Uncaging the Cheetah: Understanding and Educating your Gifted Child

Shelagh A. Gallagher, PhD.
Engaged Education Charlotte, NC

[About 50% of the people present already homeschool their children because they’re gifted. Approximate 200 people in audience. About 15% do so because twice exceptional.]

Spent 20-30 years in the field of gifted education. Gifted Girls.

Goal is to pack about two semesters of graduate coursework in about an hour and a half.

Slides: http://www.rfwp.com Shelagh Gallagher Downloads [Didn’t find them when I went looking. Maybe they’ll be a long in a while…]

Title of talk comes from an message written by Stephanie S. Tolan. “Is it a Cheetah?” Recommended reading. “Gifted kids are always gifted, even if they’re not showing it right now.”

Why They are…

  • …Where they could go
    Goal is to start off with the characteristics of giftedness. Using that communicate where they could go.

All gifted kids are Asynchronous

  • In Comparison with Age-Mates

  • Internal Development
    ** Cognitive
    ** Physical
    ** Emotional Intensity and/or Immaturity

Out of sync with time in one way or another. IQ ahead of their age. That’s one way they’re different. You don’t have as many people to talk to. Interest tends to be different. Giftedness comes with a bit of social async.

Along with giftedness comes a certain amount of emotional intensity. You get the full spectrum over time at any given moment in an async child.

Giftedness isn’t always easy.

Your Gifted Child’s Advanced Potential

  • Rapid Absorption of Information
  • Early Conceptual Thinking
  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Personality

Rapid Absorption of Information

They soak up information like a sponge. Sometimes it’s information we want them to know – other times it’s something not so directly useful. Exmaple: Pokemon

Foundation of IQ Begins in Infancy

  • Attracted to Novelty
  • Rapid Habituation
  • Return to Novelty Seeking
    You can reliably predict innate intellectual capacity by measuring these behaviors in a newborn.

Gifted Children…

  • …with IQ above 130 learn approx. 8 times faster than students with IQ below 80.
  • …more likely to remember content taught faster.
  • …more likely to remember incorrectly if they drill and repeat more than three times.

Pay attention to this when structuring curriculum and providing information to your child.

Drill & Kill actually retards gifted child learning.

Conceptual Reasoning

Example: mapping specific words (i.e. apple, orange, steak, sun) to higher level concepts (i.e. fruit, food, sustenance)

Ways to lump things together. Seem similarities in things which don’t seem similar. Acquisition of abstract thought for gifted kids starts at age 12 instead of age 15. This is a qualitatively different kind of thinking.

A side lesson on Development: Neurology

  • Children continue to acquire new brain cells
  • Peaks at 11 or 12 (earlier for girls)
  • All in prefrontal cortex
  • The brain ‘prunes’ from adolescence through adulthood.

This re-wiring and turning on of higher-order thinking is what explains many adolescent behavior.

Advanced Critical Thinking Problem Solving Metacognition

Thinking about what you’re thinking is vital to learning. These are skills that connect, content and concepts. If a gifted kid can get by skating by on just connecting they will. You have to push them up into a level which forces them to become critical thinking. Regular kids have to go into critical thinking, whereas a gifted child doesn’t necessary have to (because their ability to connect or memorize is so much stronger.) Part of the “this is suppose to be easy” syndrome. Need to press against gifted kids so they don’t fall into that trap.

Thinking about thinking: Metagcognition:

  • Planning, Montoring, ? [TBD get this slide in here.]

Personality: Openess to Experience

  • Open leads to an active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, intellectual curiosity, and independence of judgement.

Gifted kids Experience Imaginational, Intellectual, Emotional at a higher level

Strongly Corrolate with IQ

  • Substantially heritable
  • Enhances intellegence
  • Is characteristic of expertise
  • NOT consistently related to school achievement.

Conhiencious is correlated to school achievement. aka Marching to the drummer.

Meyers/Briggs does correspond in some cases. 50/50 Introverted/Extroverted ratio. Typical population more skewed to Extroverted

M/B Personality

Intuition Sensing
Typical: 32% 68%
Gifted: 72% 28%
Creative Adutls: 97% 3%

Far beyond statistical significance. Qualitative difference in how they see the world. Hobbies. Social life.

Kids needs to learn the relationship between values and theories and value that distinction.

“Qualitively different personality” affects what they’re drawn to, what they’re receptive to, their social lives.

Where should they go?

We’ve been bad at this historically. This-> having an end point defined.

Exerptise: Whatever their passion is, they should be expert at it. Regardless of what it is.

How do Experts Think?

  • Innate ability – above average
  • Content – they know stuff
  • Conceptional Reasoner [ <<<< Patterns
  • Charlottes’ Web => Transformation
  • Black Death => Risk
    They won’t get tired of talking about these things. These big ideas have many variations.

You could teach change from K-12 and not run out.


[She has a book… Check it out.]


  • American
  • French
  • Russian
    Don’t just teach one and stop. Connect them together. What’s similiar & different

What about the Beatle’s Revolution?

National Council for Social Studies

  • Project 2061 for science
    You can go read up on them there. You don’t need to do this all yourself.

Make the Abstract Concrete

  • Book: All Work and No Play

(Hu)Mans a course of study: http://www.masosonline.org

  • Books on concepts like Life Cycle for early elementary child. Set in the concept of science, but transferable to big ideas

3. Get Real

  • Bibliotherapy – read about people like them.
  • Introduction to Expert Thinking
  • “Structure of the Discipline”
    Gifted kids need to be owkring on real world things in particular. They need to read about people like them.

Discipline: The values of the field. Scientists don’t delete data. Journalists try to get the truth from more than one source.

University Primary School

Preschool on up. Project oriented for very young kids

College of William and Mary at Kendall Hunt Publishers

K-12 science

Lesson for Hope

Jane Goodall. How scientist do research on animals in the wild. Activities and immerses them in the world of a nature scientist.

Problem Based Learning

  • Her book

Help kids work their way through a problem.

(Hu)Mans: A Course of Study

Best piece of curriculum ever written. Would love to end her career to be able to do something as wonder as that.


Materials include:
* Books for kids
* Presentation materials
* Teacher’s guide
* Activities & Workshops
* Films on YouTube

Staged materials from basic to more complex. From a fish, to a gull, into how a baboon troop interacts.

Get More Real

Independent Study isn’t Independent Study. Scaffolded study is better. Structure. Timelines. Due dates. Activity.

Wean them overtime.

Some parents mistake homeschooling as learn on your own.

Follow Her Interests

Frequently, but only sometimes. Cultivate her interests instead. Introduce them constantly to new ideas and perspectives.


Via 21st Century Skill. Seek out places where they can collaborate with their age mates. This is vital


A connection online or face-to-face. Someone who’s interested in their passion point

Gifted to Expert

  • Time to practice flexible thinking
  • ??? [See slide deck]


  • Gifted Homeschooler’s forum
  • Hoagies
  • Parenting for High Potential Magazine