20

Preamble

We have been home with our kid since birth, except for a 3 week detour of daycare before COVID hit and so he got full time attention from at least one of us (mother and father).

We never let him watch TV (other than some cartoons at Christmas) and he is not on a phone/ipad or similar.

He turned 3 years old early January 2021.

We've always tried to make him interested in the world, things, science, letters and numbers, stories, rhymes, word play etc. We've verbalized everything we did, like saying "Now Daddy's is going to make you a bottle, here is the bottle, see? It needs to be filled with formula, and then Daddy pour the water in, see?" to support his understanding of actions and language.

A couple of months before he was 2 years old, he could count to 10.

At 2 years old he suddenly starting talking by saying "We sit here together", "There is light and there is no light (broken spot in the ceiling)" and "Sometimes we sleep in that room" after only saying single words.

At 2 year and 2 months he could point and say each letter in hes 9 letter name.

At 2 and 5 months he had learned ~25 car brands and said their names when they drove by.

At 2 and 6 months he could sing the alphabet.

Now at 3 years old he started to suddenly spell spell out words and read them. It started with small words like "dad", "sun" etc. but the same day he also read "butterfly", "fantasy" and words like that.

He does tons of other stuff too, such as deduction, exhibiting emotional intelligence, and making sound arguments when he wants something.

Our question

Is it normal for a kid to be able to do the things he did/does and to spell out and slowly read at 3 years old? We don't know if it's just normal or due to the kind and amount of attention we gave him or if it's because he's actually smart or intelligent - or a combination? Our family is just impressed (so are we) but that does not help us!

What can we do to nurture his mental development, intelligence and capacity? Kindly suggest practical games we can play with him, exercises or books, articles, websites etc. for us. If you believe that introducing tablet/phone apps, computer etc. will be beneficial, please be specific with regards to apps/programs etc.

15
  • 57
    One standard piece of advice for raising gifted children is to praise them for their effort and for other qualities they can control, rather than for their intelligence which they can't control. The idea is that if they are praised for their intelligence, then doing intellectually difficult things becomes scary, because if they struggle it hurts their self-image. This essay Advice on Gifted Education by Terence Tao is interesting.
    – littleO
    Feb 2 at 18:01
  • 1
    "had learned ~25 car brands and said their names when they drove by..." I can't do that and I spend an above-average amount of time around people who design them. Anyway, check out Mensa's programs for gifted & talented youth; they have some resources.
    – WBT
    Feb 2 at 20:37
  • 9
    @littleO Beware the “praise their effort” approach. It seems successful as in it successfully entices children to work more, but there’s a huge confounder: children are well aware that sometimes it’s the result that matters, and sometimes it’s the appearance of making an effort; and often, what the teachers praise simply tells the children their password. Did you motivate them to work more or did you simply switch them into the other mode? Feb 2 at 22:27
  • 1
    It’s not normal, but I at 3 sat happily in the corner reading in Kindergarten instead of playing with the other children. My parents just let me…
    – mirabilos
    Feb 2 at 23:06
  • 2
    I wouldn't be surprised if this story becomes very common for the current generation of children. Having full access to parents all day will likely result in a net positive. Someone will need to do a comparative study on this generation of children raised during quarantine compared to those before and after to see how much of an effect this had on early development. Feb 3 at 14:22
2

I recommend the book Nurture Shock. It has some very interesting things in it about child development that would seem to be of interest to you.

About whether what your child can do is normal, my answer is that it doesn't matter. The focus should be on developing your child in all areas at whatever skill level he exhibits, regardless of whether any of that is normal. While it's important for him to not feel "less-than," it can also be destructive for him to perceive himself as "more-than."

In the final analysis, while innate intelligence does require the proper fostering to fully bloom, and it can end up more or less fully realized in each adult individual, you nonetheless can't change what his innate intelligence capacity is, and making his level of intelligence "a thing" is more likely to create problems for him than not. (You may as well make him feel superior for his eye color or his height or any other characteristic that he cannot change.) The cure to low self-esteem is not high self-esteem, because both involve a focus on self that distorts reality in an unhealthy way. The cure to both of those esteem-distortions is to not even think about oneself, but to develop the skills and abilities to interact healthily and adaptively with the world and with other people, and to have an "other focus" or a "goal focus."

