Posted by Nate Dunlevy

This is the second in a multi-part look at raising and educating kids who fall along different points of the educational spectrum.

As we hiked through the woods, I could hear them chanting.

One ring to rule them all! One ring to find them…”

I suppose you could call them my own personal band of hobbits. Tumbling, running and laughing along the creek bed, the children lived out their favorite books, converting fantasy into their own personal realities.

Two seven-year-old boys and two nine year-old-girls, all of unusual intelligence, spent four hours in the state park play acting scenes from their favorite books. Every step along the trail was drenched in Lord of the Rings this, The Book of Sight that. They were hobbits and wizards and a group of scared teens groping up a hidden staircase in the dark.

I didn’t have to encourage them to pretend the rocks in the creek were a rickety bridge over lava. I never asked them to imagine they were on a quest of great import. There were no instructions or prompts designed to focus their thoughts on the symbolic nature of a walk in the dark woods, of cliffs to be scaled, of journeys to complete.

These kids are already fluent in myth and metaphor. They bathe in simile. As I lagged behind their fellowship, I marveled at their words. As they got tired on the climb up the ravine, one girl said to the other, “I feel just like Alex going up the dark stairs!”

“Yeah!” said the other. “It’s so freaky that they couldn’t hold on to anything. Can you imagine doing it blind?”

“No! But we can’t go back! We’ve got to keep going!”

They swum in and out of this world, liberally mixing their books with their realities. It’s a false distinction, really. Their books are their realities. They are readers and dreamers and doers of fantasy. Something in their hearts tells them that the world in their mind’s eye is a just a shadow of the world at large, but a true shadow, nonetheless.

I’ve heard it said that gifted children can be insular and awkward and more than a bit weird. I have no doubt this is true. Taming and training their native oddities is a task that calls for grace, gentleness and a healthy share of wonderment and appreciation.

A gift doesn’t require a mad dash to exploit it. Prep classes and math camp and mountains of homework won’t ignite the native creativity that resides in these kids. Children can demonstrate accelerated abilities in one area without having it cross over to other disciplines. Pushing a special ability to an extreme could prevent a child from ever learning to integrate his or her gifts into all areas of life.

If you are fortunate to know a gifted child, count yourself blessed and don’t be in a hurry to grow him or her up. There will be time enough for grown-up things. For now, be thankful for their brave souls that wrestle with good and evil, friendship and danger, love and skinned knees and elbows.

Giving a gifted child a book and a path and a sunny fall day is fuel enough for a day’s worth of growing up, and it is a gift unto itself.

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