How to spot your grade-schooler's hidden talents

How to spot your grade-schooler's hidden talents

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Some kids' gifts are on display for the world to see. Others may have hidden talents that masquerade as chattiness, daydreaming, or high energy. Sometimes clues to their gifts lie in how they play with puzzles, sort objects, or pull apart mechanical things.

Below, experts on gifted children tell you how to read the clues to your child's hidden talents and offer advice on how to help her blossom.

Your child loves to sort objects

She pairs up socks, lines up toy cars, or groups items by color, size, or shape. She may also like things to be organized and orderly.

What it may mean: Your child is probably what's known as an auditory sequential learner, meaning she is an analytical thinker, is well organized, and pays attention to details. She may be looking for patterns, often an early indicator of aptitude in math and science, says Linda Powers Leviton, an expert in gifted education.

How to nurture: Explore projects and games that involve patterns and matching, such as beading or Go Fish. Teaching your child to keep track of sports statistics or letting her have a pretend stock portfolio might appeal. The fan of sorting and cataloging may love a visit to a natural history museum or archeological dig.

Find activities to encourage math skills and experiments to interest a budding scientist.

Put your child in charge of sorting the silverware and organizing the cans in the cupboard. Give her the change jar and have her sort the coins.

Your child talks nonstop

Your chatty kid may have an advanced vocabulary, concoct elaborate stories, and make few grammatical or pronunciation errors, says Judy Galbraith, author of You Know Your Child Is Gifted When… He may also talk very fast and often doesn't stop until he's asleep. He wants to have the last word in every argument.

What it may mean: Verbal proficiency can be an early sign of a gifted kid. It's also key to success in school and many other aspects of life. Kids with the gift of persuasion may someday choose professions such as law or journalism.

How to nurture: Ask your talkative kid to dictate stories to you. As he begins to write himself, suggest that he put his tales down on paper. You can turn them into books that he can illustrate. Interview your child and record his thoughts on audio or video. This is a good age to introduce the concept of reflection (asking your child to write or draw what's on his mind can help).

Along with promoting speaking and writing skills, teach him to be a good listener.

Visit the library often and find books that challenge your child. He may prefer books with more words and fewer pictures than other kids his age.

Encourage him to think about what he's going to say before he speaks. Listen to your child's musings and arguments – but set a time limit if he's a tireless debater.

And build some quiet time into the day, for everyone's sake.

Your child fiddles with everything

She's compelled to explore how things work – she likes to fiddle with buttons and switches. She may pull something apart and then try to figure out how to put it back together. She's fascinated by machines.

What it may mean: Your child is probably a visual-spatial learner. A child who enjoys tinkering may be a future mechanic, engineer, inventor, or scientist. She may design anything from a better mousetrap to a state-of-the-art laptop.

How to nurture: Keep your builder supplied with construction toys, so she can create, break down, and rebuild her own designs. Also encourage her to build with thread spools, empty tissue boxes, or whatever else she finds around the house.

Visit play centers or playgrounds designed for hands-on exploration. Satisfy her urge to figure out how things work by giving her safe gizmos to play with, such as a padlock and key, an old-fashioned alarm clock, or a broken toaster (unplugged, of course). Point out mechanical objects, such as traffic lights, when you're out and about.

Keep close watch over your child, as these are the types of kids who will reach for a power tool or try to learn about an electrical socket by sticking a knife into it.

Your child is a daydreamer

He may seem to be off in his own world communing with the pixies. He may enjoy pretend play, spend free time painting, and have lots of ideas to share. He may use things in new and unusual ways (such as shoveling with a shoe or storing things in it), be open to zany ideas, and think of creative ways to solve problems. He may also ask show-stopping questions such as, "Why is the sky blue?"

What it may mean: Your little visionary may seem unfocused but probably spends his time dreaming up big ideas. This often indicates a strong creative streak, a telltale sign of giftedness. Everyday life may seem boring to this imaginative thinker, who may escape into fantasy and have a tough time separating what's real from what's not.

Down the road, your child may pursue vocations like artist, actor, writer, filmmaker, or fashion or interior designer. Or he may make use of his think-outside-the-box brain and problem-solving skills in innovative ways in the arts or sciences.

