by Hanna Vock


This is the question that arises when educators notice extraordinary abilities or extraordinary thoughts in a child.

It is a fundamental difficulty in recognizing giftedness through observation: Are the astonishing abilities of the young child founded in its giftedness, its potential, or are they the result of exceptionally good support in the family?

Good development does not mean ambitious training efforts by parents, but a clever, empathetic, joyful and appropriate response to the child’s interests and learning needs.

Keeping the potential on the one hand and the results of good promotion on the other hand apart is important for the child’s CV perspective – for example for decisions on acceleration measures.

The question can be modified for work in kindergarten:

Has the child received much or little support so far to show the observed abilities and achievements?

Pursuing this question can not only save a child from the error of mistaking a first-class supported, normally gifted child as highly gifted. It also helps us to detect highly gifted children who have received comparatively little support so far.

Two examples to illustrate this:

At the age of five, Luc (name changed) was equally well able to express himself in German and French. His father spoke mostly German with him, his mother spoke mostly French with him. In both languages he still made many grammatical mistakes, and it often happened to him that he had to search for words. At the age of six, before starting school, he had a good command of both languages.

This linguistic achievement came about in a family that attached great importance to bilingualism and to good speech in general. A lot was spoken, told, read aloud. There was a high language culture. Both parents understood superbly how to teach the child their mother tongue. The fact that this could succeed so well indicates a good talent for languages, but not necessarily a high giftedness for Luc.

Milena (name changed) spoke perfectly at the age of five (monolingual). She used every opportunity in role play to experiment expressively with language. She often asked about the meaning of difficult words she didn’t know, learned to paint letters and numbers from other, older children and wanted to know what the letters were called – what she remembered reliably. Every time she looked at a picture book, she stayed to the end and enjoyed talking about what was read.

At the age of five she answered my question whether she would like to learn to read with a clear yes and learned it in kindergarten even with little time expenditure and no visible effort within a few weeks.

See also: Early Reading.

Milena received little linguistic stimulation at home. All the more amazing were her high language level and her fast, intrinsically motivated learning. In my opinion, Milena was highly gifted, which was later confirmed in tests.

In an advanced training course of the IHVO, educators worked out a simple scheme,
in order to clarify the relationships between potential and performance:

Gifted/potential     +     advancement     =     performance

low                                       poor                              very weak
low                                       average                        weak
low                                       good                             average
average                                poor                              weak
average                                average                        average
average                                good                             good
high                                      poor                              average
high                                      average                        good
high                                      good                             very good
very high                              bad                               weak, underachiever (!)
very high                              average                        good or very good
very high                              good                             outstanding


Such a simple scheme certainly does not fit to the complexity of the individual case, but its clarity helps to understand in general what good and bad promotion can achieve.

Very good support, for example in soccer, cannot turn a child with little talent into a Bundesliga player (Bundesliga = the highest professional soccer league in Germany). Things are no different in the artistic or intellectual spheres. But you can make a child unhappy if you have high expectations that the child simply can’t meet.

In order for a child to really develop its giftedness, various factors have to be favourable. A very important factor is the support provided by parents and educational institutions.

See also: Prerequisites for the Evolvement of Giftedness

But what is good, what is bad promotion? What good support for gifted children should include in kindergarten is summarised in our Quality Criteria from 2005.

These requirements naturally apply accordingly to support in the family.

It can be seen from the above scheme that giftedness can also result in very poor performance if support is poor. In my opinion, bad advancement, which can cause underachievement and misfortune, is the opposite of the attitudes and measures formulated in the quality criteria;
for example

      • the overlooking of talents,
      • the rejection of otherness,
      • the urge to adapt,
      • the acceptance of self-isolation,
      • braking the learning processes,
      • the devaluation of special interests,
      • the discouragement,
      • the abandonment in early development crises.

The answer to the question: Where do the extraordinary abilities come from? is partly to be found in a trusting cooperation with the parents, which provides information about how the parents see and implement their educational task.

Above all, however, the answer can be found if the child is supported in the kindergarten in such a way that it occasionally reaches the limits of its potential.

Only in the energetic and constant advancement of the child and in the challenge of its real potential will it be possible to see how great the speed of learning and the intrinsic motivation of the child actually are; and from this it is then possible to make more and more precise conclusions about the child’s giftedness.

I understand it in such a way that in the question often also the concern resonates that the child could be mistakenly regarded as highly gifted, which would then entail the danger of excessive demands. I see this danger in some families, if not the needs of the child and his free decision stand in the foreground, but expectations and pressure by the parents.

I do not see this danger in the kindergarten with its professional pedagogues, because in most kindergartens it goes without saying that there is no pressure and no exaggerated expectations on children.


Date of publication in German: 2010, July
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.


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