A toddler using SAT words or a little genius entering college years before they qualify for a learner’s permit: This is the popular idea of the so-called “gifted child” and future high-performer, but the whole idea of if there are gifted children has recently and publicly come under debate.
As Wendy Berliner, co-author of Great Minds and How to Grow Them, pointed out in a new article for The Guardian, most kids are capable of reaching academic heights—even if they rank as average on an IQ test.
It’s not about being born gifted or talented: Regular, non-genius children can develop the curiosity, persistence and work ethic we often attribute to gifted kids, they just need the right support at home and school.
“Just because you can read Harry Potter at five doesn’t mean you will still be ahead of your contemporaries in your teens,” Berliner said.
In fact, academically average kids may actually be more likely to grow up to be high-performance adults—demonstrating the path to genius-level success is about more than just intelligence.
According to Berliner, IQ isn’t fixed: Brains are malleable and new neural pathways develop as our kids grow. She noted research dating back to the 1980s by American educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, which indicated adults who are high achievers in fields such as ballet, swimming, piano, tennis, mathematics, sculpture and neurology, got there not because they are intrinsically talented, but because of what they had in common: Parents who encouraged and supported their kids in areas they enjoyed.
“Bloom’s outstanding adults had worked very hard and consistently at something they had become hooked on young, and their parents all emerged as having strong work ethics themselves,” Berliner writes.
More specifically, research indicates that the steps we take as parents when our kids are in preschool can benefit them later in their academic careers. According to the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary study, which looked at British families over a 15-year period, kids whose parents supported them in reading as preschoolers fared better in secondary school.
The idea that parenting, practice and education can help average kids excel is welcome news to many moms. Just because your toddler can’t name all 50 states doesn’t mean he can’t achieve a high level of academic success down the road.
Even Albert Einstein, known as one of the most intelligent people in history, wasn’t all that remarkable as a kid. He was slow to talk as a toddler and later struggled to get into Zurich Polytechnic. According to Einstein himself, his eventual success wasn’t due to being any smarter than anyone else, but rather to persistence.
So, for the parent who just asked a toddler for the hundredth time to please not eat rocks—there is still so much room for hope that kiddo will grow up to become a world-class geologist: If we can encourage curiosity and persistence among our children, those may be better gifts than the ones “gifted children” seem to demonstrate today.