How do gifted people keep practicing

How do gifted children learn?


Lecture at the 5th IHVO-FachTag on September 22nd, 2012 in Remscheid

by Hanna Vock


Gifted children learn a lot

  • earlier,
  • more intense and
  • more differentiated.

A lot of things are particularly easy for them.


…in short…

In her lecture, the author explains eight conditions that must be met for learning to be successful.
Since many gifted children cannot be motivated very well extrinsically (from the outside), they need the fulfillment of these learning conditions to a particularly high degree in order to develop their potential.

Why is that?

It is 1. on their high intelligence and 2. on their particularly high motivation to learn.

In detail for high intelligence of gifted children:

  • Their ability to grasp quickly means that they absorb a particularly large amount of information that they can then process particularly quickly in the brain. You can network the new information particularly well with existing structures and content.
  • Their good memory reliably filters out those information from the wealth of information available to them that are essential for their current learning process. This essential information is stored reliably and is easily retrievable.
  • The children are particularly good at recognizing patterns and laws in a large amount of information.
  • Their ingenuity allows them to produce a comparatively large number of ideas. Questions that occur to them are also such ideas. Ingenuity is often paired with the early ability to evaluate and criticize one's own and other people's ideas. That means that they don't just produce lots of ideas, they produce lots quality Ideas.
  • They can relate new information to one another and link it with one another.

With these ideas of intelligence, I rely on the Berlin Intelligence Structure Model (BIS), which is considered the most modern of its kind.

See: What is intelligence?


Besides the intelligence, I had that particularly great motivation to learn mentioned that gifted children have.

If you know the children well, you can constantly see some learning processes that are happening at the same time. They are intensely preoccupied with these learning processes without them asked been learning exactly that now.
As long as their motivation to learn is not destroyed, they are constantly involved in learning projects - which sometimes no one else knows anything about.

But we know gifted children who are so-called Underachievers were. These are children who have lost the desire to learn or who at least fail to learn what they are supposed to learn. Underachievers are sad, often outwardly rebellious and inwardly desperate small or large people.

It is therefore worthwhile to take a closer look at what keeps gifted children interested in learning and what destroys them.

Generally one can say:
The desire to learn is maintained if the learning environment suits the individual who is learning.

A child who is constantly overwhelmed loses the desire to learn.

A child who is constantly under-challenged loses the desire to learn.

A gifted child who learns in a creative, self-determined way loses the desire to learn when they are pressed into an unsuitable, rigid, uncreative system.

If we manage to maintain the child's desire to learn and support them appropriately in learning, they will also perform. It may not perform when it should, or on the given topic - but over time it will acquire great knowledge and develop great skills.


To have this trust in gifted children
and maintaining it is important!

What does it take for children to remain pleasure learners?

The knowledge of mankind about which among which conditions Successful learning processes in humans has expanded a lot recently.
In the following I try to summarize the essentials in 8 points.

These 8 points are:

It has now been scientifically clarified that learning processes succeed best when


  • if they 1. take place in a fear-free, cheerful and concentrated atmosphere,
  • if 2. there is a pleasurable interest or at least an inner willingness to deal with the subject matter,
  • if 3. the learning builds on already existing knowledge and ties in with existing skills that can be used in the current learning process,
  • Learning processes succeed best when 4. the learner understands what the knowledge and skills to be learned are needed for, what it is useful for,
  • if 5. learning is integrated into a project, the successful completion of which means something or even a lot to the learner,
  • if 6. the outcome of the learning leads to social recognition,
  • if 7. a satisfactory, possibly even inspiring exchange of ideas on the learning topic takes place,
  • and when 8. another person supports the learning process through their factual authority, their human authority and, best of all, through their own enthusiasm for the topic.

These 8 points describe generally good prerequisites for learning with humans. Of course, they also apply to gifted children.


The amazing thing is that gifted children are different from other children all of these conditions need because they can hardly be addressed through external motivation. Other children can still be brought to some extent to learn by pressure or external stimuli (of course not as much comes out of it as if all 8 conditions were met) - but highly gifted children remain quite far below their possibilities, if only a of these conditions is violated. In doing so, they don't have to become conspicuous underachievers, but they stay far below their potential, which is frustrating. But if everything is right, they seem to run effortlessly to undreamt-of top form on.

