How Useful Are Checklists?

by Hanna Vock

An article in the magazine ELTERN [Parents] from the year 2009 advises against checklists for determining giftedness. Even though the publication is not exactly current I deem it important to speak out on the topic.

The article states:

>Checklists for determining giftedness are fatal! / More and more parents and kindergarten teachers are wondering whether their child might be of outstanding talent, and they increasingly do so even with regard to the very youngest children.
ELTERN-Interview with expert Dr Eva Stumpf
Munich (ots) – 16 December 2009 – Giftedness is on everybody’s lips these days, notwithstanding that statistically it occurs in only one out of 50 children. Still an increasing number of mothers, fathers and kindergarten teachers ask themselves whether they are faced with a ‘super-talent’. The question whether this can be safely determined was the subject of a talk with expert Dr Eva Stumpf of the Information Centre for Giftedness, department of the University of Würzburg (01/2010 available today, feature topic: “That’s How Smart Your Child Is”).

„Any diagnosis made for a subject younger than 7 years is questionable. There are hardly any adequate test procedures for children that young”, explained the expert.<

And further:

>Besides, at this age a prognosis is next to impossible, there is too much change pending.<


… in a nutshell …

Our article deals with the idea that an early detection of giftedness is not only impossible but also hazardous. Such ideas, regrettably and to the disadvantage of many gifted children, are rather widespread.

In this our article we take a closer look at the set of problems pertaining to >detection with the help of checklists<.


Unfortunately, it is not mentioned in the interview, that a reliable test does exist, which has proven to measure an extraordinarily high IQ even with pre-school children: K-ABC (Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children).

Even if this test is not explicitly designed to measure intelligence far above average, it still provides valuable initial clues about the current intelligence level of a child.

Many years of experience have shown that – if applied professionally on the background of profound knowledge about giftedness AND substantial experience with gifted children –
in a follow-up testing at an older age with HAWIK, the trend of the earlier testing with the K-ABC is confirmed to a high degree. (See also the study done by the Max Planck Institute mentioned later.)

The HAWIK (Hamburg-Wechsler-Intelligenztest für Kinder; the respectively most current issue, the fourth being from May 2011) is an established and approved test procedure for children of 6 years and older, and it is perfectly applicable with regard to top performances. The HAWIVA (The HAWIK version for pre-school children) already having been released and used has been called back for revision by the authors to improve standardization (as of May 2011).

The application of a test is – as far as I am concerned – only one basis, and not sufficient at that, on which to determine giftedness at an early age. It takes more: a thorough interview with the parents as well as professional (evocative) observations over a longer period of time.

See: Modes of Observations
See: Standards for Conducting Diagnostic Test Procedures
See: Determining Giftedness
See: Recognizing by Observation

And what does research tell us?

In the magazine “Max Planck Forschung” [Max Planck Research] (3/2006 issue) Anne Goebel reported about the LOGIK-Study, which was initiated by the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in 1984 and completed by the involved scientists in 2005. In this longitudinal study the development of 210 subjects from their 4th to their 23rd year was examined. The research objective of the study was, roughly, to get a better understanding of the genesis (i.e. the emergence and evolution) of individual competencies.
(This is how the name of the study comes about: Lo ngitudinalstudie zur G enese i ndividueller K ompetenzen.)

Among other things, this study examined the development of intelligence as an individual feature and produced the following results, as introduced by Jan Stefanek of the Institute for Psychology of the University of Würzburg at a convention (quote from Max-Planck-Forschung, ibidem, p. 70):

>“Intelligence is relatively fixed rather early.“ Verbal as well as the non-verbal intelligence, as shown in the study, underlie 2-year-cycles of stability, which even grew stronger as the children grew older. „The differences in intelligence detected at the age of 4 years remained largely unaltered two years later”, said Stefanek.
In the following years this tendency even crystalized further. “… The results of the testing at the age of 4 render a predictability of the intelligence measured at the age of 6, which is significantly above average. And the values determined at the age of 6 then even allow for an accurate prediction of later intelligence.”<

The attachment and the scientific results can be found in: Schneider (publisher) Entwicklung von der Kindheit bis … [Development from childhood to …], see:  Bibliography.

