Signs of great minds
|•||Bright or gifted? Note the difference|
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Julia Shores' big hazel eyes grew even bigger when her mom took out one of her newest toys an electronic globe and placed it before Julia in their Kailua home.
The kindergartner excitedly hopped in place as she geared up for a geography game. A voice prompt began listing names of countries to be identified: "Iceland. Japan. Australia. The People's Republic of China. Sudan. Libya. Peru. Turkey. ... "
With each country, Julia quickly spun the globe and pointed to the correct answer, all the while hopping and giggling with glee.
"I knew from almost at birth that Julia was different," said her mother, Janet Shores, 37, a real-estate developer.
With that realization came a special responsibility: the need to recognize Julia's special assets and to find the best ways to nurture them while also helping Julia find her place as a well-rounded child.
Shores' instincts told her that Julia wasn't like other babies. Julia learned sign language at 6 months, knew colors when she was a year old and drew identifiable pictures of her father at 2.
When Julia was a baby, Shores began doing her own research on gifted children. She talked to her pediatrician for advice. Eventually, she joined the Hawaii Gifted Association. And she started working with Julia to encourage her daughter. For example, when Julia was 1, her parents started testing her knowledge of colors as she played with blocks.
"Often times (I'll) talk to parents who knew something was different from infancy," said Shores, now president of the association.
Recognizing and nurturing gifted students early is crucial for parents to be able to properly meet their children's academic, emotional and social needs, experts say.
"You can begin to help create a learning environment that's most appropriate for them," said Darlene Martin, a board member for the association and a faculty member at the Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa College of Education.
Julia is among nearly 18,000 gifted students in public schools statewide. Nationwide, there are about 3 million academically gifted children in grades K-12, about 6 percent of the student population, the National Association for Gifted Children estimates.
The state Department of Education defines gifted and talented students as those "whose superior performance or potential indicates possible giftedness in intellectual, creative or specific academic abilities; leadership capability; psychomotor ability; or talent in the performing and visual arts."
The national association simply states: "A gifted person is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression."
While there may not be a concrete description of gifted learners, they do share general characteristics, Martin said. These include advanced skills in communication, problem-solving, reasoning and memory.
"Parents, I think, generally have a pretty good instinct as they begin raising their little person," Shores said.
TRAITS OF THE GIFTED
The large toy bins in 10-year-old Gannon Ritz's bedroom aren't filled with toys. His plastic tubs overflow with things like wires, electrical caps, appliance parts, random switches and hardware pieces.
They're the supplies Gannon needs to do what he loves: taking things apart to put them back together, repairing appliances and building cool machines.
His bright blue eyes lit up as he explained how he created the remote-controlled hovercraft he held in his fidgety little fingers; he fashioned it out of a couple of water bottles, duct tape, foil and a hand-held fan. He also has fixed a floor fan, a DVD player, even a computer.
"It's like opening a present when I take things apart," Gannon said with a big, toothy smile.
Gannon started creating electronic gadgets in a rudimentary style at 3 years old, then contraptions that actually worked just a few years later, said his mother, Erin Ritz.
As a toddler, "he would never play with stuffed animals or any kind of toys," said Ritz, 32, of Kailua. "It was real-life appliances that he wanted. He would hug a broken alarm clock or hand mixer."
Gannon's fascination with gadgets is another trait of giftedness: having an intense interest in something, whether they're objects, activities or topics, Shores said.
Other traits gifted learners share include having an intense motivation to learn, extraordinary quantitative or communication skills, superior memory capacity, exceptional problem-solving abilities and high-level creativity, Shores said. (See box, right and D1.)
Martin notes that some gifted learners may possess all of these traits, while others possess some.
"Gifted learners are just as diverse as the general population," she said.
Children with learning disabilities also can be considered gifted, Martin said.
"That just goes to show that kind of image we have about who gifted learners are as ... young people and as they turn into adults ... We expect them to be above everybody else across the board, which may not be the case," Martin said.
As is the case with Gannon: His reading abilities have scored below average, but his mechanical skills have tested to be equivalent to an adult's, Ritz said.