Now I want to take a closer look at these 8 points. For each of these points you have to ask yourself: When are these prerequisites for good learning in daycare and in elementary school given?


Regarding point 1:
Learning processes work best when they take place in a fearless, cheerful atmosphere.

What can learning children be afraid of in the first ten years of life, which then partially or largely blocks them?

You can be afraid of to fail, Fear of punishment, Fear of To have embarrassment.

Let's look at that first Fear of failure. It can be terribly agonizing.

Failure means not completing a given task (possibly in a given time). Everyone has to learn to deal with the fear of failure. Because it can happen to us again and again throughout our life that we fail.

Gifted children often set tasks for themselves; Sometimes they do not live up to their own high standards and feel like failures, even though the teacher, for example, thinks her work is okay or even good. I am thinking of an artistically gifted four-year-old in my group who painted wonderful pictures every day, but tore them up and threw them away because he thought they were “botch”.

Whether a child has failed in a situation depends on the viewer. On the one hand there is the observer who judges it from the outside, and on the other hand there is the child himself who feels himself to be a failure. As seen above, gifted children’s assessment of failure often differs from how others judge them externally. There is also the opposite case: a child has concentrated on the essentials, the core of the task and left out all the decorative trappings and all detours or has not worked very “properly”. Then the child can be convinced of his performance and experience that it is not appreciated as expected because the viewer applies other criteria (which the child may find subordinate or unimportant).

Whether a child often not fulfilling the set tasks, i.e. often failing, naturally also depends on the tasks set.

Whether a child often feels fear of failure depends both on his own demands and on the demands that are placed on the child from outside. This is another reason why it is important to be as well informed as possible about the general and current potential of a child.

For example, if a child who is not gifted is mistakenly considered gifted, expectations of the environment too high can produce a lot of fear of failure in the child, which blocks the child.

Fear of punishment... should have become superfluous in our society - but it is not.
Every poor school grade is a penalty awarded by the school system. And after many poor school grades (which, depending on the viewer, could be a three), there are further penalties (mainly from uninformed parents, but also from the unenlightened school system: it imposes: stay seated, assignment to remedial classes, tutoring) . All of this is intended as a help, but it also constantly emits the destructive message: "You haven't packed it."

Fear of embarrassment is a fear that is widely underestimated (in relation to children). “I didn't make it (again) and everyone can see it.” (For example, when I jumped over the box.) Or: “I'm so ashamed. Again, I couldn't give a correct answer. ”All friendly and soothing arguments to the child are of little use in gifted children if they are their harshest critics themselves from an early age.

Children who are not very successful in the school system defend this fear of embarrassment by devaluing the importance of success in school. This is understandable and is done for your psychological self-protection. Sometimes this happens collectively in a whole class. Those gifted children who find it easy to learn in school are at the same time devalued as “nerds”.

Also in the Day care center we have to reckon with fear of embarrassment. Gifted children (due to certain already developed intellectual abilities) start early to compare themselves with other children or even with adults. They also start at an early stage to develop demands on their actions and to compare these with the result that they achieve.

Some people say: “I can work best under pressure (for example, write a presentation).” Writing a presentation is a long and strenuous learning process with an uncertain outcome. However, a result must be delivered at a certain point in time. Unpleasant feelings mean that work is repeatedly postponed or - barely started - is interrupted. And then somehow you get it done "at the last minute". So can you learn better under external pressure?

No, you would certainly have learned more from this presentation if you had worked on it early, happily and continuously, and had invested more time as a result.

Shortly before the appointment, when the pressure gets bigger and bigger, most people - but by no means all - succeed in suppressing the unpleasant feelings to the extent that work becomes possible.