Are checklists fatal?

Upon having boldly denied the detectability of giftedness Stumpf warns us not to use checklists:

>Dr Stumpf also advises against the use of checklists as are in circulation and which are supposed to detect giftedness: “I consider these lists to be fatal! Indicators cannot be generalised. The only reliable indicator, pointing towards giftedness, is an extraordinarily early language acquisition. Such children speak 3-word-sentences at the the age of 1 year and in extreme cases they read philosophy books at the age of 4.”<

This reveals a rather simplistic view on giftedness, which could easily unsettle parents. If the child does not speak particularly early and extensively, parents might think the child is not gifted. However, experience shows that quite a few gifted people did not stand out early on with regard to language. Yet, in spite of their little urge to talk and their limited command of the language, their mental performance was remarkable – their vocabulary sometimes being impressive – so long as anybody bothered to actively take interest in their thoughts and their mental development.

Then again, language skills that draw attention should be observed and adequately furthered, yet these skills alone do not make for giftedness.

Then, under false assumptions, Stumpf goes on to give a pedagogically inauspicious piece of advice (quoted as in the mentioned ELTERN-article):

>If parents have a suspicion that their child might be gifted, they should wait and see. Says Dr Stumpf: “That is what most parents do anyway. They watch out for what their child shows interest in, and what input it requests, and then they try to meet it.”<

Wait and see! That’s what parents are frequently told by paediatricians, psychologists and pedagogues – sometimes with the addendum: “That’ll grow out.”. From my point of view it is wrong to stay passive and wait, it is even harmful to the children. And what’s more, the necessary input should not only be given by the parents but by the entire educational system, from kindergarten to university.

It is better to get into the matter, face the upcoming questions, get the relevant information about advancement of gifted children, and talk to the kindergarten teachers. It is no good to wait and see until the child finds itself in permanent frustration.
(See: Permanent Frustration.)

>If, on the contrary, a family gets fixated on “giftedness” too early, there may be a harsh awakening.< (ibidem)

Why should a family that suspects one of its children to be gifted become ‘fixated on giftedness’? A child is not defined by its degree of giftedness and even less by its performance. Parents know this, and they should be reassured in this knowledge at every single counselling session. The relationship between parents and children is usually much more complex and differentiated.

>Then all later problems at school are attributed to the assumed distinctiveness. And it is an enormous frustration when it turns out later that the diagnosis is unsustainable.<

Many gifted children do at one point or another have trouble at and with (German) school. To ascribe this to an early detection of giftedness appears helpless and unfair to parents and children.

The “enormous” frustration Stumpf is speaking of can only occur, if parents measure the value of their child by its intelligence and talent. That is fatal.

Giftedness is not about “better” but about “different”.

With regard to small children, this being different materialises as different playing and learning needs, which should be observed, so that the child may develop happily.

See: Special Playing and Learning Needs

There may be problems later, if the diagnostics of giftedness in earlier years were not conducted with the necessary care – or if the limited accuracy of the instrument ‘testing’ was not conveyed to the parents sufficiently – or if it was not explained to the parents that the threshold value for giftedness at an IQ-value of 130 was an entirely arbitrary matter of definition. All this is therefore vital to be observed in testing.

An entire part of chapter 2.1 in this manual is dedicated to recognising and observing. Pedagogues, knowledgeable and experienced with regard to the phenomenon giftedness, are very well capable of recognising giftedness and of responding adequately and creatively.

This is demonstrated clearly by the many examples from practical work, which always show both: support and better understanding. That is how, as in an upward spiral, the efficiency and quality of both processes can be raised.

