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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Raise a Genius

By Lorel Shea

Now that I have your attention, lest you bash me as a kook or turn away from this article in disgust, I don't actually call my own kids geniuses, nor do I know any parents who refer to their kids as such. Most parents of gifted kids tend to shy away from the genius label, and do their best to play down their children's abilities with acquaintances. There's a whole cover-up lingo which parents utilize to assuage others and throw them off the scent. The mother of a boy who skips a grade, for instance, might simply tell the parents of her child's old classmates, “we just felt he was ready”. Another common tactic is to turn attention to the other parent's child: “I see your Joey was voted class President! You must be very proud. He's such a great kid!” or to distract, “Hey, have you tried this great bean dip?” It can be painful to be different, and just about every gifted kid has at least one parent who can related to being out of sync with age-mates.

My kids are sufficiently gifted to be be described as “profoundly” gifted. But I don't feel that I really had a very active part in developing their abilities. I do not take credit for their brilliance, any more than I feel I can take credit for the shape of their eyes, the length of their eyelashes, or the curl in my youngest child's hair. As far as I am concerned, it's all what God intended, or what some might call an accident of birth. For better or for worse, they arrived with all sorts of unique qualities, and their intellectual firepower is just one dimension of who they are.

Parents can serve their children best by providing opportunities for them to learn and grow at their own pace and in a way that suits their natural inclinations. There's no magic formula to raising a genius, but there are ways to nurture strengths. My kids were all reading in diapers, and they learned without any formal lessons. One reason for this is extraordinary intelligence, but another is simply that they grew up in a print rich environment, they were read to from infancy, and they saw people reading for pleasure on a daily basis. Each of our children learned to read organically, the same way they learned to speak. There were no flashcards, expensive phonics programs, or special materials involved.

If your two year old is asking for workbooks, then go ahead and give her a few. She might love them! But if she doesn't actually take to them, don't push the issue. My daughters each demanded workbooks at that age, and had great fun completing them. But my boys were slower to develop fine motor skills, and they did not ask for workbooks before age four. They are no less intelligent than their sisters, but for them, workbooks at two would have been inappropriate. My middle two children enjoy acting in community theater, but getting on stage would have been a horrific nightmare for my introverted eldest. He's working on a novel and maybe someday he'll write a play, but until then, sitting in the audience is enough for him. Kids are great at knowing what they need, especially when they are young. Follow your child's lead, appreciate the qualities that make him unique, and you can't go wrong!

Lorel Shea serves as writer and editor at the bellaonline.com Gifted Education site:
. She is a member of Boston Mensa, the Connecticut Association for the Gifted and the National Association for Gifted Children. Lorel has presented at various homeschool and gifted conferences, and will be speaking in October 2008 at the New England Conference for Gifted and Talented.

In her spare time, Lorel is an avid reader who enjoys organic cooking, drinking tea, and running. She is a Boy Scout volunteer and serves as leader of a large and dynamic homeschool support group. She can be reached at lorelshea@yahoo.com.