Gifted children “miserable” under ‘back-to-basics’ school approach

Young gifted children can be miserable when they are taught a ‘back-to-basics’ literacy and numeracy approach, said Australian Catholic University early childhood expert Dr Cathie Harrison.

Dr Harrison is the author of Giftedness in Early Childhood and Young Gifted Children – their Search for Complexity and Connection and co-author of the book Rethinking Learning in Early Childhood Education.

She spoke today (10 August) on International Day of the Gifted Child.

The expert has more than 30 years’ specialist experience in education and particular expertise in the field of gifted children. She is also an early childhood advisor to ABC’s Play School program.

“The back-to-basics approach can be very challenging for the gifted child who has already mastered early literacy and numeracy skills and concepts and wants to use them in complex and creative ways. Spending time revisiting what the child already knows and can do offers very little to excite curiosity,” Dr Harrison explained.

“School can be seen as a place that gets between the child and learning new things rather than the place where new learning happens. With a back-to-basics approach, the gifted child can quickly become disillusioned with school and act out frustration in the classroom.”

Dr Harrison said the media often negatively stereotype the gifted child as an “antisocial nerd who wears glasses” when the reality is much more complex and diverse.

“The more research that is done and the more that teachers listen to, and engage with, children’s thinking the more we are surprised by the depth and complexity of their theories and concerns,” she said.

“Gifted children are often concerned about the state of the planet and issues of social justice and fairness so when we listen to them and work with their ideas gifted children are able to give to the community in creative and insightful ways.”

She said the young gifted child often displays attributes from birth such as: infants who sleep less and demonstrate an amazing memory; learn rapidly, easily and efficiently; and young children who have early intense soul mate friendships, an intense interpersonal manner; use abstract thinking; and show a high degree of emotional sensitivity.

“Giftedness brings big opportunities and big challenges. We are talking about atypical learners who can be constrained by school experiences if teaching doesn’t allow for diversity, creativity and complex thinking and support for social and emotional well-being” she said. “It’s not always a blessing to be gifted.”

Dr Harrison encouraged teachers and parents of gifted children to offer open-ended play and learning tasks that provide opportunities for critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving.

“All young children, not only the gifted, should be treated as active, engaged, enquiring and curious learners,” she said.

Parents and teachers can find resources at the Australian Association of the Gifted and Talented:

Media Contact: Liz Drew, 0419 506 690,


Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs