EXTENDED FAMILIES Grandparents can recognize a gifted child's potential
Giftedness often goes unrecognized by parents and educators.
By CHRISTINE ARPE GANG
Every child benefits from loving grandparents, but they can be especially important to gifted children.
"Parents tend to underestimate their child's abilities," said Dr. James Webb, co-author of "Grandparents' Guide to Gifted Children."
"Grandparents, who have lived longer and have more perspective, often recognize giftedness before parents do."
According to Webb, as many as half of all gifted and talented children are not recognized by parents or teachers as having high potential.
"One would expect a society to be actively searching for intellectual promise in its youth, but that does not appear to be the case," he writes. "When high-ability children are not encouraged and challenged to do their best, their high potential may be wasted."
And that's where grandparents can come help, said Webb.
As past president of the National Association of Gifted Children and founder of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted), Webb has been recognized as one of the 25 most influential psychologists in the field of gifted education.
Webb said that without the pressures of day-to-day parenting, grandparents may look beyond a momentary annoyance to see a child's brilliance.
"A grandparent may see the talent of a child tap dancing on the hood of a car while a parent probably won't," Webb said in a telephone interview.
Grandparents also will typically take time to engage their grandchildren in special activities that encourage the development of their talents.
"As soon as my granddaughter could sit up I'd spread plastic on the floor so she could press her hands in cookie dough," said Wanda Day.
Day is grandmother to two gifted children, Sarah Grace Moeschle, 4, and her brother, Hunter Moeschle, 2, the children of Danny and Angie Day Moeschle. Day also teaches fifth- and sixth-grade gifted children in the CLUE program at Grahamwood Elementary School and raised two gifted children herself.
"Early on I could tell Sarah Grace was gifted in her spatial understanding," Day said. "She would play with a paddle ball and know that it could absolutely not hit me. I would have had to measure.
"Hunter is gifted in other ways. He's less verbal but I can see him processing the information."
The definition of giftedness has changed over the years, Webb said. It's not determined only by an I.Q. number, as in the past.
"Children may be gifted verbally or mechanically or musically," he said. "Generally it's those in the upper 3 to 5 percent of the population, intellectually or creatively."
And within that group children may range from really bright to take-your-breath away geniuses, said Webb.
Gifted children also benefit from the time grandparents can spend with them.
"When I am with my grandchildren I turn everything else off to enjoy interacting with them," said Day, who is also president-elect of the Tennessee Association for the Gifted (TAG-TENN).
"When you are a parent, life sometimes gets in the way."
The Moeschle children's other grandmother, Cindy Powers, also lives in Memphis. She sees them at least once a week and often takes them to places such as The Children's Museum of Memphis or Memphis Zoo, that stimulate their senses.
"I just want to be there for them. I like seeing them advance and explore at their own pace," Powers said. "They always surprise me."
Sarah Grace, she said, was able to understand basic math principles at a young age and she mastered shape-sorting at 9 months.
"I can just see the wheels turning inside Hunter's head," said Powers.