Creating Gifted Children - Nature or Nurture?

Mother watching baby boy (5-8 months) play piano (focus on baby)
Elyse Lewin/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

The question of nature versus nurture in the creation of giftedness is an old one. However, these days many people believe that one can create a gifted child. Parents hoping to give their children a competitive edge buy all kinds of instructional materials, including CDs of Mozart’s music to play to their infants or even to their unborn children still in the womb.

Is this kind of instruction useful?

Does it work? Not really. Think about it. If we could make children smarter just by providing them with the right instruction in early childhood, we would have very few mentally challenged children. All we’d have to do is play a little Mozart, buy some Baby Einstein DVDs, and use flash cards. We could have a nation of brilliant children. It could be cheaper for us to buy every couple with a new baby a set of these materials than it is to pay for programs like those required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Intelligence as a Rubber Band

It is probably easier to understand the influences of nature and nurture if we think of intelligence as a rubber band. Think about rubber bands. They come in different sizes: some are quite small, while others are fairly large. Each of us is born with a certain amount of intelligence; just picture it as a particular rubber band. That’s the nature part. If we nurture that intelligence, we can help it develop.

That would be the equivalent of stretching the rubber band. A gifted child has intelligence that is equivalent to a large rubber band. Other children have smaller rubber bands

Nurturing Nature - Stretching the Rubber Band

Although materials like flashcards and educational toys and games may not create a gifted child, it is still a good idea to use them — if your child likes them.

They can be used to nurture, not push, your child. When a child's natural ability is nurtured, we are essentially stretching the rubber band they were born with. Our goal with each child should be to stretch their rubber band as much as possible.

There is, of course, a limit to how much we can stretch a rubber band. We can stretch a large rubber band much farther than we can stretch a small rubber band, and we can't make a small rubber band a large one. While they may look the same, they aren’t.

The Need for Challenge

If we challenge a gifted child, we stretch his or her intelligence. The same is true for any child. The more we challenge that child, the more we stretch the intelligence.

Imagine a large rubber band and a medium-sized rubber band. Imagine stretching the medium-sized rubber band and doing nothing with the large rubber band. You might end up with two rubber bands that look to be the same size. The medium-sized rubber band might even look larger than the large rubber band!

This is what happens to a gifted child who is not challenged compared to an average child who is.

In school, the two children may look alike. The average child may even appear to be more intelligent. However, the gifted child still has a larger rubber band. The two rubber bands themselves are still different. A stretched rubber band and one that isn’t stretched don’t look at all alike even though the measure the same length.

Our goal is to challenge our children, regardless of how smart they are, and to stretch their minds as best we can. We may not be able to turn every child into a gifted child, but we can certainly challenge each child so that he or she achieves a maximum potential.

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