When it comes to checklists, it is the same as with everything else: there are good and bad, useful and useless respectively. Furthermore the quality of the outcome is highly dependent on the person using the checklist.

The development as well as the use of checklists can be done in very unprofessional manner.

An Example:

A paediatrician handed out the following sheet which they were to fill out and evaluate by themselves.


(above the table:) Score Points for small children
(keywords from top to bottom:)
Little need for sleep
Premature development
Early learning
Good memory
Logical thinking
Good language skills
Extreme questions
Good concentration
Older friends
Socio-emotional/intellectual development asynchronous
(below table:)
Evaluation: 15 – 20 points giftedness likely
10 – 15 points giftedness suspected
0 – 10 points giftedness not to be assumed, further observation

But this checklist is a useless instrument …

    • because it contains too few items to describe giftedness,
    • because the keywords are not being explained as to what they really mean,
    • because it leaves it up to the parents to decide what an “extreme question” is for a 3- or 5-year-old.

Let us imagine a 3 years old child …

– that likes to sleep (and gets 0 points)
– that is interested in numbers but still wets its diapers and mostly needs help getting dressed (which is why the parents give it 0 or 1 point for “premature development”
– that does not read yet (0 points)
– that does have a very good memory, which the parents happen to consider normal (giving it 1 point here)
– whose outstanding logical thinking is recognised (2 points)
– that does not speak correct grammar and whose articulation maybe even a little unclear (0 points)
– that does occasionally come up with some rather extreme questions, but nobody takes the time to get to the bottom of them in a conversation with the child, nor does anybody dispose of the skill to do so. What, for example, is to be said of the question of a 3-year-old: “Do people die when they get 18 feet tall?” If this question is dismissed as childish nonsense, the intellectual implications of such a question are not recognised (and there may be only 1 point given here)
– that does not have any older friends, simply because there are not enough older children around (0 points)
– whose intellectual and socio-emotional development are quite in accordance with each other, which incidentally is very hard to assess and is frequently subject to misjudgement. But simply because their child’s socio-emotional development does not arouse any attention, the parents give 0 points here.

This child would score an entire 4 to 5 points, and the parents would presumably dismiss the idea their child might be gifted altogether – to the disadvantage of the child.

There are also checklists to be found on the internet, which have been drafted by parents themselves. These are meant to be helpful, but often they basically describe those parents’ child as opposed to detailing general features of high ability. Such lists may be misleading for other parents.

A good checklist can be helpful

With our Indicators of Possible Intellectual Giftedness (in connection with the provided examples) we have aimed to compile indicators that are based on experience. In our courses these are being exemplified and in our manual we try to illustrate them with a variety of case studies taken directly from practical work experience in kindergartens.

In contrast to Dr Stumpf we are of the opinion that it is possible and important to generalize the individual and rather diversified indicators of giftedness, as shown by children, and extract thereof a useful set of characteristics which strongly point towards giftedness even in pre-school children.
Published in German: 2011, July
Translated by Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint

The translation of this article was made possible by
Brigitte Gudat, Eschweiler, Germany.

Special Playing and Learning Needs or the Early Notion of Being Different

by Hanna Vock


Often as early as at the age of 3, 4 or 5 years gifted children notice that they are quite different from the other children of the same age: their interests, their cognitive abilities and often enough their command of the language. No later than when they enter kindergarten they will experience their being different quite distinctly.


… in a nutshell …

It is often said: „Gifted children are children just like all children.“ As almost always, it is not quite that simple. They have the same basic needs, but at any given time they also have special playing and learning needs which differ greatly from those of their peers in age.

Our culture should allow them to not only perceive their being different but to also express this at pre-school age.
It should be our aim at kindergarten to let them experience the „flow“ frequently.


Evidence for this is in the statements of some adolescents, who graduated from the gifted class at the Christopherusschule in Brunswick and told me in a conversation about their kindergarten days:

Young woman, 18 yrs.:

„It may sound funny – but in kindergarten I used to feel much more like a grown-up. It was what they were talking about and what they did which I found interesting. What the other children were playing didn’t interest me.“

Young man, 18 yrs.:

„I realised right away that I couldn’t talk about the things I was interested in with the other children in kindergarten. There really was no point.“

Young man, 17 yrs.:

„I was in kindergarten for three years and I was bored most of the time. I just couldn’t deal with the other children and neither could they deal with me. So I just did my own thing and they did theirs. I never joined the tinkering sessions, except when we made lanterns, everybody had to make one.“

Young woman, 16 yrs.:

„I found kindergarten was quite fun. I loved romping around and I spent most my time outside. Inside it was rather dull. I often had the feeling I was in the wrong picture.
But I had already read interesting books at home when I was five. In kindergarten nobody was supposed to know that, though. Neither did I want anybody to know that I was able to write. I just didn’t want anybody to know these things.“

All four of them reported that their kindergarten teachers as well as their parents urged them to adapt themselves, to join in on specific games, to spend more time playing anyway, be more like the other children, do what they do.

All four of them, as early as in their kindergarten days, had a strong, sometimes distressing sense of being different.

Was that young man happy, who said: „I just couldn’t deal with the other children and neither could they deal with me. So I just did my own thing and they did theirs.“?

There is reasonable doubt. Maybe he would have been happier if he had been in an environment where there was true exchange of ideas and participation in the other person’s thoughts, where there was playing and working together on a high level …


In kindergarten gifted children basically do have the same basic needs as all other children:

They want to …

    • play with other children
    • have fun with other children and with adults
    • exchange ideas and make friends
    • create something in a collaborative effort, make decisions and achieve something
    • gain recognition
    • become ever more self-sufficient
    • understand what is going on around them
    • understand what is going on with themselves
    • they are on a quest for more knowledge, interesting people and media, from whom they might learn something fascinating about the world.

The individual shape these basic needs take on may differ greatly, though.

A 4 years old child that is gifted in the field of motor skills might have great interest in and enjoy learning complicated sequences of dance moves or improvising, while many other 4-year-olds are happy if they manage to clap their hands or walk in time with an easy tune. The gifted child will inevitably be bored and largely under-challenged if for years nothing more challenging happens in its environment. It cannot seem to nurture its talents.

And to take it even further: The child does not want to keep performing the same old and hardly elaborate dance moves together with children who, in its point of view, only poorly manage to move along with the music.

Maybe it would be desirable for this child:

1. to recognise its giftedness in kindergarten
2. not to have to dance with the group if it does not want to
3. to be encouraged to show its artistry and be acclaimed for it
4. that the kindergarten teachers recommend to the parents letting the child participate in dance course outside of kindergarten (if the child seems interested)

A five years old child that is gifted in the field of science may feel extremely frustrated when an “exciting experiment” is being announced and that experiment consists in watching a candle burn, feeling the heat of the flame and finally blowing it out; things it knew all along.

The same thing is experienced by first graders who enter school with great expectations and shortly after are deeply disappointed by the tediously slow learning pace at school.

Even though the principle needs of gifted and not gifted children may be largely the same, their concurrent playing and learning needs may be quite different.

The playing and learning needs can be rather special.
It is equally important for parents and kindergarten teachers to understand this.

I coined the phrase “special playing and learning needs” in 2000 when I was teaching my first class of kindergarten teachers. It has proven to be wise and fruitful in subsequent courses to delve into the question of special playing and learning needs of individual gifted children and to derive concepts from this inquiry.

The individual shape of playing and learning needs is closely related to the individual talents and potentials of the child. And it is dependent upon the degree to which the child has been able to unfold its talents so far. In the case of an intellectal giftedness the decisive factor is to what degree the child has been able to develop its independent thinking.

A 3½ years old child, that plays chinese checkers at home, will not be very thrilled by the game “Tempo, kleine Schnecke” [Speed up, little Snail!”], which is a very popular yet simple and easy game among 3 – 4-year-olds.

