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by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.


Your 3-year-old can read an “Exit” sign. Your 5-year-old is adding eyelashes to her drawings of people. You are astounded by the complexity of your 7-year-old’s writing.

You may have good reasons to suspect your child is gifted, but you’re not sure how to prove it. And such proof can be critical, because it helps parents provide more opportunities for their kids’ increased growth, enjoyment, and success in areas of interest.

Most childhood development charts show the typical range of behaviors for each age group. If your child is ahead of those tables, it doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily on the fast track or slated to become the next Doogie Howser, M.D. Levels of giftedness range from those who are simply bright to those who are intellectually astonishing. It is an overall sense of where the child fits that determines the child’s level.

Following is an overview of the various levels of giftedness and the milestones that are common — but not necessary — to each level. Included are the numbers at each level that are commonly found in an average elementary classroom of 28 children.

LEVEL ONE • These children show interest in many things before they are even 2 years old — colors, saying the numbers in order, and playing simple puzzles.

• Most are good talkers by age 3, and by 4, many print letters and numbers, recognize simple signs and their names, and know most of the alphabet.

• By the time they are 6 years old, many read beginner books and type at the computer, and most read chapter books by age 7.

• It is not unusual to find 6-8 LEVEL ONE children in an average classroom. These are children who are nearly always a few steps ahead of what the teacher is teaching the whole class.

LEVEL TWO • These bright children love looking at books and being read to, even turning pages without ripping them, by 15 months. Some shout out the name of familiar stores as you drive past.

• Many of these children know lots of letters by 18 months and colors by 20 months, and between ages 3 and 4, they count small groups of objects, print some letters and numbers, and they very likely drive their parents crazy with all their questions.

• They’ll sit for what seems like hours as you read advanced books, especially fiction and fantasy, to them, but they require a bit less of your time by age 6, because most of them read for pleasure and information on their own by then.

• LEVEL TWO children can find only one or two others in their classroom who are as advanced as they are, which starts to make it hard to find good friends.

LEVEL THREE • They’re born wide-eyed and alert, looking around the room, reacting to noises, voices, faces.

• They know what adults are telling or asking them by 6 months. When you note a toy, pet, or another person, they will look for it.

• Everything LEVEL TWO children do by 15 months, these kids do by 10- 12 months, and they can get family members to do what they want before they are actually talking.

• By 2 years, many like 35+ piece puzzles, memorize favorite books, and know the entire alphabet — in or out of order.

• By 3 years old, they talk constantly, and skip count, count backwards, and do simple adding and subtracting because they like to. They love to print letters and numbers, too.

• They ask you to start Easy Readers before 5 years, and many figure out how to multiply, divide, and do some fractions by 6 years.

• Most of these children are a full 2-5 years beyond grade level by age 6 and find school too slow.

• There are one or two LEVEL THREE children in every 100 in the average school. They are rarely in the same elementary class and can feel very lonely.

LEVEL FOUR • LEVEL FOUR babies love books and pay attention when someone reads them aloud within a few months of their birth.

• They are ahead of LEVEL THREE children by another 2-5 months while less than 2 years old.

•They have extensive, complex speaking abilities by 2 years, and their vocabularies are huge!

•Most of them read Easy Readers by 31/2-41/2 years, and then read for information and pleasure by age 5, with comprehension for youth- and adult-level books at 6-61/2 years.

• There is about 1 per 200 children in the average school. Without special arrangements, they can feel very different from their classmates.

LEVEL FIVE • LEVEL FIVEs have talents in every possible area. Everything develops sooner and more intensely than others levels.

• They have favorite TV shows before 6-8 months, pick out letters and numbers by 10-14 months, and enjoy shape sorters before 11 months.

• They print letters, numbers, words, and their names between 16–24 months, and often use anything that is available to form these shapes and figures.

• They show ability with 35+ piece puzzles by less than 15 months and interest in complex mazes before they are 3 years old.

• Musical, dramatic, and artistic aptitudes usually start showing by 18 months.

• Most speak with adult-level complexity by age 2.

• At 2 and 3 years old, they ask questions about how things work, and science — particularly biological and life and death questions.

• They understand math concepts and basic math functions before age 4.

• They can play card and board games for ages 12 and up by age 31/2-4.

• They have high interest in pure facts, almanacs, and dictionaries by age 31/2.

• Most can read any level of book by 41/4-5 years.

• They read 6 or more years beyond grade level with comprehension by 6 years and usually hit 12th grade level by age 7 or 8.

• We know they occur more often than once in a million, and that regular grade school does not work for them. LEVELS THREE through FIVE score similarly on ability tests — very high.

Parents who have more than one child may notice that each child has different interests and talents even when encouraged equally. This is because we don’t cause our children’s abilities; we can only recognize and nurture them. Once you have a sense of your children’s abilities, you can provide them with more activities and experiences that build on these strengths and take advantage of their talents.

DEBORAH L. RUF, PH.D., is a specialist in gifted assessment and individualized guidance for gifted children and adults. She is the author of the new book, ‘Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind’.



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