When did you know he was gifted? This is a question that parents of gifted kids love to wonder about, and for good reason. You always hear “you’ll know” but like… what if you’re that crazy snowflake parent? No one wants to be that guy. Friends and family were often amazed when we spoke about our son’s milestones, but again, we sincerely just thought they were being kind and excited. And hey, maybe they were. Because we got (and still get) excited for babies doing the littlest things. Babies rock.
So even when he taught himself signs for baby sign language out of a book, I sincerely thought that’s what the baby sign language books were supposed to do. When he learned his numbers, I just thought it was a cool party trick. I was amazed, sure, but I mean, I didn’t start researching colleges or anything. Maybe he didn’t want to go to college. What if he wanted to tour with a rock band? (I am going to stop you right there and agree that no, I am not qualified to parent this child.) Even when we realized that he had over 20 sight words at around 18 months old, I mean, we were proud, but surely it was a fluke. People thought we had trained him but we fight with him to brush his teeth just like every other parent. If I wanted to train my kid to do anything, it would be something with a useful application.
It was when he started sounding out words that we started to realize we were in big trouble. When he got a Melissa and Doug shape shorter clock and started using words like “quatrefoil” and “hexagon” and I printed myself out a cheat sheet because I had never heard of these words (okay, so I had but like a million years ago) and he matter of factly dumped the clock over and onto it’s back and pointed to the guide on the back of the clock like “Duh mom you are just so dumb.” Just after his second birthday he sat down with my husband and I on the floor and read Are You My Mother? from cover to cover with expression and fluidity, sounding out just enough of the bigger words that we realized this wasn’t memorization. This was honest to goodness reading. I’ll always remember my mother’s reaction when she pulled a random book off the library shelf and Kaleb sat down and started reading it to her.
“I told you he was reading!” I said as she stared at me completely flabbergasted.
Because even now, at 4, when I say he’s reading people think I mean CVC reading. Or reading sight words. Not put a university text book in front of him reading. Which I guess is a fair assumption.
It was this kind of stuff that told my husband and I that we were in trouble. But still, we didn’t believe in getting ahead of ourselves. He was only 2 after all. And I had a great support system both online and in real life. So while we definitely had our struggles, we were managing. We knew one day down the road we would need to start looking into alternate education paths. Maybe he would need a grade skip like I had. Maybe we would need to put him in a French school so he could learn a language for a challenge. But none of that could be worried about today, so we carried on.
When he was 3 he became interested in two very typical little boy subjects: space and dinosaurs. He could rattle on about both for quite a while, and when I found out that our local astronomy club does free events for the public every month I decided to take Kaleb. It didn’t start until after bedtime, but since when was bedtime ever a guarantee? One night wouldn’t kill him. We would take 5 minutes, look through a telescope that he probably wouldn’t even be able to see anything through properly, and come home. But I knew it would make his life.
Well, when I arrived, I found out it was actually an hour long family friendly lecture. They did have telescopes, but it was cloudy, so they weren’t up. They had colouring sheets and planet cards for the kids and Kaleb was vibrating with excitement. I must have warned him fourteen times that if he wasn’t quiet like a big boy we were going to leave. But he quickly made friends with one of the gentlemen running it who was impressed that Kaleb knew all of his planets.
The week before this, there had been some discovery that had something to do with one of Einstein’s theories. I know so little about this stuff I’m not even going to hazard trying to remember what it was. But in honour of that, they were setting up an experiment at the front for the adult lecture. It was a giant hoop that had spandex stretched over. “Mommy! Mommy!” Kaleb drew my attention to it by pointing excitedly. We had seen the experiment on YouTube the week before, and Kaleb had begged to recreate it in real life. This was back when I was all “You’re 3! I’m not going through that work for a 3 year old who will get bored in 2 seconds and not understand it anyway!” Please tell me you’d do the same. How was I supposed to know what I was dealing with? “Maybe we can see it after,” I said to hush him.
When we made our way to our seats, I already had a feeling this wasn’t going to go well. Kaleb was obsessed with seeing this experiment play out in real life. But then he noticed the lecturer’s computer desktop background that was splashed up on the screen. He started mumbling out random letters and numbers and asked, fairly loudly as a 3 year old does when they’re excited, “Mommy what’s that? What do those letters and numbers mean?” Just typing this I’m realizing for the first time that a 3 year old asking what letters and numbers mean as in, realizing that they specifically represent something important, is pretty crazy.