What are these uncomfortable feelings that slow us down? It is the fear of failure coupled with the fear that the great effort may not be worth it in the end. (I didn't finish, didn't get my turn, wasn't rated fairly or not positively). Perhaps we are also dominated by the feeling that we are supposed to do something rather pointless, that has little to do with our own life and interests and then disappears in some folder until it is finally thrown away without having achieved anything.

For the Day care center from my point of view does that mean

- that every form of laughing at a child (= laughing when the child does not succeed in something) is prevented in the bud and that laughing is clearly classified as meanness for all children;

- that the casual presentation of ideas and results is practiced again and again during the day-to-day of the daycare center;

- that there is a preventive discussion of the fear of failure and the fear of embarrassment with the intellectually developed children.


To point 2:
Learning processes work best when there is a pleasurable interest or at least an inner willingness to deal intensively with the learning object.

Lust and learning are two things that for most adults do not belong together. If you watch one-year-old children, you can immediately see and hear the joy of doing and thus of learning. They laugh, they squeal with pleasure. Even if they are very focused, they do not appear uncomfortable at all. For us older people, however, the term “flow” had to be specially invented to describe the happy state in which - unfortunately not all - but quite a few people sometimes find themselves.

"Flow" is an English word that means "to flow"; in this context it means something like: "everything seems to flow wonderfully and as if by itself".

Flow is a state of great, joyful concentration on an interesting activity. It is directly linked to rapid learning. Anyone who is in the flow - regardless of whether they are children or adults - learns something new.

So if you want to initiate intensive learning processes, you have to create flow.

How does it work?

We have to do something exciting, inspiring that the children get excited about. You can call it research-based learning, or eventful pedagogy, or adventure pedagogy. Play and learn with joy and with all your senses.

When do most people run out of enthusiasm for learning?

- If they are kept in an unnecessarily regulated, poorly structured, low-stimulus environment populated by uninspired, permanently bored or permanently unhappy people.
This can be your own family, the living environment, the daycare center or the school. Children who are very unlucky in life find themselves exclusively in such surroundings from an early age. They will learn very little, much less than they could.

- Children also lose their enthusiasm for learning when they are supposed to fulfill requirements that are "taken" from a bloodless learning program or from a curriculum that is far from life.

What is laziness

This question is part of the desire to learn. One often hears: "He is actually brilliant, but simply too lazy to learn or create something."

So what is laziness?

From the point of view of the lazy named individual:
Don't feel like doing something and can't bring yourself to do it or don't want to bring yourself to do it anyway.

If necessary, the lazy person accepts the scolding of the environment and he also accepts disadvantages if he has not done something, for example has kept something wrong.

From the point of view of the environment:
Something that you just don't feel like doing, even though it is important and necessary (from an environmental point of view). We blame lazy people for not wanting to try hard enough.

The lazy person takes a freedom that we do not allow ourselves: he refuses. That's another reason we're angry with him.

But it is worth taking a closer look and differentiating.

Here are five very different cases:

A father who does not do his job reliably, who does not get out of bed on time and thus endangers his job.
= He is largely socially ostracized, no matter what tragic development fate may be behind it.

A man who never cleans a window in his life.
= That is socially accepted as long as someone else is cleaning for him. There are many men and rich women who have never cleaned a window - it is different with not rich women. This shows us that social acceptance is distributed unevenly.

A woman who never grows a vegetable patch and tends it carefully because she has absolutely no desire to do so.
= This is socially accepted nowadays, nobody would scold this woman lazily. In the past, when most women worked on a farm, they would have been heavily criticized by those around them. Whether a certain refusal is accepted is therefore strongly dependent on culture.

A child who cannot write some letters legibly, but refuses to practice, even if you explain to him that writing only makes sense if you can read what is written afterwards.
= It does not understand the argument, it behaves unreasonably. That means: It has to suffer the consequences: namely to have illegible writing and to get worse grades.
Can the child make this decision to refuse himself? Or does compulsion help here? I reject compulsion to learn in any form, because compulsion violates human rights, is also unproductive and destroys creativity. So after thorough, unsuccessful reasoning, I have to accept that the child makes his choice. Unfortunately, this is particularly difficult for many mothers. They increase the pressure or continue the lament to infinity, which is only harmful to the nerves of everyone involved.

