When my oldest son was in the first grade, he used to feel sick to his stomach every morning before school. It got to the point where I was making special pumpkin custard—his favorite dessert—for breakfast in the attempt to entice him to eat something, anything, before heading off to school. You’re probably thinking he was bullied, or perhaps friendless. Nope. A mean teacher? The work too challenging? No and no.
What, then, could have a first grader so worn down, so bummed about school, that it was causing physical symptoms? What could have a bright young six-year-old shuffling off to school with the slump-shouldered demeanor of a man in his fifties who had been working the same tedious job at the same desk in the same cubicle for thirty years with no end in sight?
When a child reads at age two or knows her math facts in first grade—when they excel beyond their age group in traditional academic subjects—it’s easy to recognize giftedness. And yet, that is just one possible aspect of giftedness. Assessments such as IQ tests appraise facets of mental acuity that can manifest to a higher degree in gifted individuals, but many gifted traits aren’t accounted for on such tests. And scores on standardized achievement tests can be quite misleading, because not all gifted children excel in school. In fact, some gifted traits receive “negative” labels in traditional classroom settings, overshadowing or masking some of the more easily recognized signs of giftedness. Ultimately, each child is unique, and giftedness can look very different from child to child.
Are you overlooking one of these hidden signs of giftedness in your child?
Your child …
- Says she is “bored,” or gets into trouble a lot at school. Has a hard time “staying in his seat.”
- Is doing “fine” in school, but you sense a lack of challenge or excitement.
- Shows a deep sense of purpose, empathy, compassion, and justice. Wants to save the world.
- Can be quiet yet highly perceptive.
- Can be sensitive, intense, even explosive at times—or reserved and “shut down.”
- Is playfully, even wildly, imaginative. Builds whole worlds in their play.
- Asks a million questions, and may not be willing to do things without knowing “why?” or “how?”
- Can struggle with engaging in learning unless there is some room for creativity and choice in approach and/or focus.
- Can struggle with beginning/finishing a project or assignment because of perfectionist tendencies.
We realized, in retrospect, our son was so disheartened, so beaten down, by having to be in his seat all day, working on worksheets, and having no choice or voice in what he was learning, even while most of the other first graders seemed content. It wasn’t until we moved to a school focused on gifted learners (primarily for our second son, whose giftedness presented in more obvious ways) that our oldest son flourished. He was excited to go to school. He loved having choice and being able to move around the room. He was energized by his work in small, collaborative groups, and he found his voice and confidence when empowered by his teachers to help direct his own learning.
The change in him was astonishing. And I didn’t have to feed him dessert for breakfast anymore.