Would it be an advantage to “give” a five or seven year old a genius IQ? Yes!
Would you like to know how?
Here are some traits of gifted children that I was able to gather from the "authorities", which are very vague:
Perceptive, curious, possessing a large vocabulary, reaching milestones early, able to learn concepts easily, interested in learning, able to learn by themselves, become immersed in specific topics like space or dinosaurs, empathetic, generates original thoughts.
My seven year old is all of that, but does that mean he's gifted or does that mean we did our jobs as parents? At the age of seven, how can you really tell? I don't think I've seen a five or seven year old child that I couldn't make curious, that I couldn't get to come up with something resembling an original idea, that I couldn't teach how to read a few words or add some numbers or play a new game. Even if they weren't that way before, most kids that I've seen have the capacity to do those things.
Therefore, is giftedness, genius even, trainable?
By grade 2, which my seven year old firstborn just entered, any child can be cultivated to measure gifted. He is at the very top of the class, finishing his daily work within minutes because he already knows it. My wife and I were going to suggest something to the teacher but she got to us first, asking that we bring in extra projects for him to plow through during his free time.
I look at it this way: Skills are in the training. Natural athletes without training are destroyed by average athletes with a good coach. A mathematical genius will never be able to build a bridge like a run-of-the-mill trained engineer. I guarantee that, by the age of seven, I can make practically any child seem like a genius. If I can do it, then you probably can too. Here is the strategy that I’ve used on my kids:
1: Waste no time
This is the crux of the matter. Many kids waste huge time. When it’s undirected playing and exploring, this is fine, but when it’s truly wasted by consuming TV and computer and video games then there is very little upside. This time can be used by the child.
Limited TV -- We don't have a TV that the kids, or even adults watch. Our TV is off more than 90% of the time and we don't have cable When we do watch, we watch specific shows or movies that we choose as a family, usually once per week as a special event. My wife and I just recently tried hooking the antenna to the TV and were totally shocked how quickly we got sucked into watching useless stuff that just happened to be "on". Off went the antenna.
Directed computer -- We put our kids onto the computer early, by the age of 2. There are websites with decent games to improve hand-eye coordination, patterns, etc, the most impressive would be Poisson Rouge. However, there are also other games that we found the kids get addicted to, such as the stuff offered by TV stations, which include a lot of video clips and not much game play of value. Put the kids onto a variety of sites, but monitor whether or not they get anything out of them or whether they become zombiefied. Once they do become zombies then find them a different site. You will be surprised. Some of my seven year old's favorite sites: Wikipedia, Google Translate, CIA World Factbook.
BETWEEN THE TV AND THE COMPUTER THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOUR CHILDREN COULD WASTE YEARS OF LIFE!
2: Get them self-exploring and self-learning
The main way to do this is through reading. Our standard has been for the kids to learn the alphabet by age 3 or 4 and start reading (real reading, with comprehension) by 4 or 5. Once they show that they are capable of understanding then we force them to get reading. Push push push. Some people say to wait until the child “teaches themselves” or “proves they’re ready”, but I respectfully disagree. Don’t push hard before they’re capable, but once they are capable then the parents might have to overcome a little resistance; reading can be confusing and tedious at the leading edge of a child’s skill.
Before reading we would give them kid-oriented picture reference books that conveyed a lot of information. The biggest hit was a dinosaur encyclopedia we gave the oldest at about 4, which had hundreds of dinosaur pictures, along with pictures to show scale, and data tables. He couldn't read the words, but we read them together and he quickly learned to pick information off the page on his own. The middle child is following the same pattern, but he likes turtles and plants instead of dinosaurs and space.
By 5 the oldest was reading small books and by age 6 they were kids chapter books like Geronimo Stilton, and less than a year later it's young adult novels like The Mariah Delaney Lending Library Disaster and Wikipedia. He is asking his parents questions all the time, which means he's learning on his own.
BIG SUCCESS NEWS: Just this morning we did a geography challenge and he absolutely slayed both Mom and Dad. Again, he’s seven and we’re thirty seven. He scored around 80% or 90% on identifying countries around the world while Mom and Dad scored in the 60s or lower (Dad lower than Mom)!
This is math and logic. Get them counting first, then adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc in order as soon as they look like they understand what a number is. Jigsaw puzzles, mazes, some (but surprisingly for some, not most) board games and some computer programs are also excellent for developing logic. We also constantly play self-invented games. One of the best and easiest is “Detective” where we go on walks through the neighbourhood trying to deduce things. Examples: “Oh, kids live in that house” (seeing a small bike in the driveway) or “The people in that house recently left” (seeing the lights off and a dry silhouette in the driveway where a car stopped rain from hitting the driveway).
One of the best ways (most rewarding for them, and most useful for the parents) is to get them to perform the normal tasks of life. 2 or 3 years can dress themselves, feed themselves, get themselves a drink, get and put toys away, clean messes. 4 and 5 years old children can use a knife and fork, cook, fix things they break, tie shoelaces, and so on. Although they seem very simple to adults, these tasks can be high quality brain teasers for the young ‘uns, with the built in reward that they can do important big people stuff.
4. Develop confidence
My kids fail a lot. They fail practically on a daily basis and it’s awesome. The reason they fail is because I challenge them just a little past their ability to perform. You would think that this might deflate them, making them lack confidence, but it really is the opposite. They do grumble and complain often, but I always take them from where they are to finishing the challenge. Where the confidence comes in is when they look at 1) What they can do that they never imagined they could do and 2) What they can do that others can’t do -- especially if they can bring down their parents.
I’m trying to forge the feeling that they can do anything. If it seems impossible, that’s because they haven’t thought about it or studied enough yet. I hate it when they tell me that they’re small. If they ever do, then it’s my mission to prove that being small has nothing to do with it. You want to accomplish something then just set about doing it. I don’t have girls, but if I did then I would be doubly sure that they never thought anything was out of reach just because of their gender.
Anyway, if you as parents do those things on a regular basis and at the most challenging level they can handle:
- No TV
- Thinking about things and
- Reminding them that they can do whatever they want to
then you can also have “genius” or “gifted” children in the early grades. Since knowledge compounds, they will only get further advantages as the years go by, so long as they retain those habits. Part of being a parent is helping them.
PS: My wife taught at gifted schools over the years as we travelling from city to city. Truly gifted children are very rare. Even most of those in gifted schools are just a little smarter and more disciplined, compounding advantages by being in a richer, better environment. In fact, my wife's best student, and the most successful after graduating, was not the most naturally "gifted" but the most diligent. The uber-successful only need to be "smart-enough" as Malcolm Gladwell put it in his book Outliers. The rest comes from deliberate training and luck.
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What do you think? Can genius be trained?