I reminded him to use his indoor voice, and then looked at the screen for the first time myself. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I explained to him that it was the Periodic Table of Elements. I told him how the elements make up everything in the whole universe, even him. I pointed to my ring and told him it was made of gold, which was an element. (Okay it’s white gold so not pure gold but shhh he didn’t know that then. Okay, neither did I.) Guys, I felt like a freaking genius. I pulled a picture of a periodic table up on google on my phone, and let him stare at it until the lecture started.
He loved the lecture. Afterwards, he dragged me to the front and guilted me into asking the lecturer if we could see a demonstration of the experiment he had set up. Thankfully, there were some older kids who wanted to see it too. Kaleb was ecstatic. I had to hold him so that he could see and he was practically leaping out of my arms. It was an hour and a half past bedtime, but I was certain he would fall asleep in the car. Ahaha. Haha. Haha.
When we got in the car, the child was on a high. I don’t think I had ever seen him so excited before. He rambled on and on about things that I was pretty sure could only be gibberish. We got home and in typical Kaleb fashion he announced he was hungry. So while he sat on the counter eating a banana, he peppered me with questions. “I want to look at the thing on your phone again.”
“What thing?” I asked.
“You know. The table,” he said with a mouth full of mush.
It was then that I found ASAP Science’s The New Periodic Table Song. Over a year later, this is still his absolute favourite song. He wanted his very own periodic table so we made one. We went to the library and took out Basher’s The Periodic Table: The Elements in Style. When we got home he plopped down on the floor, opened it up, and promptly started bawling.
“Scandium is missing!” he was screaming in typical toddler fashion. I had no clue what he was saying so I let him google it on my computer. He declared the book no good because it didn’t have all 118 elements. He was so genuinely distraught that I ordered The Complete Periodic Table: All the Elements with Style! the next day from Amazon. What else was I supposed to do? It wasn’t so much a tantrum as a heartbroken wailing as though the world had played a cruel joke on him.
It was while googling scandium that he found a video of Brielle sitting across from Ellen and showing off her knowledge with Theodore Grey’s flash cards (which we have since boughten and are one of Kaleb’s favourite things in the world). Kaleb declared he also wanted flash cards. I rolled my eyes. No child, you don’t need flash cards you’re 3. “Brielle is 3!” Touché.
But Kaleb had gone through obsessions before. I wasn’t buying a bunch of stuff only for him to get bored with it a week later. So I told him I would make him flash cards but only 20 at a time. I figured I would do the first 20, he would lose interest, and that would be that with all things Periodic Table. But by the time I finished making each stack, he would already have them memorized. A deal was a deal. I ended up making 118 freaking flashcards for my 3 year old. And I would do it over again in a heartbeat.
He memorized the entire periodic table. Before long, he could tell you the name, symbol, and atomic number of any element. We were making trips to the adult section of the library now, and I was so terrified that he was going to rip one of the books because he was so young and it was impossible to monitor him all the time as he would read for hours. We ended up buying him Theodore Grey’s The Elements and Molecules too.
We started to get stuck. It turned out he was actually reading and comprehending these books and all my husband and I would hear all day long was a constant stream of information and questions. Daily conversations were things like radioactivity and bonding. I kid you not, the fire alarm went off one day (I was cooking) and in true asynchronous fashion Kaleb was jumping up and down on the couch yelling excitedly “The americium is beeping! The americium is beeping!”
He knew he was supposed to leave the house. But knowing doesn’t equal doing when you’re three.
It wasn’t long after that we got him a mentor. We started to get worried about kindergarten in the fall, and warned his teachers that he was obsessed with the periodic table and asked if we could send him with his own books, but still we thought we’d be fine. It wasn’t until I sat down with the tester after his pyschoeducational assessment that I realized that we had been kidding ourselves. Thankfully, homeschooling has been a good fit.
Everyone’s journey with giftedness is different. We knew that raising a gifted kid would come with difficulties, so we didn’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. But had we not followed our guts when the problems began to get out of hand, we would have done our child, and ourselves, a great disservice. With all of the information out there, it’s easy to let yourself be persuaded by strangers on the internet.
No matter what kind of a kid you’re parenting, it’s good to read and seek out as much advice as you can, as long as you always listen to your parent instincts first. It’s cliche’d but true: you know your kid best. We didn’t do anything special. We just gave Kaleb the tools to follow his interests and tried to get excited about them too!
Note: none of these links are affiliate links. I make zero dollars from this blog. These are just really awesome resources that changed our life and I felt that they were worth linking to.