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4 signs of a highly able learner

Little girl studying hard
Psychologist professor Joan Freeman, who has worked with highly able children for 35 years, explains how to nurture the development of an exceptional learner.

Gifted children are just as different from one another as any other group of children. Some may be lively, into everything and very friendly, while others can be shy and prefer to keep to themselves.

Here are four strong clues which may indicate that you have a highly able child on your hands:

A lively mind

The most noticeable feature of potentially gifted children is the liveliness of their minds. This comes across in many ways, especially in their delight with words.

Even as toddlers they’re usually very quick to spot tiny differences and catch on to unusual associations between ideas.


Highly able children use their radar brains to seek and absorb information, sometimes catching your meaning before you’ve reached the end of your sentence.

They copy other people’s behaviour and learn fast from the experience. Sometimes they seem quite grown up because of the way they talk and think, but genuine maturity will come later.

Ability to learn

A keen appetite for learning marks out the highly able child: when they’re given the chance to learn, they grab it.

As they get older, their knowledge often becomes wider and deeper than that of other children of the same age so they seem to be even more intelligent.

Parents might wonder where high-flying children get all their knowledge from. They seem to absorb it from everywhere – television, people’s conversations, the air!


The clever child takes pride in what they can do. Even in their first few days at proper school, they’re usually outstandingly independent and competent, though some get a shock when they find all the others working at a very much lower level.

Some develop special interests even at nursery school, though these might change. By the time they reach primary school, they may be really beginning to know their way around a subject in a way that marks them out from other children, such as being early to read or master numbers.

Supporting your gifted child

Although their intellectual gifts far outstrip their age, the evidence shows that gifted and talented children develop normally in terms of their emotions. But they sometimes come under extra pressure emotionally: for example, they may face their own special challenges, particularly of high expectations and pressure to achieve.

It is complete acceptance which builds up any child’s self-confidence. And it’s the family that provides the foundations for them to develop their gifts in the future.

How to Raise a Bright Child by Professor Joan Freeman is published by Vermilion.  

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