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I have a 3.5yo daughter that I think is...at least of above-average intelligence for her age.

I want to cultivate the innate intelligence that I've noticed in her without having her participate in 75 different programs/activities (sports, drama, dance, band, etc.) that make her so busy that her life becomes miserable.

What are some age-appropriate ways to keep her busy, encourage exploration, and foster development?

Her memory is incredibly good. In addition, she knows the lyrics to several Queen songs and several Beatles songs, a Kansas song...those are the ones I can think of; for certain musicals (like Les Miserables or Hamilton), she can recognize when a song is from that musical, even if she isn't familiar with or hasn't heard the song. When listening to What's This? from Nightmare Before Christmas, she recognized it as the same voice as Jack's Lament; these are two entirely different musical styles and tempos. She's also capable of making a non-squeaking sound on an alto saxophone (with plenty of squeaking sounds as well, mind you) and she can buzz her lips to play a trombone.

These are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head.

She reminds me a lot of me: I have an excellent long-term memory. I can remember movie lines and song lyrics and weird factoids that have absolutely no bearing on my life. I don't have perfect pitch, but I do have very good pitch memory.

I want to make sure that she succeeds in life and that she doesn't struggle with the same things that I did and still do.

Any suggestions?

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    This is too broad and open ended (primarily opinion based). It invites everything from "nothing" to "everything" and spammy suggestions to boot. I suggest you narrow it down significantly and ask for evidence based answers. – anongoodnurse May 23 at 15:56
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    FWIW, my children were "gifted". It could be a blessing or a curse. Gifted children tend to do more poorly than their less gifted peers the further along in education they go. I wish I had known that before I had children; I would have approached my most highly gifted child's education much differently (flunked out of HS!) Now a doc, but the cost and effort involved in turning that life around was enormous. It would have been better to have been proactive than to repair the damage. – anongoodnurse May 23 at 16:09
  • @anongoodnurse I edited the question, hopefully it makes it less broad. – John Doe May 23 at 22:29
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    Only marginally so, I'm afraid. – anongoodnurse May 24 at 10:27
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    Play with your daughter. Do not underestimate the importance of play, and reading, and just enjoying each other's company. let her enjoy her childhood, and if you see she has a particular gift then encourage her to practice that gift and cultivate it. At her tender age one hour a day is more than enough (languages, numbers, dance, sport, art etc.) – Mari-Lou A May 24 at 10:43
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I want to make sure that she succeeds in life and that she doesn't struggle with the same things that I did and still do. ...Any suggestions?

Yes: don't think for a minute that you can "make sure" of much of anything when it comes to your child and outcome. That way, when your daughter is a totally different person than the one you envision, you won't think you were a failure as a dad. Don't try to engineer too many aspects of her life, because kids don't see/experience/understand things the way that you do.

She will struggle with a lot of things, even those you did if she is a lot like you. If you believe she is neuropatypical, have her tested and try early intervention if recommended. Talk to parents of similarly neuroatypical kids (support groups? Online sites?) and see what works for them and why.

Success is defined differently by different people. You need to define what you mean by success for helpful answers in that category. Some very "successful" people secretly believe that they are failures. This is called Imposter Syndrome and has been studied in medical students/physicians, academicians and other professionals, people defined as successful by society at large. To them, "success" is a burden.

From my (fairly extensive) reading and my experience as a parent, the most important things you can do for any child, gifted or otherwise, is read to them, a LOT. Be with them. Talk to them (a lot). Be supportive. Say "yes" more often than "no" (which might mean compromises/alternatives are better than flat out refusals.) Praise the process more than the product (agency over outcome). Recognize the validity of their feelings (respect them). Teach and treasure resilience. Be mindful of how you perceive success and failure both for yourself and for your child. Offer/give them lots of opportunities, push a little, not a lot. Let them pursue things they enjoy, but require and value their doing things that are important but not enjoyable. Show your pleasure but not so much your disappointment. And love the hell out of them through thick and thin.

Sorry I can't give you a list that is customized to your situation. A Child Development Specialist (often ages 0-5) might be a good place to start.

Two stories, one about the impossibility of "shaping" very young children, and another about giftedness:

I grew up loving everything about my mother's bread baking (a necessity given their income), especially the aroma of baking bread, and I wanted to pass that memory along to my son, so I started baking bread when my oldest was two. One evening when the bread and supper were ready almost simultaneously, I was buttering the crusts of loaves when he asked for a buttered slice. I gave him one. I continued to attend to dinner and the loaves when he asked for a second slice, which I wouldn't give him, explaining that it might ruin his appetite for supper. Remembering my own childhood and flooded with nostalgia, I said, "Oh, (name), I hope you remember this all your life!" to which he replied, "What, never to eat two slices of bread before dinner?"

As I stated in the comments, my children were gifted (95th %ile or - most often - above in standardized test they ever took.) My first said his first word ("Moo") at 7 months while I was reading to him from a book of nursery rhymes, said "piano" at 9 months (out of nowhere that I could figure out) when I was listening to Debussy while driving, and was speaking in full sentences at 17 months, among other indications. This child was a dream child. Another even more gifted child flunked out of High School. Do not automatically consider a gifted child as only a blessing.

The Gifted: Clinical Challenges for Child Psychiatry
The Imposter Phenomenon in Higher Education: Incidence and Impact
Resources on Developing Resilience, Grit, and Growth Mindset
Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets
There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? (NYT)

  • Thanks, this helps a lot. As someone who was, if not gifted, then at least of above-average intelligence growing up, it feels to me like my parents didn't encourage me to go do a lot of things growing up (not that they didn't support what I wanted to do, but I feel like there were a lot of things that I could have done that I didn't even know about); whether or not what I remember is actually true, perception is reality, and that's what I feel now. – John Doe Jun 3 at 18:31
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    @JohnDoe - My parents had a very laissez-faire attitude towards parenting; the only thing expected of me was that I would get married and raise a family (I kid you not.) I was never encouraged to do anything much less to excel at it. I went the other way with my kids. I'd say somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. But the reading, talking to your baby, resilience, agency over outcome is absolutely supported in the pediatric literature. – anongoodnurse Jun 4 at 4:09
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  1. Talk to her.
  2. Sing to her.
  3. Sing with her. Encourage her to sing with recorded music. Expose her to harmony, in particular pieces with a clear descant line.
  4. Expose her to new music and talk about music.
  5. Get a piano. You should start taking lessons. She, hearing you practice will want that too. Use piano to help her (and you) to sing better.
  6. Read to her.
  7. Take her places, and talk about what you see.
  8. Give her riddles, puzzles.
  9. Engage in word play: Puns, malaprops, spoonerisms.
  10. Play estimating games, counting games, where you can verify later. "How many minutes to drive to the grocery store" "How much money in a handful of change" "How many beans in a small jar"

The whole idea is to stimulate her mind with new ideas, new words, new sounds, but not to make any of it a chore or hateful.

Do remember that at age 3.5 her coordination isn't very good. Actually playing music is going to be a painful experience. (Yes, I know the Suzuki violin method starts them this young, and the results are awful. Why I said you should take piano lessons.)

  • I actually already know how to play the piano, but I should play it more often in front of her. She has an almost-two-year-old brother that makes that part difficult though. Also, I worked at a music store, and while the violin teacher would take them pretty young, we'd counsel parents to start kids on piano at 8 and then something else at 10. I might start her on piano earlier than that, though, Thank you very much, these are some excellent suggestions! – John Doe Jun 3 at 18:34

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