In general we can say that gifted children do not only prefer more difficult games,

but want to reconfigure their games, the course of the game and its outcome to make it more demanding.

See also the example of Marja and the Punch-handpuppets in the article:
Playmates and Friends of Gifted Children

In their regular job training kindergarten teachers usually do not learn much about the potentials and needs of gifted children. The consequence are frequent pedagogic troubles, which keep surfacing in our courses:

    • the current abilities of the gifted children are underestimated
    • the potential for development and the speed at which it takes place are underestimated
    • the children’s intrinsic motivation and endurance are underestimated
    • the social (yes, this too!) and mental maturity, the ability of metacognition (reflecting about the thinking process itself) and the ability to reflect (mental assessment and evaluation of experiences made) are underestimated
    • the scope of the children’s fields of interest is underestimated

If that is how things are, adequate advancement cannot be provided. Instead there is a permanent danger of under-challenging the children.

See also: Permanent Frustration because of Being Underchallenged and Facing Incomprehension

If however, a kindergarten offers demanding and interesting activities, that correspond well to the interests of the children, kindergarten teachers are apt to make encouraging observations. This is how Ute Bleiheuft came to write in one of her assignments during her IHVO-Certificate-Course:

“The gifted child I observe for my assignments gave me the impression that she was in an entirely different world. She hardly spoke and worked with great focus. When the CD was over she seemed very happy.”


My comment on this on the side of Ms Bleienheuft’s paper was:

“She was experiencing the “flow”, that is a mental state of great concentration (one might even say: her brain was finally allowed to come up to speed); and she was in a state of bliss, being able to do and learn something that was suitable for her own potential and talent. The “flow” results in a feeling of deep satisfaction. Gifted children get way too few chances to experience this. It should be experienced regularly, though, and the longing for it is always present.

We could well pronounce it a major aim of the advancement of gifted children to help them experience this state regularly.“



Finally, with a grain of salt (even the gifted are prone to alcoholism), a quote from a novel. A scientist, an expert of rocket engineering, who has lost his memory is told by a colleague:

“Sounds like you went to a great party last night!”

“Let me ask you seriously – is that the kind of thing I do? Get so drunk I pass out?”

“I don’t know you well enough to answer that.” Will frowned. “I’d be surprised, though.
You do know us scientists. Our idea of a party is to sit around drinking coffee and talking about our work.”

That sounded right to Luke. “Getting drunk just doesn’t seem interesting enough”.

From: Ken Follet (2000), Code to Zero


Published in German: October 2012

Translated by Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint

Goals and Services of the IHVO

by Hanna Vock


The IHVO (Institut zur Förderung hoch begabter Vorschulkinder – Institute for the Advancement of Gifted Pre-School Children) was founded, because the situation for gifted and bright children in kindergarten needs to be improved.
This applies to some 15 per cent of an age group, which means about one out of seven children. In order to contribute to this improvement the IHVO offers further trainings for pedagogues and kindergarten staff.

All methodological considerations are centred around the Playing and Learning Needs of bright and gifted children – especially their emotional, social and cognitive needs.
A prime concern of the institute is to contribute to it that gifted children are identified early on and supported in kindergarten independently of the income and educational background of their parents.

In the further trainings of our institute pedagogues learn to support and advance adequately those children who dispose of the following characteristics to an extraordinary degree:

    • Joy in intellectual pursuits and in the recognition of correlations
    • Quick absorption and processing of information
    • Logical, complex, original and abstract thinking
    • Independent and creative problem solving
    • Great endurance when dealing with topics of interest
    • Craving for knowledge
    • Being interested in topics that go far beyond the interests of peers in age
    • Early ability to criticise

By focussing on the 3% of gifted children in our trainings, important insights in and expertise of the advancement of another 12% of bright children are conveyed along the way.