How to nurture: Encourage your child's creativity, in whatever form it takes. Provide a budding artist with plenty of materials to stretch his imagination. Play music and sing songs. Experiment with science projects.

Take your child to plays and concerts, listen to his fantastic tales, and provide props (and an audience) for his performances. Take advantage of free "family days" at art museums.

Your child may take to science-fiction books; ask a librarian for age-appropriate recommendations.

If you're hard-pressed to answer all the tricky questions this child pitches, don't sweat it, says Galbraith. Simply make it a project to find out together.

Your child loves to solve puzzles

She enjoys solving puzzles of any kind – jigsaws, a round of "I Spy," riddles, or a mystery story. When solving jigsaws, she's less likely to use trial and error and more likely to place a piece where it belongs on or near her first attempt.

What it may mean: She may be a visual-spatial learner. She's likely to think in images and put her talents to use by taking in the whole picture. Down the track she may make a good detective, archeologist, or research scientist.

How to nurture: Keep the puzzles coming, and don't forget other activities that require spatial problem solving, such as labyrinths. Include crossword puzzles, word games, riddles, and mystery stories in the mix. An older child might like exploring the neighborhood together with a map and a compass.

Your kid is a take-charge type

Your child has strong opinions about how things should be done. He likes to call the shots with games, dramatic play, and most everything else.

What it may mean: Your bossy boots may be a natural-born leader, which will serve him well in school, sports, and many other aspects of life. A take-charge child may inspire others, see conflicts from different perspectives, and bring out the best in a team, says Powers Leviton. In the future? Leadership is especially valued in business, politics, community organizing, and mediation.

How to nurture: Whenever you can, let this child lead the way. He may want you to follow him on the hiking trail. Put him in charge of a project at home, like organizing the pantry. Let him arrange things in him room the way he likes (within reason).

Give choices and let your child decide when possible. Say, "We need to go the grocery, gas station, and library. Where should we go first?" When you get to the store, give him a list of items to gather. He needs the opportunity to contribute in a real way.

Ask for his help in solving a family problem: "We're always late for swimming. Can you think of anything that would help us be on time?" At this age, you could even call a family meeting and let your child facilitate.

Satisfy his need to lead but make sure he knows you're in charge when it comes to safety and other matters on which grown-ups need to have the say-so. And introduce him to the notion of taking turns, calling the shots, and listening, so he's less likely to alienate playmates.

Your child can't keep still

She likes to do everything on the go – or at least standing up. She enjoys anything where movement is the name of the game.

What it may mean: Your child is likely what's known as a bodily-kinesthetic or physical learner, who absorbs information best and is most interested when activities involve action and motion.

She may take to sports, dance, or music and may have advanced fine-motor skills. She may gravitate toward jobs that aren't deskbound, such as teacher or park ranger. Or she may use her superior hand skills as a chef.

How to nurture: Make sure each day includes lots of time for physical activity. Movers and shakers can get bored easily, so rotate activities to keep things fresh. These children may also enjoy exploring music through movement, so give them the chance to sing and dance. For kids who like to use their hands, bring out drawing, painting, beading, and sculpting projects.

Some children feel they do their best thinking while wriggling around. You might let yours sit on a child-size rubber exercise ball while doing homework. It's equally important for this busy child that you establish soothing bedtime rituals. Try a soothing snack, like milk and whole-grain cereal, an hour or two before it's time to sleep, suggests Galbraith. Then follow with a bath, book, and bed. Listening to relaxing music in the dark can also help your antsy child rest.

Your child's talents are still a mystery to you

If you don't see any of these signs in your child, stay open to teasing out his hidden talents. Give him exposure to plenty of different activities that may interest him, but don't overschedule him. Give him enough free time to read, think, and let ideas simmer. Chances are you'll spot his special gifts over time.

Asking for feedback from other adults in your child's life can give you fresh insights. His teacher may point out his fascination with the piano. Or maybe Grandpa comments on his ability to remember all types of plants and flowers.

By noticing the areas in which he has natural talent, you can help him be seen, heard, and understood. But your ultimate goal is to love your child for who he is while helping him reach his full potential.

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