Signs of Giftedness

How can a bright child be recognized?

Each child is different. It is difficult to generalize, but many bright children have some of the characteristics listed below:

  • perceptive, inquiring minds
  • unusual insight and intellectual curiosity
  • superior judgment and reasoning ability
  • abstract and critical thinking
  • originality
  • ability to see connections between ideas
  • long concentration spans in areas of interest
  • advanced reading ability
  • extensive vocabulary
  • keen powers of observation
  • strong sense of ethics and values
  • a sense of humour
  • a rapid mastery of basic skills
  • special ability in one or more areas, such as music, art, science, language, computers, or mathematics

This is far from being an all-inclusive list, and not every bright child has all of these characteristics.

Additional indicators of giftedness can be found below and also on the webpages of other organizations such as these:

What to Expect When…You’re Raising a Gifted Child (OAGC - Ohio) - Note page 7

The Journey: A Handbook for Parents of Children Who Are Gifted and Talented (Alberta Government) – Note Chapter 2: Signposts Along the Way

Looking for Children who may be Gifted

In very young children, giftedness may be indicated by:

  • Early verbal ability
  • Strong mathematical skills
  • A long attention span
  • Early ability to reason abstractly
  • Early interest in time

(Source: Colangelo, N., Assouline, S.G., and Gross, M. U. M., A Nation Deceived. Templeton National Report on Acceleration, 2004.)

In general, compared to children of the same age, gender, temperament and cultural background, the gifted, school-age child will exhibit some of the following behaviours more frequently, more intensely and for a longer period of time:

  • Humor: Exceptionally keen sense of the comical, the bizarre, or the absurd
  • Imagination and creativity: Extraordinary capacity for ingenious, flexible use of ideas, processes, materials or anything else
  • Inquiry: Probing exploration, deep questions; experiments with events, ideas, feeling, sounds, symbols, movements, etc.
  • Memory and Processing: Tremendous "brain power" for dealing with large amounts of information and skills.
  • Sensitivity: Unusually aware of or responsive to experiences and feelings, both their own and/or those of other people
  • Expressiveness: Extraordinary ability to communicate meaning or emotion through words, actions, symbols, or media
  • Reasoning: Outstanding ability to think things through and consider implications or alternatives; rich, flexible, highly conscious, logical thought
  • Problem solving: Outstanding ability to find systematic solutions to problems; is able to invent and monitor many paths to a goal; seeks challenges
  • Intuition: Suddenly discovers connections or deeper meaning without conscious awareness of reasoning or thought
  • Learning: Able to grasp and use sophisticated new understandings quickly and easily
  • Interests: Advanced, ardent; perhaps for unusual topics; passionate, sometimes fleeting
  • Moral and ethical concerns: Intense need for fairness and justice; deep desire to take action to resolve injustices; concern for consequences of their actions
  • Motivation: Persistent, intense need to know, do, feel, create, or understand

(Source: "Brilliant Behaviors" by L. Kanevsky, in The Tool Kit for Curriculum Differentiation, 1999.)

The list below is excerpted with minor edits from GROWING UP GIFTED: DEVELOPING THE POTENTIAL OF CHILDREN AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL, Second edition, by Barbara Clark, Merrill, 1983

The intellectually gifted child characteristically differs from the average child in cognitive, affective, physical, intuitive and societal behaviour. These characteristic differences are the source of the special educational needs of gifted children.

If a child is observed showing some of the following behaviours, he or she could be gifted:

  • asks a lot of questions
  • shows a lot of interest in progress
  • has a lot of information on many things
  • wants to know why or how something is so
  • becomes unusually upset at injustices
  • seems interested and concerned about social or political problems
  • often has a better reason than you do for not doing what you want done
  • refuses to drill on spelling, math facts, flash cards, or handwriting
  • criticises others for dumb ideas & becomes impatient if work is not "perfect"
  • seems to be a loner & seems bored and often has nothing to do
  • completes only part of an assignment or project and then takes off in a new direction
  • sticks to a subject long after the class has gone on to other things
  • seems restless, out of seat often
  • daydreams
  • seems to understand easily
  • likes solving puzzles and problems
  • has his or her own ideas about how something should be done and stays with it
  • talks a lot
  • loves metaphors and abstract ideas
  • loves debating issues

This child may be gifted cognitively (intellectual).

Cognitive characteristics of the gifted child include:

  • extraordinary quantity of information;
  • unusual retentiveness;
  • advanced comprehension;
  • unusually varied interests and curiosity;
  • high level of language development;
  • high level of verbal ability;
  • unusual capacity for processing information;
  • accelerated pace of thought processes;
  • flexible thought processes;
  • heightened capacity for seeing unusual and diverse relationships;
  • ability to generate original ideas and solutions;
  • early ability to use and form conceptual frameworks;
  • persistent goal directed behaviour.

Creative giftedness may be indicated if the child:

  • tries to do things in different, unusual, imaginative ways;
  • has a really zany sense of humour;
  • enjoys new routines or spontaneous activities;
  • loves variety and novelty;
  • creates problems with no apparent solutions and enjoys asking you to solve them;
  • loves controversial and unusual questions;
  • has a vivid imagination;
  • seems never to proceed sequentially.

Affective (or emotional) characteristics of a gifted child might include:

  • large accumulation of information about emotions that has not been brought to awareness;
  • unusual sensitivity to the expectations and feelings of others;
  • keen sense of humour;
  • maybe gentle or hostile;
  • heightened self-awareness, accompanied by feelings of being "different;
  • idealism and a sense of justice that appear at an early age;
  • advanced levels of moral judgement;
  • high expectations of self and others, which often lead to high levels of frustration with self, others and situations;
  • unusual emotional depth and intensity;
  • sensitivity to inconsistency between ideals and behaviour.

Additional Resources

These resources were gathered by dedicated volunteers who recognize that families and educators need access to essential resources about gifted learners. 

Links to Online Resources

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted 

Educators for the Gifted Organization          

National Association for Gifted Children (U.S.)

Twice-Exceptional Newsletter                         

Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page                       


Resources for Secondary School Age Gifted students 


Canadian Ecology Centre

  • Earn high school credits in a two-week summer course


LEAP - Laurier Enriched Academic Program

  • LEAP enrichment camps are offered twice a year to these age groupings: Gr. 1-3, Gr. 4-6 and Gr. 6-9


Queen’s University Enrichment Studies Unit

•          Various resources for students, parents, and educators


Virtual Research On Call

  • An organization that connects elementary and secondary students with professors in mentoring relationships in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)


Western Initiative for Scholarly Excellence

  • Concurrent enrollment program for high-achieving students in grades 11 and 12


 The Great Courses

'All the joy of learning, with none of the pressure of schedules, homework, or tests'