I remember being very young and looking up at leafless branches against a cold autumn sky and wondering why they looked like the arteries I’d seen laced around the outside of the heart diagram we’d labeled in Biology class. I thought there must be a connection. I also remember the sinking feeling in my own heart that something was wrong with me. I absolutely could not focus singularly on whatever subject was in front of me. I was constantly making connections and inferences inspired by whatever information was being presented to me. I was told over and over again that this compulsive thought process, as well as the need to share it, would be my downfall…and for a long time, I believed it. I was well into adulthood when another gifted educator pointed it out to me. I’m a divergent thinker.

Divergent thinking, a topic that has received a lot of coverage lately, is a thought process in which the thinker thinks up as many different related ideas or solutions on any given topic or problem as possible. Gifted children are known for it. They are the ones raising their hands asking if the Greek letter Omega looks like a penguin to anyone else, demanding to know when the next zoology class is during electronics class, and suggesting we build a robotic penguin as our next class project. This process is creative, rebellious, chaotic… and beautiful.

Now you may be wondering: How can I know if divergent thinking is valued in my gifted child’s classroom? If you answer “yes” to at least two of these questions, it probably is.

  • Does your child’s educator delight in and allow plenty of time for discussion during lessons?

  • Is your child encouraged to keep a journal of her ideas?

  • Is there a dedicated time, each school day, for your child to pursue her own interests in a constructive, safe, supportive environment?

It saddens me to think most of the parents with their gifted children in traditional school will answer “no” to most of these questions. A conformist classroom is not designed to appreciate the gifts a divergent thinker brings to the table. For a sensitive, gifted child this lack of appreciation hurts and can leave a mark. The best medicine is a chance to feel heard and acknowledged. The next time your gifted child makes an unusual connection, try responding and saying “I really enjoy the way you think.” And if you can get them to slow down long enough for it, follow it up with a hug.  See what happens.

I’d love to hear the results!  Try it out and let everyone know how it went in the comments below.