The institute offers introductory courses, in which the kindergarten teachers and teams can familiarise themselves with the topic. Principal pieces of information and a presentation of the basics of advancement of the gifted enable the participants to reconsider their own concepts and meet the needs of gifted children with greater sensitivity.

In comprehensive and in-depth trainings (IHVO-Certificate Course and Project Integrative Focus Kindergarten) participants compile a detailed and substantiated understanding of the playing and learning needs of gifted children. They develop new methodological competence for communication, integration and collaboration with parents in the field of advancement of the gifted. They come up with concepts for individualised and cognitively sophisticated support of gifted children.

By means of such advancement negative developments, which gifted children might otherwise experience at an early age, can be avoided. It is not at all inevitable that gifted children become aggressive or depressed from Permanent Frustration which results from frequent boredom and a feeling of not being understood. Neither is it inevitable that children resign early on and hide their talents, that they can ensure their well being only by adapting. It can be prevented that gifted children become loners and outsiders as the only means of staying true to themselves. This is where kindergarten has great potential of prevention.

The head of the institute, Hanna Vock, has initiated and conceptualised the very first certificate course throughout the whole of Germany. She conducted it from March of 2003 through March of 2005 – courtesy of the Imhoff Foundation Cologne. A Final Report was drafted. Until now (2012) 15 courses have been completed successfully.

In addition to its efforts in further trainings the institute also wants to contribute to the advancement of gifted children becoming a natural part of elementary pedagogics.

This also involves the transition from kindergarten to school. Some gifted children wish to enrol at school early, sometimes even very early. With new educational legislation there are growing possibilities for justifying individual cases of early enrolment. This process again calls for the expertise of the gifted child’s kindergarten teacher. A profound knowledge of the complex of problems around giftedness is needed to give a substantiated recommendation and to plead the case in front of parents and school officials.

Yet, early enrolment should only be one way of improving the learning situation for gifted children. An important starting point for improvement lies within kindergarten itself.

The institute aims to support a development, where inquisitive learning in kindergarten increasingly becomes an integral part of kindergarten pedagogics and will finally be on an equal footing with all other concepts in a realm of holistic advancement. This is about discovering, exploring, comprehending and figuring things out together; it’s about creative thinking and acting and about developing skills of communication and cooperation.

A greater emphasis on cognitive advancement also means that kindergarten teachers in our courses develop new expertise in actively supporting pre-school children in their endeavours to learn how to read, write and do arithmetic. The interest in these important and useful (learning-) tools is to be aroused and cultivated already in kindergarten.

The object is to enrich and permeate the curriculum at kindergarten with regard to cognitive aspects and to increasingly seize and appreciate the most creative ideas of children throughout their day in kindergarten.

It is important to individualise learning processes, even more so are positive group experiences for gifted children. For this they need companions of equal developmental state, that is children that are significantly older as well as gifted children of the same age. This is the only way they can repeatedly have the valuable experience that their oftentimes complex playing ideas can be realised successfully with other children and that the questions they are occupying themselves with can be discussed. This is where kindergartens are to come up with concepts for successful integration. Targeted further trainings can be helpful.

Last, not least, it is the aim of our work at the institute to gather the scattered valuable ideas and experiences of kindergarten teachers in their work with gifted children and to facilitate networks of commitment.

Bonn, June 2003, Hanna Vock.

Work Tasks of the Institute:

    • Further trainings for individual kindergarten teachers, kindergarten teams and elementary school teachers
    • IHVO Certificate Course “Advancement of Gifted Children in Pre-School”
    • IHVO-Project “Integrative Focus Kindergartens for the Advancement of Gifted Children”
    • Facilitation of exchange of experience among kindergartens and kindergarten teachers who (want to) support gifted children
    • Publication and continuous extension of the the Online Manual “Advancement of Gifted Children in Kindergarten”


Date of Publication in the German manual: 2012
Published on 2003
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.

The translation of this article was made possible by
Brigitte Gudat, Eschweiler, Germany.