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Gifted Children and Puzzles

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have two daughters, one who turned five in June and the other who turned two in May. I have always been told by her teachers that my older daughter is extremely smart, she has an incredible memory, extensive vocabulary and is able to follow directions once and complete tasks very quickly. There has always been something a little different and special about her that most people notice as intelligence.

The thing that brought me to your website was my youngest daughter. We recently brought out all of the kids puzzles (24 pieces) because my older daughter got 70, 100 and 200 piece puzzles for her birthday and of course, my youngest had to imitate her sister. On August she started doing the 24 piece puzzles and over the last month has mastered about 15 of them. Over the last week she moved up to 30 and then 48 piece puzzles and then on Sunday completed a 70 piece puzzle.

I didn't see it happen and didn't necessarily believe my daughters so I got it out for her today and sure enough she again completed a 70 piece puzzle. That got me thinking that maybe my kids really are smarter than the average. I don't know a reliable place to find a test or what books are good to look at. I have looked at some characteristic that are posted online and a whole lot of them fit my older daughter. Is there any advice you can give me to look into this subject? I don't know if being able to do a puzzle is an extraordinary thing, but I have never seen a two year old do this before so I thought it might be. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

A: This is a question a number of parents ask to determine if their child is gifted and is indeed a puzzling question! You did indicate that you bought a 200 piece puzzle for your older child but did not mention if she was able to complete it or the time she takes to complete it. Roughly, the recommended age for most puzzles of about a 100 piece is about 5 or 6 years and above depending on the level of difficulty. You could use this as a base.

For your younger child, this is probably above average for her age since she is doing a 70 piece puzzle. There are some (not all) gifted kids who love puzzles and may be quite good at them - starting as young as 12 months or even earlier for first level puzzles. The difference between gifted and non-gifted children is that the gifted ones move through the levels at a faster speed compared to their non-gifted counterparts. So, if your child loves puzzles, it is a good idea to have them available and handy - as you have since your older daughter has been doing puzzles.

Of course, it also depends on the level of difficulty (a 70 piece puzzle may be more difficult than a 100 piece), shapes of the puzzle, color, size, etc., which can all make a difference based on the number of clues there are to complete the puzzles. For instance, a child working on a 100 piece puzzle which is large with solid colors would probably be able to complete it faster than a similar ability child who is doing a 70 piece puzzle which is smaller and has more colors in each puzzle.

The speed that your younger daughter moved to complete the 70 piece puzzle does indicate that she is above average. What you need to do is to give her more challenging puzzles to keep her going. Gifted children need that extra stimulation; otherwise they have a tendency to get bored. Try a variety of puzzles, with increasing levels of difficulty - but not too difficult to the extent that they lose interest. You could also challenge her to complete it within a specific time and see if she can do it in lesser and lesser time. Another way is to mix pieces of two different puzzles and challenge her to complete two separate puzzles which become very exciting and stimulating for her.

There is a lot of information in the website for parenting gifted children. You may also want to look at past issues of this newsletter for recommended sites. If you have a family doctor, s/he may be able to recommend you a good educational/child psychologist if you want to do some testing to determine strong and weak areas. For the time being, you may even do away with testing until she is a little older and just observe and enjoy her interests. Best of luck.


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