Very young can't be phenomenal thinkers and creators by sarah kirby

Kia ora tatou,

I was immediately drawn to this year’s theme of myth-busting for Gifted Awareness Week, as I knew it would be a lightening rod to the forty three gifted students, that I teach. These 6-13 year olds, spend one-day-a-week at the Wellington MindPlus South unit, which amounts to twenty percent of their schooling.

As a specialist educator and the regional lead teacher for the Wellington MindPlus unit, I am always looking for ways to bring the voices of my students to the fore. To find ways for this population of young, informed and aware members of our society, to be recognised by adult decision-makers, as voices that need to be taken into account. After all, who has to live with these myths? Who has to answer the ignorant questions or be the poster-child in their school for the gifted learner?

So, three weeks ago I asked each of my three classes if they knew of any myths about being gifted. Overwhelmingly, they did. Did they themselves experience any mythical thinking directly? Yes indeed. The majority of comments centered around a personality myth, that gifted kids are essentially, arrogant.

“They think it is easy to be gifted. That we are perfect and we don’t have to work hard and we are arrogant and don’t listen” (Year 7).

The other common myths included: being thought of as ‘nerds’ who spend their time in libraries reading dictionaries; that no one was truly gifted if they didn’t do well at maths; and that gifted kids are always shy and emotional. Three of these students have gone ahead and written a piece for the Blog themselves, that addresses their feeling about the misconception that most affects them and I urge you to look for these.

It is easy as an adult, to see this as an interesting but abstract topic, without realising that my students labour under these errors of thinking each day at school, or in friendships and in their dealings with teachers, principals and even family.

Now, onto to my personal choice of myth that I'd like to lay to rest: that very young children cannot be phenomenal thinkers and creators.

Many grown-ups might acknowledge that they know a young child (and by young, I mean six years old or under) that can use a lot of big words, or is a wonderful artist or asks heaps of questions about the world. Those traits are commonly seen in young, gifted students but I would like to take your understanding of giftedness a step further. You’ll never try and limit a little person again!

Imagine that you see a feral cat with kittens. You might be concerned for them briefly but we’re probably all going to keep moving and not give them a further thought. I know a six year old who goes looking for these unloved cats, traps them patiently and humanely and then takes them home to be looked after. The first step is to spay or neuter the cats at the vet. Over time and clearly with the support (but never the direction) of her parents, she has learnt how to look after each cat’s individual needs. She buys (or makes) and organises their food and bedding.

She has researched and developed natural remedies for many of the medical conditions these cats suffer with and she administers all medications herself. Our young girl has become known as a ‘cat whisperer’ amongst the adults she's adopted cats out to, and those that refer cats to her, from Feral Nation (this is the cat rescue group who’s accepted the six year old as a qualified carer of strays). That wasn’t a simple process either.

She’s able to soothe and tame wild cats and their kittens and when each cat is well enough, she devises bespoke games and entertainments for all the cats in her care. She does this to keep them busy and stimulated and also because she loves to use her creativity to recycle rubbish into cat toys.

Her current plan to is set up her own, branded cat rescue service and she’s already planned some fundraising strategies, such as earning money at the local market by selling fermented products, that she will make herself. She has a name and a logo and because her parents have never told her she can’t try something, this young, gifted person will go ahead and make her community a kinder place for cats that adults have tired of, never desexed and then abandoned.

I can only imgine what this young person will be capable of as an adult! Her needs are being carefully taken into account but always with herself at the centre, at her own speed and with all the adult support she needs. She is very fortunate.

Exceptional young people are living in every possible community and cultural group in Aotearoa. What if they are never asked to share their ideas?

Please don’t underestimate the youngest of our gifted kids.

Go the Cat Collective!


Posted as part of the 2019 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

Click here to read the other 2019 blog posts.

Photo credits: Ben Wicks, Kelly Sikkema, Makhmutova Dina and Karina Vorozheeva all on Unsplash.com

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