Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Child Prodigies--What's The Attraction?

For several days the folks at child_lit have been discussing child prodigies. Can children excel at writing at an early age? How old do you have to be before you are no longer considered a prodigy? And more! Much more!

The discussion (which really is interesting) reminded me of an incident at my local elementary school. (Forgive me if I've told this story before--not much happens to me, so I tend to repeat myself.) The challenge and enrichment teacher called me to ask if I would meet with a particularly gifted second grade child who just loved to write. I was never sure what I was supposed to do with this kid, and I couldn't make a commitment to meet with her regularly. But I did agree to talk to her a couple of times.

Well, she was a very attractive child with an excellent vocabulary whose writing probably was very good. However, because I watch television, I could tell that a lot of what she was writing about wasn't original.

Now, I don't think small children should be pressured to be original. If they want to learn skills by practicing them on story lines from their favorite TV shows or books, that's fine by me. I think they probably can learn a lot that way. But I don't think that's any sign of genius, either, and I don't think it's a good idea to be encouraging such children to think they're doing something unique when they are, essentially, practicing drills. Though, once again, drills are very good.

This experience and the discussion at child_lit has led me to wonder if we adults aren't overly fascinated with brilliant kids and want to find some sort of unusual brilliance in children who are "merely" intelligent.

Really, it is enough for children to be smart. They don't have to go overboard with it.

Think of all the children's books about gifted kids. I don't want to suggest that gifted kids don't make good subjects for books. But adults write those books. Adults are the ones who find them so fascinating.



Kelly said...

From my experience, being smart and optimistic is way, way more important than being "highly gifted." Let's face it, plain old gifted will take you a lot, lot farther.

Highly gifted children become the center of adults' attention. They become an industry. They no longer are able to change their mind, find new things to be interested in, etc. Moreover, they are often isolated from other children and are immersed in this freaky, adult world. I think it is bad for the adults too. They should have other interests beyond the achievements of their prodigies.

One of my 2 children may be "highly gifted" as opposed to "smart." But, I've never had her tested (beyond the unavoidable school tests), I've never pushed any "skill" upon her, but rather have let her chose things she wants to pursue (things she will never truly excel in, like ice skating), because in the end, it is her life, not mine.

As long as she is happy, loves to try new things, and keeps a positive attitude and learns how to interact with others, then I'm happy.

In other words, it's a mystery to me too, Gail :)

P.S. When the new forest goes up, check out the blogging writer column. Our new one, Melissa Wiley, sings your praises

Kelly said...

Make that "choose," not "chose." This topic has really hit a nerve with me. I feel sorry for prodigies.

Kelly said...

Okay, I want to say one more thing here...

And all the handlers of highly gifted children who remove them from traditional schooling or homeschooling because their prodigies were "bored in school" are making a mistake.

Life and work can be boring too. The challenge is to find the interest in anything. Or find a way to think creatively when the situation is "boring." This to me is why so many highly gifted children have trouble holding down a job in adulthood. As children, they've been told they don't need to tolerate boring situations. So they've never been taught to find the good or the interesting or the humorous in any situation.

Okay, I'm done. Thanks for giving me a forum to rant :)