Stephanie Stranger’s daughter did well in school. Jane never got any grade lower than a B. She got A’s in anything that involved reading and writing. But she never seemed to be working very hard.

“School for her was always very easy, and she never had a lot to say about it,” says Stranger, an Atlanta mom. “I thought she needed to be pushed, to be more engaged and excited about learning.”

Stranger didn’t think her daughter was a genius. Bright, maybe. Smart. Sharp. But as she researched gifted education and observed classes of gifted children, she realized that “gifted” isn’t synonymous with “genius.” “The kids I observed were all very different,” Stranger says, “but they all had something I recognized in Jane.”

Unusual ease in completing schoolwork is a common indicator that a child may be gifted. Here are other signs parents might see in their potentially gifted child:

  • Loves reading and reaches for books beyond those required for school
  • Reveals originality in oral and written expression and approach to problem-solving
  • Learns rapidly, easily, and efficiently
  • Shows interest in cause-effect relationships
  • Applies knowledge in a variety of situations
  • Is extremely energetic, especially when pursuing interests
  • Has a wide range of interests
  • Demonstrates focused strengths
  • Complains of boredom in school and finds the curriculum shallow and unsatisfying
  • Gets in trouble for being disruptive in class, yet aces tests

Kids reveal their giftedness in a variety of ways, and some characteristics, such as high levels of energy, may be attributed to other factors, such as ADHD. It’s also possible to be gifted and have ADHD, autism, or other special needs.

Parents and teachers often say giftedness is a “special something.” They recognize it when they see it, but they have a hard time describing exactly what it is.

“There is no one universal definition of gifted,” says Carol Fertig, author of Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook. “If you were to talk to 10 different experts in the country, you might get 10 definitions of the term.”

One definition of “gifted” has been used in federal education legislation:

“Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”

About 6 percent of children are gifted, according to the National Association for Gifted Children.

Fertig recommends that parents get beyond the label and instead focus on determining their menu of options and finding the right educational path for their child. Some schools offer special enrichment programs for gifted children, but that might not be enough or appropriate for your child.

Working With the School

Fertig has several suggestions for finding the right path for your smart, sharp, brainy, intelligent, possibly gifted child.

Talk to the teacher. “Discuss the matter and discover the teacher’s view,” Fertig says. “Teachers and parents can really learn from one another if each enters the conversation with an open mind.” When approaching the teacher, be prepared to listen as well as talk. Make your case for why you think your child might be gifted by using concrete examples, and then give the teacher a chance to respond.

Resist temptation to blame the school. If your child isn’t engaged or motivated about school, it’s easy to blame the teacher, the curriculum, and the administration. “We don’t always have control over what happens to us, but we do have control over how we react to it,” Fertig says. “If a parent is not happy with the education that a child is receiving, it is very important that the parent react with a positive attitude and positive solutions.”

Seek an evaluation. Achievement tests administered at school can tell you what your child has already learned. IQ tests, usually administered by a psychologist, determine your child’s potential. Psychologists can also assess your child’s behavior in an effort to discover why she isn’t reaching her potential at school. Misbehavior, for example, can indicate boredom, which can indicate giftedness. But misbehavior can also indicate other issues.

Consider options. For many kids, the best solution is a special gifted program within their school. Often, kids in the program are pulled out for part of the day for schoolwork that may involve in-depth projects or challenging group work. In some cases, such programs don’t exist or may require a student to meet stringent criteria. “Parents should not assume there is only one way to educate a child,” Fertig says.

Although parents often don’t realize it, many districts have options other than the neighborhood school. Sometimes a child can get a referral to a different school or attend a special school for the gifted. Older kids may be able to enroll in a local college for part of the day. Home schooling is an option for some families, as are tutoring, mentoring opportunities, and distance learning, made more available in recent years through online resources.

Customize your child’s education. Parents can choose from various options to create just the right educational situation for their child.

For Stephanie Stranger’s daughter, now in 6th grade, a special school for “high achievers” proved to be the right fit. Jane has more homework than ever before, and the first year was hard. But now that she has to work hard for an A in language arts, she is tapping into academic strengths she never knew she had.

Stranger knows she’s lucky. To gain admission to the school, her daughter’s name was drawn by lottery. And having one of her three kids attending a school 20 miles away is a scheduling nightmare. But it’s worth it, she says. “I can’t believe I waited so long to take action. Now that she is being challenged at school, she takes pride in herself the way she never has before, and I couldn’t be prouder of her.”