"The real lazy person enjoys laziness without falling victim to it." This is what Jack Chaboud says in the "Little Book of Laziness".

Many gifted people have a secure feeling for how much refusal they can afford in learning processes that they are not interested in. Others fall victim to their fears and blockages, fail to achieve important qualifications, for example, and cannot lead a talented life.

And now we have one more child who does not do the swing exercises in 1st grade as a preliminary stage for learning to write.
= It is inappropriate. Is it right? Does it suspect or even know that it can (learn) to write legibly without these swinging exercises? It should be encouraged to try it out.

Let us imagine a gifted child who has painted many imaginative pictures because they played beautifully, lived beautifully and had the time and peace to process their experiences in pictures and symbols. A child who may even have sung a lot because of the people around him. This child has sufficiently practiced his fine motor skills and his sense of rhythm, he does not need any swing exercises - neither before nor in school! It would be a pointless act that does not produce anything important.

This is where the wise phrase of Lao Tzu comes into play: "Doing nothing is better than doing nothing with a lot of effort."

But even a particularly gifted child who does not paint a lot learns to write letters best when he writes down texts that are important to him. In this rather incidental learning process, the letters get better and better when the addressees of the texts make it clear in a friendly manner that they simply cannot recognize individual letters because they are too imprecise or even completely misspelled. But for this, the teacher in this situation (mother, father, educator, teacher or whoever) has to take the time to communicate with the child in writing over and over again - and she or he also has to include the initially scary letters Can accept serenity.

Where is the desire greater?
"Come on, do we want to write a little letter together again?"
Or: "Practice again writing a row B."

The American writer Thornton Wilder quotes another Chinese wisdom:

"The serene use their chances better than the driven."


Regarding point 3:
Learning processes succeed best when learning builds on existing knowledge and ties in with existing skills that can be used in the learning process.

The better I know a child, the more I have already done with him, the better I can assess what this child can already do and know, what I can assume and what the child can build on.

In order to get to know the child well, I have to do a lot with him. I see little of what an individual child can do when it "disappears" in a group of 15, 20 or even 30 children.

I watch what we do together. I help with baking two Children a cake together - and meanwhile leave the other children to their free play and the attention of my colleague - then I know afterwards which of the two children can crack an egg and which cannot; I also notice incidentally which child already has an overview of the entire process and which only oversees partial actions, and I notice what relationship the children have to numbers and weights. I can also find out which child can differentiate between flour, salt and sugar in terms of appearance and taste.

I also see what skills the children have already been able to develop to work together.

If I am not lazy, but talk to the children while baking, I can find out, for example, whether the children know where the flour comes from and what organic eggs are.

Such joint action and such discussions result in ideas for new joint activities, learning fields and projects.

I can briefly memorize what I have observed in cooperation with two children and immediately take a few notes afterwards.

I bake on the other hand 10 children, I am busy with ensuring a certain order, regulating who is allowed to break the 4 eggs ...
And I have to keep the frustrated children, who like to do more themselves and want to enter into a peaceful spiritual exchange, “to the bar”.

I then made an offer for 10 children, but in the end there was less learning and less joy and concentration in the room than if I had worked with two or three children.

And later on I can't say very much about the individual children, except: P. always pushes forward, L. holds back and F. makes nonsense. I don't get a thorough impression of the children, but rather make random individual observations that can solidify prejudices or which I quickly forget because I cannot go into detail in the situation.

Which form of work gives the educator more professional satisfaction? Everyone has to find out for themselves.

Quite apart from that, there are of course exhilarating and important learning experiences for the entire group.

Are completely ineffective in learning School classes. Because here I also have over 20 children, but no second colleague with whom I can temporarily split the group.
Sometimes I wish that all the children in the class had little traffic lights on their foreheads: the green light lights up when the child is happy and focused on the matter, the yellow light lights up when he is tolerably listening, the red light lights up when his or her child is Turned attention off or directed it somewhere else entirely. I'm afraid that there would be little green light to be seen in many classes for long periods of time.

