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How to Stimulate a Child's Mind

Gifted Children

It used to be said that if the membrane enveloping the head of a fetus remained intact through a delivery, the baby was born wearing a caul, and would be lucky, or gifted, or both. Now we know this is only a superstition. On this page, we will talk about what actually makes a child gifted, how to have his special talents assessed, and what to do to encourage him to develop his talents.

Who is Gifted?

It is difficult to determine precocity of mental development in a child by any means at all, and it is particularly difficult to assess in very small children. Educators recognize two kinds of giftedness, intellectual and creative, and programs for gifted children today are labeled "for the gifted and talented." Intellectually gifted individuals are logical thinkers, capable of heavy inner concentration, and they have IQs of 130 or higher. Most creatively gifted people are imaginative, adaptable, and likely to be involved in artistic pursuits; they have IQs of at least 120.


Bright and healthy children from stimulating environments often show signs of falling into one of these classifications. They are typically very inquisitive about the world around them, often creative with words as they learn to talk and with their toys as they play. Some especially love books and teach themselves to read long before they are old enough to go to school. They're eager to learn, and many show early indications of special interest in and talent for music, art, drama, or dancing. The world of fantasy appeals strongly to some, who use their imaginations creatively.

Assessing Gifted Children

If you are the parent of a child who may be gifted, you are probably delighted -- we all like to think of our children as well above average -- and at the same time worried. You may feel as if you are caught in a bind between pushing too hard and providing enough stimulation to challenge your bright child. Formal assessment is the most reliable means of determining whether a child's development puts her into the official gifted and talented classification. A child who can read at age three or four years is considered ready for testing, but parents should be aware that an assessment at this early age is probably not as accurate as one made later.

An assessment for a gifted child should be performed by an individual or service experienced with young children as well as with appropriate tests and methods of interpretation. It involves the use of certain standardized tests that measure ability levels and skill development, but assessment almost never involves the use of intelligence tests because of the instability of IQ at young ages. The results of the assessment indicate which areas of learning a child may begin to master at an early age and the child's appropriate reading level. Once you know the results, you can consider options such as early entrance to school and enrollment in special programs. Parents who are interested in having assessments made may be able to work through their child's doctor or through social agencies or gifted programs. One such program is The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. For information about the program, write to McAuley Hall, 5801 Smith Avenue, Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21209; call 410-735-4100; or e-mail

Characteristics of Gifted Children

Many gifted and talented children do not read before they go to school; early reading is not the only criterion for exceptional mental or creative ability. If you are interested in having an assessment made of your child, and he or she cannot yet read, it is a good idea to accumulate informative evidence: Keep a written record of your observations of your child's advanced behavior. Use examples, and note such characteristics as these:

  • Early talking, with adult-like vocabulary and unusually clever or perceptive questions or observations
  • An excellent memory
  • Special ability in drawing or other artwork
  • Ability to concentrate on an activity for a long period of time

Educators also suggest you continue to encourage your child's natural inquisitiveness into the whys and hows of objects and activities, without pushing or forcing. Offer whatever enriching experiences you can, particularly those your child enjoys. Take advantage of local opportunities in libraries, children's museums, and such. Try to find another parent or two willing to join you, and share your knowledge and enthusiasm as you take your children on suitable field trips together. Look around your neighborhood for opportunities: a construction site, where your child can see trucks, machinery, and building materials; your local fire station, where personnel are probably willing to arrange a real tour if you call ahead; a bus trip across town, which can be an exciting experience for a child who usually travels with you in a car. Learning experiences are available almost everywhere you go with your child.

Do remember that the most gifted of children are children first, gifted second. It's easy to treat a gifted child as if she were much older; however, they are undoubtedly immature in some ways. While your bright 3-year-old child may have the cognitive ability of a 5-year-old child, they may also have the bodily coordination or the emotional and social development, or both, of a child of only 2 1/2 years of age. All children, whatever their potentials and capabilities, are in need of the love, attention, and guidance of parents who do not try to make miniature adults of them.

If you have a gifted or talented child, you may be exploring the idea of beginning an early learning program. Click to the next page for information on early learning programs and preschools.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.