About your specific question, "What can we do to nurture his mental development, intelligence and capacity?" here are a few ideas:

  • Look into the unschooling movement and take some ideas from them around removing the "explicit academic awareness" from learning and development. Make learning and development for your son so organic that he doesn't know it's happening—even as he learns to be self-directed, pursue his own interests, and implicitly develop his work ethic and focus (because he has learned to connect efforts to results and he desires those results). In other words, find ways for his experience of life to show him what kind of person he wants to be as an adult (and that you think would be good for him and well-adapted to the real world), instead of telling him what that person should be.
  • Look into the executive-function development ideas that are mentioned in the Nurture Shock book. The idea is to cultivate executive function through questions like "what is the plan?" and "what should you be doing right now?" instead of "go do X" or "you're not doing Y." The higher your child's executive function, the better he can self-direct his own learning. A gifted individual can then be his own springboard to the highest levels of performance because he has learned how to think about his own thinking. This is one of the biggest gifts you can give him.
  • Do not fail to develop his emotional intelligence commensurate with his intellectual development, or even focus on it to a higher degree. Emotional intelligence is so easy to stunt, and in life a person who has high IQ with low EQ is much more limited in the chances for greatest success than a person with high EQ and intermediate IQ. Consider reading the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and then teaching your son the principles in it. You and he will be well served by him becoming a master in this area, much more than eking the last 5% of performance out of his intellectual abilities.
  • Do not neglect his whole person, as other answers have suggested. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, set unreasonable expectations, or give him an external target that he needs to live up to (as he would for sure intuitively sense that his failing to meet it would deeply disappoint you). He needs you to, through hundreds of positive and meaningful interactions with you and others, build up a "library" inside him of: acceptance, belonging, significance, capacity, competence, possibility, ability, working hard, emotional resources, understanding of people and himself, ability to label his own emotions and use his and other people's positive and negative emotions for good, ability to develop his own support network and reach out to that support network in all areas, personal and academic and professional. It is more important for him to have a trusting, connected, intimate, deeply-rooted relationship with you than for him to hit the highest peaks of intellectual achievement too early. When he is a teenager and goes through the complete teardown and rebuilding of his brain, that "library" of good things you instilled in him will be his greatest ally for successfully developing into a productive, proactive, well-adapted, well-adjusted, long-term thinking, happy, and high-functioning adult.

All that said, don't neglect the need to provide him with all the stimulation he needs. I was SO bored in school and I even had one teacher tell me "I HATE it when I have gifted children in my class because then I have to do twice the work to create special lesson plans for them!" (because in context, she was telling me she hated that I was in her class). I did not learn to work hard, and I learned to lean far too much on my identity as an "intelligent person" instead of learning (or having been properly cultivated to learn) to be a high-functioning, active, successful, emotionally intelligent adult.

1
  • Thank you for your answer! Even though some of the other answers were brilliant too (and had more votes), I ended up choosing this one due to the focus on character building and references to the two books by Po Bronsons and by Chris Voss. This answer also seems to support @user40526 (thank you so much!) answer, at least partly. Thank you all! I have a lot to learn and you all helped me and my son. I will learn more and be the best I can for him!
    – Kasper
    Feb 6 at 12:45
35

Speaking from experience1, your child is advanced, very likely gifted - but it happens. Remember that “normal” is just a statistical distribution and doesn’t imply any value or sense of wrong or right. (You may need that image in a few years down the road when your child wonders why he’s “not normal”.) I am very sure that while your support and encouragement helped, the main reason is simply how his brain works, so mostly a case of “he was born with that talent and you helped it bloom”.

You are doing exactly what the general recommendation says - include him in daily life and let him learn at his own pace. I can only urge you to continue what you have been doing so far and support his interests, there is no need to “push” his development.

If he’s started to read, you will very soon have the option of letting him explore the world of books (search the site for more on that topic). That said, instead of fostering his intellectual development, I would recommend you ensure he gets plenty of exercise and play time outside, socialize with other kids (probably doubly difficult due to the pandemic and the difference in social development). Hands-on experience is also a good way to connect intellectual understanding with manual dexterity - and some neuro-scientists would also point out that it improves the connection between the brain hemispheres.

