Keeping up with the demands of gifted and 2E kids is more than a challenge. It’s an ongoing endeavor that demands time and attention — never ending attention for those who rip through series, speed read, implement their photographic memories and other feats of wonder.
There is no formula for supplying an endless stream of engaging books that will delight a gifted reader. They know what they like, but they also need help choosing their own reading material and broadening their preferences.
Gifted readers are different than other readers because of their ability master language and complex ideas at an early stage. Many learn to read earlier than usual. Some are self-taught readers. Other possess the ability to process complicated text and multiple plots and subplots. They can read four times more than their peers and are likely to become lifelong readers.
So, what do gifted readers want? Do they love an underdog? Dark horse? Complicated plots? Unlikely heroes? Historical figures, biographies and textbooks?
Yes. All of those and more. Here are a few ways to tap into an advanced reader’s drive for reading while providing age appropriate and challenging material.
- Help your child find books they want to read. Play seek and find in the library, challenging their ability to try something new. Start with a list of books that others have recommended, browse through them with your child, and whittle it down to the top choices. As with adult literature, an engaging and vivid first paragraph is essential to hooking a reader, so read the first paragraphs out loud.
- Steer gifted readers toward books that accommodate their sensitivity. Search for the blogs of reviewers who are familiar with the danger zones for sensitive readers, such as authors, teachers and websites like www.commonsensemedia.org. Hyper-sensitive kiddos may react to any hint of unfairness, which is a tough concept to avoid in any category. For these gentle souls, try poets with instinctual kid-like prowess like Shel Silverstein (if you can find recordings of Silverstein reading his works, it’s all the more fun.) Many other children’s poetry books languish on shelves, so put them to work interpreting, illustrating and retelling the stories in poetry.
- Look for characters who are unique and challenged in similar ways as your child. Connecting with a character is like making a new ally. When kids see realistic (not just fantasy or futuristic) representations of themselves, they can engage with the story on a different level. The characters don’t have to be exactly like the gifted reader, for example, a story of a child learning to function despite difficult circumstances can embolden them. Books like Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE about a dyslexic character, is a safe read for most readers. The list of books about kids who are twice-exceptional isn’t a long one, so consider oldies like Helen Keller’s Teacher and Follow My Leader, which portray children adapting to disabling conditions with positive outcomes.
- Use book group materials to extend the reading experience. Many authors will supply discussion questions for teachers to help kids process and demonstrate comprehension. These are also tools that parents can use to help facilitate thoughtful exploration of a book at a deeper level. Kids can be challenged to put themselves in the shoes of the antagonist or a minor character. The author’s own questions can refine a child’s ability to connect with characters, evaluate motives and outcomes, and slow them down long enough to absorb and appreciate storytelling from different points of view.
- Encourage them to try something different. If your child has blown through all the age appropriate fiction you can find, try offering non-fiction that is above their reading level. Gifted kids yearn for ideas and information, so biography and non-fiction titles may be an option, especially for kids who find it difficult to read fiction. Sounds crazy? Some kids are drawn to books that explain complex ideas to feed their intellect and encourage innovative thinking. For example, I have a reading-avoidant gifted child in my family who only reads physics books (which can be quite entertaining depending on the physicist).
When in doubt, ask a teacher, librarian, special ed professional or other parents with kids like yours. Always screen a book for inappropriate or upsetting material. Providing different formats like e-readers and audio books is an experimental way to determine what works best. Don’t be afraid to ask other parents. You never know who else is struggling with the same demands. Plus, books make great company and sharing them builds camaraderie. Who doesn’t need a little more of that?
Susan Larsen Krause is the author of BACKGROUND NOISE: A NOVEL ABOUT TWICE-EXCEPTIONALITY. She writes and blogs about raising gifted and learning disabled kids.