Books on Giftedness

The last time I wrote about books on giftedness (in this post and this one), my kids were small.  I had some idea that they were maybe a little different, but mostly I was reading to understand myself and be prepared.  The point of identifying someone as gifted is not to be elitist or puff someone up, but rather to understand that he or she thinks and learns differently so you can help him or her to get a good education and navigate life.  Even as an adult, I find some of the identifiers and strategies helpful.  

As I’ve read and studied about education over the years I’ve become more and more convinced that an individualized education is best for everyone–gifted or not–and that no matter what path of education you choose, parents need to be involved and be strong advocates for their children.  If you do have gifted kids, this is even more important.  I have found that homeschooling issues and parenting issues are closely tied together, and whether you homeschool or choose public or private school, information about how gifted kids learn and think will spill over into how you parent as well.

I recently went on a bit of a tear through books on giftedness, and have provided a roundup below in case this is a topic of interest to anyone else.

In A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child, authors Whitney and Hirsch explain that the main point of identifying kids as gifted is to ensure that they receive educational instruction that meets their needs, challenges them, and works with their learning styles.  If you’re a teacher, this book will help you to keep your students motivated as you’re trying to figure out ways to extend or differentiate the curriculum to meet varying needs in your classroom.  If you’re a homeschooler, the book will give you ideas for keeping your kids motivated and help you figure out where you might be pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.  If you’re a parent with a kid in a public or private school, the book will give you tips on keeping your child motivated and working with the school system to make sure your child is getting what he or she needs.

I appreciated the time the authors devoted to describing gifted personality traits.  It helped me to read that gifted kids are often intense, sensitive, passionate, and constant talkers.  For some reason it really helps me to know that these are not problems, but rather tendencies that can be positively directed.  I also think the authors did a great job of highlighting areas in which a gifted kid can and should be taught differently than his or her peers.  I did find it funny that the authors opined that homeschooling is incompatible with working, since I work and so do many other homeschooling mothers I know.  We make time for things that are important to us, I guess.  Overall, I thought A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child was very helpful and definitely recommend it.

Parenting Gifted Kids focuses less on teaching and more on the day to day aspects of living with and raising a gifted kid.  In addition to learning differently, gifted kids just think differently, and so sometimes the parenting tactics you read about don’t work as advertised (at least that has been my experience).  Delisle offers a lot of help in that area, both in unpacking common tendencies and characteristics of gifted kids, and in giving practical advice for how to handle things.

I particularly liked his explanation of different types of intensities in gifted kids–the idea is referred to as “overexitability” in the literature–and I found Delisle’s take on the types of overexitablity insightful.  Personally I don’t like the word overexitable, because it implies that it’s wrong to be intense about things and I don’t think that’s the case.  I do think it’s necessary to help kids navigate their intensity and channel it though, and this book is helpful in that regard.

Guiding Gifted Readers is a fantastic book for understanding how gifted kids think, the challenges they face, and how books can help.  I previously read the updated version of this book (Some of My Best Friends Are Books) and think both versions are helpful, just with different book recommendations.

Reading this book years ago helped to shape my views on literature and literature-based education, particularly the importance of reading GOOD books, not just twaddle.  This is important for everyone, not just gifted kids, and I think the suggestions for how to help kids develop a sense of literary taste and how to discuss books with them would be helpful for all parents and teachers.

This book (in both of its versions) is another I would highly recommend.

Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers is an older book, but a helpful one.  Again, you’ll read about the characteristics and challenges of gifted kids, and also gain practical tips for handling those issues.

The book is a good balance between big picture ideas and practical tactical help.  For example, I got great insight on the importance of flexible structure and child-directed goal setting, but also practical advice on when the kid just needs a snack.  I also thought the guidance on how to help kids learn to channel intensity was great.  The authors write that gifted kids often have a hard time “behaving in calm, civilized, well-modulated ways” and note that “this intensity can be a great strength, but it can also be a child’s undoing.  He needs to develop tolerance for both his own limitations and the limited capabilities of others.  To do this requires self-discipline and self-control.”  I really appreciated the practical applications on channeling intensity through building habits of self-control.

Raising Gifted Kids: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Exceptional Child Thrive was not my favorite book on this topic, and not only because it failed to deliver on its hyperbolic subtitle (I loathe hyperbolic subtitles).  Mostly I disliked the tone of the book.  The author wrote in a condescending fashion and I often felt bludgeoned rather than instructed.

There was not a lot of unique insight in the book, and I disagreed with the author’s approach and conclusions in several spots, but I did get one interesting tidbit from the volume so it was not a waste.  In pointing out that gifted kids often struggle with perfectionism, which may lead them to avoid attempting things that seem hard at first, the author suggests that music lessons can be an ideal antidote.  Because learning an instrument requires hard work (unless the kid is also a musical prodigy, in which case you need a different outlet!) but doesn’t leave behind visual evidence of mistakes like art or writing do, it often helps children learn that it’s worth it to work hard at something even if you’re not automatically awesome at it.

A friend of mine whose daughter is gifted remarked that when she reads about giftedness she is often surprised to see things about herself.  Gifted kids often have gifted parents so it makes sense that information about gifted kids rings true for us as well.  Issues of how you relate to others, process information, and navigate life don’t just go away because you finished school.  Reading Gifted Grownups was incredibly helpful to me, because it not only pointed out things I know about myself, but gave strategies for dealing with them as an adult.

If you see yourself reflected in the books about gifted kids, I’d highly recommend this book–many of the characteristics and issues are similar, but the way they play out in adult life are different and you might find the strategies for addressing them tremendously helpful.

If you have gifted kids, what resources have you found most helpful?


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