Rather than suggesting specific games, toys, apps...(erm, nope, I’d rather not recommend electronics, although there are a few good educational apps), I would encourage you to start doing some research on gifted children in general, find networks of parents with gifted children - locally and online - and share your experience. It will help you probably more than us suggesting something that our kids loved, although I would be happy to discuss the topic with you in our chat.

—————

1 We have two children, one tested repeatedly as gifted, one just below the threshold. The latter is the one that somehow learned to write her name (at barely three) and we have no clue where or how.

27

This started off as a comment, but got too long, so posting as an answer. I have zero parenting experience, so this is just my personal experience of being a 'gifted child'.

I want to add something from the child's perspective. Me and a lot of my friends were identified as 'gifted' as children, and sometimes one negative effect of this label is that it can distort expectations of ourselves (both external, e.g. from parents, and from ourselves). While for many of us, this resulted in a determination to be high achieving, later in life it's also resulting in things like burnout, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Growing up, my parents were impressed by my achievements, but also (gently) pushed me to achieve more, and to pursue areas that they thought I would excel in (e.g. math, physics). Not that they forced me, but I was aware that they very much approved if I showed interest in these particular subjects, and as a result, I feel like some of the choices I made in life were not true to myself. After going through therapy as an adult, I am now working through my resentment of my parents for taking so much credit for my 'giftedness' and wanting more of it when I was the one who sacrificed some of my childhood joy for academic achievement, and got into a bad habit of overworking from a young age. None of this is an accusation that you are like my parents, I just mention all this since you noted your child has a high EQ, and any light encouragement by parents might much go further than you imagine.

What I wish my parents had done instead was give me more freedom to explore my own interests. Instead of saying 'Dad's interested in this, do you want to look at this with me?', I think I gained more from the times when my parents simply took me into an environment where there were many things to interact with using all my senses (I also don't recommend electronics for this reason), and allowed me to just spend time exploring the things I wanted to explore. Going to the beach and eating sand... sitting in the garden and watching ants... For a few years I was really into rocks, and amassed a huge collection, and just stared at them for hours. I am really grateful for my parents for allowing me to do things like that. I wish I had kept up some of these 'meaningless' hobbies later in my life, but they became consumed by academics. I benefitted from them not because they helped my intelligence, or concentration, but because they made me feel alive in a way that getting higher grades/knowing more than my peers didn't.

Also, I am now doing my PhD in physics, after having gone through such a long education process, I can assure you that if your goal is to inspire your child to learn, it really does not matter how long it takes them. Encouraging a growth mindset, and being interested in what you are learning (because of intrinsic reasons, not in order to make others happy) is much more important than learning your times tables a few years earlier.

Basically, I don't think you can go wrong if you make your child's life about them, not about you, and don't define them by their abilities. If they develop their intelligence to their full potential, it should be because they want to, because they have a dream for which that is important, or because they just enjoy thinking about things. Being gifted shouldn't take away their right to be children, it should be another way for them to have fun, and not a burden.

This last part is possibly not relevant, but I wanted to include just in case it helps you to have in mind:

With higher intelligence, and an acute awareness of the emotional state of others, and a strong will and ability to self regulate, I skipped over some important emotional development stages until going through therapy. I.e. I forced myself to not feel negative emotions like anger and hatred because I saw clearly the hurt that it caused people I love. I was very good at understanding abstract concepts including 'reasons why I shouldn't throw a tantrum', but I was still a child, and needed to go through these developmental stages. My parents didn't give me space to feel these disruptive emotions, they talked me out with reasoning instead, but skipping these developmental steps has not helped me later in life.