If the ceiling light in the classroom only came on on dark winter days when the teacher felt joy and flow at work, then many classes would be pretty much in the dark.

With the current organization of schools and lessons, it takes a very long time for a subject teacher who teaches 130 children in 5 classes to really know his children, their skills and interests. Often it doesn't work at all, sometimes it almost stops with the name. No wonder that individualized lessons rarely take place.

But not only the subject teachers have this problem - the class teacher in a primary school cannot really learn much about all children either. At most, she can reasonably assess them with regard to the current learning material, but does she know a lot about her spiritual life?

Intensive activity with few children is more effective for learning than offers to the entire group or class.

Can I organize this in the day care center? And how often can I work like this?

Working with small groups has to be implemented and realized by everyone for themselves.
Personally, I didn't want to give up the almost daily work in small groups during my work in kindergarten. Of course, the groups were always composed differently: Sometimes I sang the kindergarten songs with four three-year-olds and talked to them about the lyrics so that they could soon be able to sing along with our most popular songs with confidence (it only took a quarter of an hour over several days), sometimes they did especially gifted children did scientific experiments, which often lasted a whole morning.
My colleague in the group had the same right to work in small groups, and I often noticed that she (a nanny) was having intense philosophical conversations with two children while playing a difficult game with them.

Even in our projects, which covered the whole group over a long period, working in small groups always had a fixed and important place.

Promoting gifted children in kindergarten is inconceivable for me without working in small groups. The best way to do justice to the gifted children is in integrative focus kindergartens for the promotion of gifted children, in which more gifted children are looked after than would be statistically expected.

(As a reminder: about 2 to 3 percent of all children are highly gifted. With 60 children, one would be very likely to be all alone in the far hall.)

The older the gifted children are, the more other gifted children should study with them.


Regarding point 4:
Learning processes succeed best when the learner understands what the knowledge and skills to be learned are needed for and what they are useful for.

Why are we going to the fire department with the group now? Why do I have to learn the rule of three in math? Why should I practice writing numbers? Why should I practice loop? (I have Velcro straps!)

Let's stay with the fire department. What do the children know / can do before and after? How is the topic embedded in everyday daycare? It only makes sense to visit the fire brigade if the children know beforehand what fire is, how beautiful fire is, but also how hot and dangerous fire is, what a damaging fire can cause and how a child can deal with fire has to deal with. If you don't let a child light a candle, you don't need to go to the fire brigade.
With the kindergarten, the children are supposed to go to the fire brigade, but it would never occur to many parents to make a campfire with their children.
In this way, knowledge remains superficial and detached from one's own experience and the children's interest tends to be dull and unfocused. Here, too, when 25 or 15 or 12 children besiege two firefighters, gifted children have little chance of entering into an intensive question-and-answer dialogue and are often frustrated at the end.


Regarding point 5:
Learning processes work best when learning is integrated into a project, the successful completion of which means something or even a lot to the learner.

A five-year-old boy taught himself to write with MS Word on the computer because he had a great desire to make a real picture book. For him, it was his turn to learn the writing program (which occurs in school, if at all, at the earliest in higher grades) in kindergarten because he was convinced that he needed it now. He understood and learned many options of the writing program quickly and quickly.
It seemed natural to him because it was part of his project and gave him no cognitive difficulties.

It was similar when my colleague had the idea to teach the children how to tie knots. It was of no interest to the children as long as they didn't need knots for their game. When at some point they began to build huts in the garden of the daycare center from sticks and blankets that they wanted for their play, they realized that knots can be useful.
Most children, including the older ones, were content with single and double knots. With the three gifted children and two of their friends, the topic of knots sparked a further learning process, they learned seaman's knots, based solely on drawings. The difficulties challenged her and the great knots excited her. However, only two of the three gifted children stayed focused until the more complicated knots.

So: we initiate and support exciting projects, then the children learn.


Regarding point 6:
Learning processes work best when their results noticeably lead to social recognition.

