Nurturing exceptional talent in children starts at home

Ever encountered a child who exhibited an intrinsic motivation to learn, explore and had an intense persistence and need to prove themselves?

Ever encountered a child who exhibited an intrinsic motivation to learn, explore and had an intense persistence and need to prove themselves? Or, one who is curious, examines the unusual and is highly inquisitive seeking the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’? Chances are, you came across an exceptional child with a well of potential talent yet to be tapped into.

Exceptional children have recently commanded universal attention showcasing their unique talents from renowned international competitions to the simplest of children’s church services. In each class there are children who display unique gifts and abilities. They grasp concepts faster and prefer to do things by themselves. Their abilities range from intellectual to physical including a quick mastery and understanding of art, music, science, sports and so on.

It is very important that any spark of talent in children is nurtured from the get-go to mould it into an exceptional ability that won’t only benefit the child, the small unit of family but also the community as a whole. Needless to say the role of parents in empowering their children to try their strengths is indispensable.

Charles Ossojo, a teacher and father to an accomplished five-year old public speaker, advises parents to never take for granted the interests and ideas of their children. He says that all children need to feel the support and motivation of their guardians because such approval builds their confidence. Therefore, adults shouldn’t shrug off the questions or suggestions of children.

“It is important to allow children free expression and space for them to experiment with whatever they show interest in. Once a parent takes keen note of what interests their children they can expose them to more opportunities for them to grow and express themselves better. It is important to allow children independence to do simple chores for themselves. That gives them confidence to do more and do it better as they feel trusted,” he says.

Ossojo adds that it is imperative for parents to applaud, motivate and get personally interested in the activities their children engage in. He encourages parents to pay attention while their children play so they can identify what holds their attention most and what they are best at. This parental guidance, he says, will shape the way children regard the world and their place in it.

“It is unfortunate that most adults may harbour unexploited talents because they were not fully appreciated when they first manifested themselves at a young age. It is also unfortunate that currently our education system does not foster growth for more than academically talented children. In this regard, parents can take the extra step to ensure that they find schools compatible to their children’s needs and talents. From there, they can hold regular consultations with their teachers to monitor their growth,” Ossojo says.

Pupils of Sparrow Parents School in a classroom. Exceptionally talented children grasp concepts faster. 

Identifying talents in children is extremely crucial and so is nurturing them which starts primarily at home and then through other life transitions, especially in school. From early childhood to middle school, adolescence and then early adulthood, the school plays a vital role in shaping the personality traits and talents of children.

Christine Mbabazi, who has over 35 years of experience teaching children, says that meaningful childhood education and talent nurturing lies in allowing a child to be a teacher and letting the teacher to simply act as a guide.

“Teaching children should be for those who love their job and have profound passion and patience to mould and shape the perceptions of children. So for both committed teachers and parents, it is imperative that they pay very close attention to every detail in which children express themselves,” she says.

“Parents can provide a variety of play materials for children and observe which ones they are more comfortable with and interested in using. From there they can motivate their children depending on exactly what interests them.

“There are children who will prefer to construct things, building blocks and bridges, and there are those who express themselves through art and drawing and some others prefer to kick the ball and engage in physical activities. I have observed that children who have been given this exposure perform much better in an academic environment because they have been told that it’s okay to ask questions and also find answers for themselves.

They thrive in school and are more confident compared to their classmates who weren’t given the chance of free expression,” Mbabazi adds.

To raise a generation of creative innovators and inventors, work needs to be invested in nurturing an environment that not only supports the ideas of children but also proactively challenges and encourages them to freely express themselves.

A popular saying goes that in Africa, it takes a whole village to raise a child. Therefore, the responsibility to nurture the various gifts children possess is also a societal matter. Community libraries, play grounds and other facilities can be put in place to avoid putting a limit on exactly what children can learn or places where they can express themselves. Also event organizers can establish children’s events aimed systematically to allow freedom of expression and exploration for children.