2
  • 6
    Thank you for posting this. Very much. I've heard many stories that swung the other way, with 'gifted' kids skating by so long that they never actually learned to work which ruined their adult prospects.
    – Weckar E.
    Feb 3 at 12:10
  • @WeckarE. Yeah, I personally swung the other way (I was able to achieve anything I needed without trying and although my parents tried they were 'too soft' on me despite my dad having had the exact same problem and wanting to prevent me from going through the same stuff), but it's valuable to have this other perspective put out there as well. Becoming a really good parent is scary hard 😅 . Feb 5 at 14:11
8
  • You child is probably gifted, but you need a specialized test to tell that (impossible to assess over the internet by strangers). It seems like he is hitting developmental milestones a few years ahead of the average for his age (see CDC's developmental milestones). There are several tests available for testing gifted children starting from as early as 2 years 6 months, see below. For example, WPPSI (from 2 years 6 months), and KABC (from 3 years). They are administered by psychologists.
  • Child development is a complex result of nature and nurture. Even the statistical treatment of this question is probably beyond the scope of this question, and is best suited for a separate question. Most likely both inborn abilities and a favorable home environment contributed positively to your child's development.
  • From what you describe, it seems like your family is doing lots of things that help a gifted child flourish. Each individual aspect (reading, math, language) is worth a separate question of its own, though.
  • Gifted education is a separate and active field of research. Note that not all countries and states offer gifted programs in public education. You may have to do a lot of search on your own, most likely discussing things with parents and teachers who have experience with gifted kids. Beware of the fact that the needs of the gifted children, unfortunately, are not exactly on the front burner of educators (Walsh et al, 2010).
  • At this age, beyond your family environment, consider a good preschool that offers child-driven education. Many Montessori preschools offer that, but YMMV.
  • We kept screen time to a minimum, using screens mostly for video calls with the family. We did not use screens until the pandemic forced us to do remote schooling (at which point the child quickly mastered the required computer skills). Some teachers who deal with gifted children recommend Scratch, but we do not have much experience with it. I later learned from one of the comments (thank you, J...!) that it is possible for a 3 year old to write computer programs. It is a fascinating possibility for some children, but I have no personal experience and am not aware of published research on which to draw here.
  • We had lots of positive experience with different fun educational games that develop memory, math and reading skills. Some of our favorites are below.

REFERENCES:

Tests for children:

Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wechsler_Preschool_and_Primary_Scale_of_Intelligence

The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) is an intelligence test designed for children ages 2 years 6 months to 7 years 7 months developed by David Wechsler in 1967. It is a descendant of the earlier Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children tests.

Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufman_Assessment_Battery_for_Children

The KABC-II was standardised between 2001 and 2003 on 3,025 3- to 18-year-olds in 39 states and the District of Columbia. The KABC-II is co normed with the KTEA-II (Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004b).

Educational games for children:

Games by the Brainy Band ( https://www.amazon.com/stores/node/17346211011 ), such as:
The Brainy Band Zoolphabet (English): https://www.amazon.com/The-Brainy-Band-TBB008-Zoolphabet/dp/B071D71PM3/
The Brainy Band Frui10: https://www.amazon.com/The-Brainy-Band-TBB002-Frui10/dp/B01N8VBKGJ
The Brainy Band HurriCount: https://www.amazon.com/The-Brainy-Band-BB-1-HurriCount/dp/B01MA49R5K
The Brainy Band MultiBloom: https://www.amazon.com/The-brainy-Band-Multibloom/dp/B01N91Y2V6
The Brainy Band Splittissimo: https://www.amazon.com/The-Brainy-Band-Splittissimo/dp/B07CNKWS6C

The needs of young gifted children in prior-to-school settings appear to have been neglected:

The needs of gifted preschoolers have been largely overlooked by educators working in the fields of gifted education and early childhood. In fact, some argue that the area of giftedness in early childhood is one of the most neglected areas in education.

Walsh, R.L., Hodge, K.A., Bowes, J.M. et al. Same Age, Different Page: Overcoming the Barriers to Catering for Young Gifted Children in Prior-to-School Settings. IJEC 42, 43–58 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13158-010-0004-8: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13158-010-0004-8 , full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225242692_Same_Age_Different_Page_Overcoming_the_Barriers_to_Catering_for_Young_Gifted_Children_in_Prior-to-School_Settings

