Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nurturing gifted kids

"Nurturing gifted kids"
Sun.Star Davao, Sept. 19, 2009

One busy morning, Esther Castillo* was driving with her two-year old daughter Hannah* safely tucked in on the car seat. Suddenly from behind her, she heard Hannah slowly read the road sign, “Stop here on red”.

“Hannah, when did you learn how to read?!”, asked Esther in amazement.

“I don’t know”, the toddler nonchalantly replied.

This is just but one of the many fascinating stories that Esther and her husband Dan* share about their gifted child, Hannah.

“As an infant, we suspected that Hannah might be an intelligent child. But, we never expected that she will be gifted. When she was about 2 months old, one time she kept crying no matter what we did. We changed her diaper, fed and burped her, tried to put her to sleep, and took her temperature but to no avail”, recalls the 35-year old mom who recently returned to live in Davao with her family after working in the U.S. for 10 years.

“Then, my mother-in-law just happened to sit Hannah up in her lap and she immediately stopped crying. She looked around the room as if exploring her environment. From then on, she didn't want to lie down except for feeding and sleeping. When she was learning to talk, she never used 'baby talk' but started talking in sentences”, Esther continues.

Interestingly, Hannah, now 8 years old, is not the only ‘baby genius’ in the family. Believe it or not, her 6-year old brother Mark* is one, too. However, unlike Hannah, the Castillos never had a hunch that Mark was gifted as well. Mark acted like an average infant and did not even learn to talk well until about 4 years old.

“We were just surprised that he taught himself how to read at age 2 and at age 3 we discovered that he knew how to write because there were words, not just letters, written with crayons on our walls. We thought it was Hannah, who was in kindergarten at that time, who messed up all the walls in the house. The whole family thought it could only be her since she was the only one who was attending school. Poor Hannah!” Esther giggles.


“There is no universal definition of giftedness but most professionals give the term ‘gifted and talented’ to children who show evidence of high achievement capability. A gifted child works 2 or more grade levels above his or her age with intelligence test score above 130”, Esther explains.

Psychologists say that parents are often the first to observe characteristics of giftedness in children since they are the ones who know them best.

“With our children, I had a feeling they were special from the beginning but it was only confirmed when Hannah got tested by a psychologist at age 7. Also, I observed other kids their age and realized their abilities were well advanced compared to the average child”, reveals the registered nurse.

On the other hand, Mark has not undergone formal testing yet since he is still too young for it and like boys his age, he is very active and would not sit long enough to focus on the gruelling test.

“Keep in mind that the assessment should not be used only to determine IQ level. Kids are not numbers, they are persons. The purpose of testing is to know where their strengths lie so we can help maximize their God-given potential”, Esther reminds parents.

Special in a quantifiable way

“My husband and I could not believe it at first especially because both of our children have exceptional abilities. To have one talented child is already a great blessing, what more if you have two! In the beginning, we mostly kept quiet about their unusual abilities for fear of being labelled “mayabang” or people might say we are quick to jump to our own conclusions that they are gifted”, discloses Esther.

“I mean, it’s normal to hear parents talk about their child’s achievements. Of course, who would not want their kids to be the best out there, right? But we didn’t want to sound like one of those horrible stage mothers/fathers! Yes, we think Hannah is special, as all children are special, but she’s special in a quantifiable way”, Esther relates.

Esther points out that contrary to what people think, parents of gifted kids are not pushy. “Actually it’s the other way around. It is our kids that pull us to their level. We end up so exhausted trying to keep up!”, Esther confesses.

Hannah taught herself how to read at age 2. She hangs out in the library instead of playing with her Barbie dolls and once complained that her kindergarten class was learning addition ‘again’ when they already did addition the week before.

Mark, as a preschooler, had a penchant for memorizing numbers, street names and 
directions. He likewise easily remembers melodies of songs he hears.

“Even to this day, we still stand in awe of this tremendous gift we received from God. There is no other explanation for it. As far as we know, nobody in either side of our families has these brilliant traits”, Esther says.

Last year, when the then 7-year old Hannah became one of the highest scoring participants of the annual Gifted and Talented International Search by Johns Hopkins University of Maryland, USA, news of her achievement quickly reached the whole clan and copies of her certificate were distributed to family members.

“Our relatives are always elated to hear about Hannah and Mark and they keep abreast on news of their latest achievements. It makes them feel proud to have intelligent people in their family tree”, Esther shares.

Coping with giftedness

Dealing with the unique responsibility of raising gifted children did not come naturally for Esther and Dan. They realized that they could not just rely on their instinct nor from the parenting skills they copied from their own parents to handle the needs of Hannah and Mark.

“The internet is such a blessing because of the wealth of knowledge and resources that it offered us. I was relieved to know there are parents out there who are experiencing the same challenges as we have”, remarks Esther.

Esther recommends websites such as Hoagies Gifted Education ( which has a wealth of information including resources for identification of giftedness. In addition, U.S. universities like Duke ( and Johns Hopkins ( conduct annual talent searches to identify these gifted kids.

“Like most parents of gifted children, we have found that the traditional school system have limited options for our children. Unfortunately, very few schools bother to create programs for gifted children. You see, kids like these don’t come along quite often”, laments Esther.

According to Esther, statistically, a child with an IQ of 130 comes about once every 500 births while a child with an IQ of 160 or above comes once every 1,000 births.

“When Hannah started school, we were jumping from one school to the next trying to find the right fit for her until we realized that the best remedy for our situation is homeschooling. That way, our kids can advance to the next topic as soon as they have mastered the current lesson, no need to wait for the other students. It's education at the speed of learning!”, Esther enthuses.

Nurturing gifted kids

There are instances that people make jokes about Hannah and Mark like “These kids are aliens!” or “Wow, your kids are freaks!”. Like any concerned mother, Esther wishes that her kids would never hear such comments.

“As it is, our kids are already different from the norm and they know it. We don’t want them to feel less about themselves because they don’t fit the mold nor feel entitled and perceive that they are above everyone else just because they have higher IQs. My husband and I try our best to raise them to be socially well-adjusted and be able to experience the joys of 
childhood, just like any other kid”, Esther relates.

In the Castillo’s home, you will always find Hannah with her nose buried in a book while Mark is constantly preoccupied scribbling words, numbers and doing math problems on paper.

“Those are the activities they prefer to do but my husband and I want them to be well-rounded so we make an effort to steer them away from too much academic stuff. We encourage them to play outside, get on their scooters or go swimming in the pool”, tells Esther.

Hannah attends voice lessons once a week since she likes to sing and dance. She's also beginning to self-study Mandarin Chinese online. On the other hand, Mark likes piano and drums but refuses to go to lessons.

“I think next year when he's a little older he will be ready to learn”, Esther says.
In order to nurture the potentials of gifted children, Esther believes that the most important thing is to encourage them to pursue their interests.

“That means more work for parents since you have to actively participate in their education.
You cannot rely solely on the school to quench their thirst for knowledge. You have to help them be the best that they can be”, Esther advises. However, the hands-on mom cautions parents against pushing their children beyond their capabilities.

“Parents should always remember that no matter how smart a child is, he or she is still just a child. We should not only nurture the cognitive abilities but also meet their emotional and psychological needs as well. Children should feel that they are loved unconditionally, whether they are gifted or not”, Esther imparts.

*Upon their request, the names of the Castillo family members have been changed to respect their privacy.

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