Claire Umutesiwase, a Sunday school teacher, has organised several programmes to motivate children and help them develop their talents. She then helps the children express their gifts before adults by organising monthly children’s church events.

“There are children who show a unique openness to ideas, curiosity, persistence and originality. Others exude high energy, physical coordination, a powerful visual memory, keen observation and inquisitive nature. All I do is create little groups and place each one where they best fit then I let them learn whatever way they please,” she says.

Umutesiwase adds that there are those who prefer to learn biblical messages by reading, while others prefer it in drawing or memorising and reciting it.

“The trick lies in giving them all the freedom to learn in their own way and it’s a thrill to see the incredible ways in which they find to learn or unlearn a concept. The Sunday school gives them a chance to embrace their individuality and talents,” she says.

An early start such as pre-school programmes can give children many advantages in early self discovery. (Photos by Samantha Teta)

Umutesiwase further added that motivating children contributes immensely to their childhood development and success.

“Adults should encourage and inspire children to build their self-esteem and confidence in their talents at a young age. Parents can best recognise creative talent by giving their children opportunities to explore many realms of expression and noting their interests and abilities. Children are like sponges that soak the reactions and actions of people around them, when they sense genuine interest in what they can do, there is no limit to what they can do to be better and better,” she says.

The tenacity to pursue an area of interest usually shows up early in children and creating a suitable environment for them to express themselves goes a long way towards nurturing them, Umutesiwase adds.

An early start such as pre-school programmes can give children many advantages in early self discovery.

Children can be encouraged to ask questions that you can answer or help them answer. Better yet, children can be guided into formulating answers for themselves to foster originality in their thinking.

Characteristics of exceptionally able children

Trying to determine whether your child is “gifted” can be difficult; particularly if he or she is your first child, as you have nothing to measure against. Often it’s other people, sometimes outside of the family, who will bring your child’s talent to your attention. You may feel that your child is just simply a bright kid. Usually though, there are some tell tale signs.

According to the Centre for Talented Youth of Ireland gifted children demostrate a range of characteristics which often set them apart from their peers. If you think your child may be expectionally able then check out these general character traits. Remember all children are different and may be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. This list is useful in that it can be used as a possible indicator of talent. In other words, it’s a good starting point, if you feel your child may be fall into the gifted spectrum. If you find yourself ticking a lot of these boxes then maybe you should considered having your child assessed.

Characteristics of the gifted and talented child

- Keen powers of observation.
- Learned or read very early, often before school age.
- Reads widely and rapidly.
- Well developed vocabulary - takes delight in using unusual and new words.
- Has great intellectual curiosity.

- Absorbs information rapidly - often called sponges.
- Very good memory - can recall information in different circumstances.
- Have to ability to concentrate deeply for prolonged periods.
- Very good powers of reasoning and problem solving.
- Have intense interests.

- Possess unusual imagination.
- Have a great interest in “big” questions, e.g. the nature of the universe, the problem of suffering in the world, environmental issues.
- Very sensitive - perhaps getting upset easily.
- Very concerned about rights and wrongs, concerned about injustices.

As these indicators suggest intellectually able children experience the world differently from their peer group and this often sets them apart. Isolation can happen quite easily, particularly at school, where the children’s innate sensitivity and their often adult take on the world makes it even more difficult for them to make and keep friendships.

They can sometimes be seen as a bit “weird” with their adult language and interests. (Some interesting new research which was published in March 2006 by the National Institute for Mental Health in the US claimed that after a study of mri scans of 370 children, those with a higher intelligence had a different brain development that those of their peers.)

However, it’s important to remember that despite their high intellectual ability, often coupled with an understanding way beyond their years, these are still children with all the same sensibilities and vulnerabilities of other children. This is why they need all of the support and nurturing that we as parents and educators can give.

Their needs are special and different to other kids. Their potential is enormous, these are possibly the future thinkers, scientists, writers of the future, but they will only blossom if they are taught in a way that is appropriate to them.

A talent in whatever discipline, whether it’s in sports, music, literature, the visual arts or science will only develop fully if it’s supported.