A theatrical performance that ends with the applause of the parents. An art project, the results of which are shown and sold in an exhibition. Potatoes collected from the farmer and ended up on the day care center's lunch table. Self-grown flowers and herbs that can be sold at Thanksgiving (which ends with a visit to an ice cream parlor with self-paid ice cream). Rehearsed songs that will please residents of old people's homes. Scientific findings that are presented in front of an impressed audience - it could also be acrobatics or magic tricks. A self-made (and self-invented) game that will still benefit generations of children in daycare. A hut made of sticks where people play all summer, etc. etc. etc.

The abundance of possibilities is huge.

Let us make sure that the children inside and outside the kindergarten receive sufficient confirmation.

A four in school does not mean social recognition, and even a one is individual recognition that offends others at the same time.


Regarding point 7:
Learning processes succeed best when there is a satisfying, possibly even inspiring exchange of ideas on the learning topic.

Even with young, gifted children, you can see how they blossom when they find suitable play and conversation partners. You need them from the start. Children of the same age should also be included, because the ability and desire to work together depends on early experiences:

Does it make sense to work together with the others, or is it always just frustrating?

A good project can lead children of different talents and levels of development together to a satisfactory success. However, it is important not to ignore the special play and learning needs of gifted children, but to pay attention to them.

If there are always great differences in talent to be "bridged", we have to imagine the following:
An adult with an IQ of 110 should get along with people in every situation of their job and have satisfying conversations that would score 30 IQ points less in a test.

If that is too abstract for you, imagine that you only have 4-year-olds available as play and learning partners as a 6-year-old child. How would that feel? It feels similar to a gifted child when they don't meet any other gifted child in their group.

We would know how to prevent the first case (no playmates of the same age) in the daycare for educational reasons. On the other hand, we accept the isolation of gifted children as normal and inevitable.

In school, the problem of inspiring conversations and high-level collaboration is exacerbated. They are even rarer for the gifted child.

How enthusiastic were my daughters when, many years ago, at the CJD school in Braunschweig, for the first time during their school days and then at this school, they experienced again and again that the intensive discussions from the lessons continued outside during the breaks until the next lesson rang the bell. In many schools this does not happen at all.


Regarding point 8:
Learning processes succeed best when another person supports the learning process through their factual authority, their human authority and, best of all, through their own enthusiasm for the topic.

This person can be the mother, the father, the grandma, the grandpa, the sister, the brother, the girlfriend, the boyfriend, the playmate, the playmate, the educator, the teacher, the coach, the mentor.

I want to call them all together mentors. Every gifted child needs one, or even better, several mentors.

We are well off in kindergarten. We are not bound by a curriculum, but can take up interesting topics from the children and introduce topics and activities that inspire us ourselves. That means we can make our own enthusiasm pedagogically fruitful.

What do I need to be a good mentor for gifted children?

1. I still (or again) enjoy my own learning.
2. I have real educational talent, which means that I always enjoy discovering things with children, even after 20 years. I am not bored or annoyed, but rather the liveliness and eagerness to learn of the children inspire me. And the children like me, most of them anyway, and want to emulate me.

The problem is:
All educators and teachers, all mothers and fathers have gone through our school system and have taken away from it a more or less strange and disturbed relationship to learning. Some see learning for themselves as a punishment, new things as a threat and the challenge of intellectual performance as an imposition.

In other words, they have to throw off these potential legacies in order to be good teachers for children.

With all the difficult working conditions in the daycare centers, which are caused by too large groups and lack of staff, I find it important that every committed educator allows herself the flow to work closely on the children's thoughts.

From my point of view, this means seeing it as a right and a professional task to work regularly in small groups with a few children. We should defend this right to deal so intensively with the children with tooth and nail!

Anyone who plays, learns and teaches with talent and enthusiasm is suitable as a teacher or mentor for gifted children.

Also read: Frau Becker performs an opera.

Also read: Cognitive advancement in day care. Absorb knowledge, train thinking.



Date of publication: Sept. 2012
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint


The translation of this post into English
was sponsored by
Dr. Dr. Gert Mittring, Bonn.

This entry was posted in 4.1 General information on promoting hanna. Permanent link of the entry.