12
  • 2
    “ You may have to do a lot of search on your own, most likely discussing things with parents and teachers who have experience with gifted kids.” Amen to that. Even in countries that do have programs, they are not necessarily a one-fits-all solution. There’s not “the gifted child”, rather a bunch of very different individuals (who may counter parental efforts in the most unexpected and creative ways).
    – Stephie
    Feb 2 at 17:31
  • 2
    Be careful that 'gifted' can often be a harmful marker on a child, as it is often not specific enough to support them while being closing enough to not warrant any further insight. 'Giftedness' can be an expression of many different things, from as simple as a good environment to ADHD (particularly in girls).
    – Weckar E.
    Feb 2 at 20:01
  • 2
    I'd avoid any term. Gifted in particular is problematic because it can give a child the idea they are 'better' than their peers, which has caused many incidents of intellectual bullying jn both directions.
    – Weckar E.
    Feb 2 at 20:27
  • 2
    @WeckarE. “Gifted” is simply the term used in the English language for a specific set of abilities and talents outside the average distribution. It is a scientific term. It should never be used as qualifier or label. That said, gifted children do come with their own set of challenges (I used to explain it as “their brain is wired a bit differently” when other parents just saw academic achievements or developmental milestones, but not the points where they struggled), and we as parents strive to support them in their individuality and through the challenges they face.
    – Stephie
    Feb 2 at 21:15
  • 1
    @TimurShtatland Mainly a combination of most such tests in my experience not being explicitly tests for just giftedness, but also a variety of (cor)related issues. The most famous of these is the autistic spectrum for example (in the pre-spectrum days I was diagnosed not to have it, maybe now I would maybe fall on it?) and befriending people who were diagnosed on it and the main issue is people (e.g. teachers, colleagues) through official or hearsay becoming aware of the label and completely misreacting to it (e.g. teacher acting to a gifted friend (cont.) Feb 5 at 16:08
2

I'm not a child psychologist, but I have 9 children. Every one of them is as different from the rest as you can imagine.

One of them learned to read by 3. Another didn't start reading until 8. The rest were in between. The one that learned to read by 3 progressed very slowly. The one that didn't start reading until 8 was reading JRR Tolkien within a year.

The lesson I learned from this is that your child will likely proceed at a pace that is comfortable for them.

Recommendations:

  • Reinforce their interests: If they become fascinated with trains, get them as many books about trains (from the library - no need to buy them) until they are bored, then be prepared for the next fascination. Most 5 year olds want to be a fireman or a ballerina or something along those lines. Indulge it because they aren't likely making life decisions yet.

  • Be interesting yourself. If you want them to love reading, make sure they see you reading a lot ( and enjoying it ). They will most likely love most of the things you do, but be prepared that they won't necessarily love all of them.

  • Most any board game appropriate for their age should be mentally stimulating because in my experience the most important thing is interacting with other people, especially people older than them that they respect. "screen time" is very passive and not mentally stimulating in a healthy way. I have observed my children time and time again exhibiting antisocial behavior after playing computer games or watching TV.

0

Beware the non-blind test.

Your child may well be above-average intelligence. However it's also important not to forget that you aren't running blind tests here.

For starters, you have a definite interest in the outcome. You may be seeing things because you want to. This is massively significant in everything to do with childcare.

More seriously though, don't underestimate the ability of children to remember. My son was pre-verbal when my then-girlfriend gave him a stuffed toy dog and told him its name. My ex-wife then excluded me from access for some time. When I next saw him, he was able to basically talk and used that name for the dog. It's entirely possible that sometime over his previous 2 years of life, he's heard you spelling those words.

Beyond that, you are also exemplars of how best to stimulate your child and help them learn! Since what you're doing is very much above average (and please take this as the compliment it's meant), that stimulation will help your child generally develop their vocabulary and mind.

Honestly I very much doubt your child needs special apps and special classes though. Talk to them, read with them, take them outdoors and let them explore, give them music to listen to, let them help with cooking, and generally make it interesting to be doing things. At this stage that's all a child needs. Just keep feeding him new experiences as you think he's ready for them. At 3 he's perfectly able to stir a mixing bowl, for instance, but he's still too young to do measurements; and then when he can reliably read numbers and count into hundreds, he can measure the ingredients himself too.

For what it's worth, my son is also top in his class at primary school. With modern teaching methods, that means he doesn't sit bored whilst the rest of the class catch up - it means the kids who are a bit above average work with their classmates to help them figure it out. For those of us who remember being looked down on for being a bit faster in lessons, this is a complete game-changer in teaching, because it makes learning a group effort instead of being a solo exercise in building resentment.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.