"This is his area," said Ritz, a pilot. "I can't put things together like he can."
It's also important for parents to realize that certain traits of giftedness such as overexcitability or the need to question rules may be easily mistaken for behavior problems but shouldn't be, Shores said.
"When you understand that this is a child who's very gifted and these are things that may be going on, we can start looking at the real causes of the behavior," she said.
NURTURING GIFTED KIDS
When parents first notice their children may be more advanced than others their age, parents should begin exploring books and Web sites to familiarize themselves with the characteristics of giftedness, Shores said. (See box, right.)
Parents can also check with pediatricians for referrals to child psychologists or psychiatrists, and with school officials, to look into having their children take intelligence, creativity or aptitude tests that measure giftedness. However, such tests can cost up to several hundred dollars.
"Use the information to work with educators and other professionals to make sure that (your) children's unique learning and social/emotional needs are being met," Shores said.
Not all schools offer programs for gifted students, in which case Shores encourages parents to talk to school officials on how to best address their children's needs.
"I want to make sure that parents feel comfortable being a strong voice for their child, advocate for their children and teach their child to advocate for themselves," she said.
On the home front, it's important for parents to nurture and encourage their gifted children's interests, whatever they may be, said Susan Fuller, who has been a member of the state Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented for at least 20 years.
"Take them to the library on a regular basis, because that helps you see what they're interested in as they choose the books to read, which gives you a direction then to follow as you try to encourage them," Fuller said.
Whether it's taking children to the library or park, or giving them arts and crafts supplies to explore, "provide these different opportunities," Fuller said. "Then your children can latch onto the ones that really excite them."
Shores, the mother of geography phenom Julia, supports her daughter's artistic interests with art classes on the weekends. Ritz, the mother of electronics whiz Gannon, encourages her son's passion for building gadgets with frequent trips to a hardware store.
Kane'ohe resident Lori Umiamaka's gifted son Aaron, 9, is into all things scientific.
"If you don't recognize that they have a talent in one area and you don't nurture it, it's so easy for them to become complacent," said Umiamaka, 37, a stay-at-home mom.
That means stimulating his interests by visiting the Bishop Museum's new science center and patiently fielding questions, such as, "What would happen if the moon moves two inches how would that change the tides?" and "What temperature is a bullet when it comes out of a gun? Is the temperature different if it comes out of a rifle?"
Parents also should keep in mind that gifted children may take their interests to a point where they feel they've learned all they can about it, Fuller said. "Don't get upset if suddenly this grand thing that was consuming them is just dropped, and off they go with another (interest)," she said.
HAWAII GIFTED ASSOCIATION WORKSHOP
The association's next workshop, which focuses on the social and emotional development of gifted and talented children, will be held 6-8 p.m. April 24 at the American Association of University Women office, 1802 Ke'eaumoku St. To sign up for the free event, call the organization at 721-8944.
RESOURCE INFO FOR THE GIFTED AND TALENTED
www.hoagiesgifted.org A comprehensive and user-friendly site for parents and educators, particularly those who are new to gifted topics.
www.sengifted.org Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted
www.geniusdenied.com Hosted and maintained by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Information on how school policies affect gifted and talented students, plus resources for parents, students, educators and community mentors.
http://www.gifted.uconn.edu NEAG Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development
www.cectag.org The Council for Exceptional Children The Association for the Gifted
www.nagc.org National Association for Gifted Children
http://www.jhu.edu/~gifted The Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, including contact information for the center's Hawai'i summer program at Hawai'i Pacific University on O'ahu
"Empowering Gifted Minds: Educational Advocacy That Works" by Barbara Jackson Gilman (Deleon Publishing Inc.)
"Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers" by J. T. Webb, E. A. Meckstroth and S. S. Tolan (Great Potential Press)
"Helping Gifted Children Soar: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers" by Carol A. Strip (Great Potential Press)
"The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?" edited by M. Neihart, S.M. Reis, N.M. Robinson and S.M. Moon (Prufrock Press)
"Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-Exceptional Student" edited by Kiesa Kay (Avocus Publishing)
Source: Hawaii Gifted Association
Reach Zenaida Serrano at email@example.com.