselor came by and picked a few children out for private conferences. . . Her name was Mrs. Warfield (I believe). Anyway, the next thing I knew was that I was sent to Woodrow Wilson High School. There, I had the luxury of being able to “sit in” on any class I desired! On Thursday mornings -- instead of attending elementary school, I traveled across town. . . All of the kids met together in one big room (think tank) and we had a sort of "creative homeroom" where we were tested and observed and then, after that, we were given free rein. I remember that I “sat in” on English and biology.

For junior high, I was sent to a school in an affluent neighborhood. I was enrolled in the "gifted" track. Being sort of misfits, the individuals in those classes. . . I remember that we created our own “clique” where we existed outside of the regular social structure of the school. I enjoyed my days there -- we saw the King Tut exhibit and also the Shakespeare Festival in Los Angeles. Mrs. Johnson was my favorite English teacher. . . I remember that she used to have us keep daily journals and I was constantly inserting cryptic messages to her -- JUST to see if she really read all the entries! My goal was to write a poem a day -- for an entire year. She called us Mr. and Ms. -- and used our last names, formally -- as if we were important diplomats. Mr. Hatton was my semantics and anthropology teacher. . .who was also wonderful. He set up archeological "digs," that we unearthed on the floor of the classroom; he also took a group to Catalina Island at the end of the semester.

When it came time for high school, I went to the VERY same school that I had attended as a 5th and 6th grader. . . Once there, I signed up for every activity that I could possibly manage. I was in a unique situation because in junior high, I had already fulfilled most of my basic high school requirements for math and English, so I decided to have fun. I was active in drama and dance and music, and I pretty much exclusively took electives during my Junior and Senior years. . . still, I was serious about my studies and attended summer school every year, graduating with a Medallion Diploma.

Being in gifted programs helped me immensely. These programs provided me with the freedom to work ahead, at my own speed, and to explore creative avenues that were initially out of my realm of thought. I was able to break away from the "wrong side of the tracks" stigma. I was able to make friends with other gifted children -- which helped my self-esteem. I was given so many wonderful opportunities that I have nothing bad to say about the three gifted programs that I had the luck and good fortune to have participated in. I am thankful for the early encouragement. You see, I was the first person in my family to graduate from a four year college! Without gifted programs, I seriously doubt that I would have made it through high school--much less graduate school!




Ole Man River had his nativity here,

Thousands of lakes erected by Ice Age glacier molds,

Minnehaha Falls stir the soul of both

Hiawatha and East Coast Brahman poet,

Lutheran wheat farmers join with municipal Irish

workers to forge rebellious political protest,

Native American uprising gnaws at the courage of


The Times they are changing and Dorothy of Oz gives

America a sense that there exit vulnerable yearnings

in the national psyche,

Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott wandered far, far from home

but kept their childhood promises to tell the truth,

Garrison Keillor proves that the Kensington Runic

Tablets are for real,

The Mayo Brothers good practitioners for body and


Olé Rölvaag discovered Giants In The Earth because he

was aware of the greatness of ordinary people,

Minnesota, still probing, still struggling, still learning ,

constantly developing,

Minnesota, snow and Indian Summer to remind us

that we all can endure and give back something of


Copyright © 1997 by Michael E. Walters