Religious education programs are blessed with gifted children who have diverse talents to contribute to the community. Gifted children demonstrate a multifaceted learning style. Researchers studying gifted children from Ireland and the United States found that these students preferred the abstract and theoretical. These children also indicated a preference for factual and pragmatic thinking. Educators and catechists should keep in mind these special abilities when planning their classes and look for opportunities to cultivate these students’ moral imaginations.
Researchers George Betts and Maureen Neihart developed six distinct profiles of gifted children as a tool for parents and teachers seeking to tap the talents of these bright thinkers. They assert that 90% of gifted children become bored with school and learn to use the system in order to get by with as little effort as possible:
"Rather than pursue their own interests and goals in school, they tend to go through the motions of schooling, seeking structure and direction from instructors. They are dependent upon parents and teachers. They fail to learn needed skills and attitudes for autonomy, but they do achieve. Overall, these children may appear to have positive self-concepts because they have been affirmed for their achievements. They are liked by peers and are included in social groups." (Betts, et al.)
Without proper instruction these children risk losing both their creativity and autonomy and, as a consequence, are not well prepared for the inconsistencies and challenges of adult life. As catechists we have an incredible opportunity to awaken their imaginations to the presence of God in their everyday lives.
Pope John Paul II’s heart was captured by the imagination and potential of all young people, and it is our privilege to tap into the gifted child’s ability to fully explore abstract material. Gifted thinkers are research-oriented and thrive on investigative learning, and they can actively seek opportunities to assimilate aspects of their life into their religious education. Real problems and situations provide an opportunity for moral decision-making and the development of moral intelligence. They also enjoy rigorous dialogue that explores the heart of the lesson.
Here are some strategies for working with gifted children: