Launched in 1971 at Johns Hopkins University, (it's now co-directed at Vanderbilt University), the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has followed the lives of over 5,000 gifted kids who scored in the top one percent of intelligence. Although its name suggests otherwise, the study, now in its 46th year, also included youth who were verbally precocious.
As CNBC's Make It reports, the study found that practice and focus aren't as critical to high performance in adulthood as previously thought. Instead, early cognitive ability seems to make the most impact, and yes, it's totally important you nurture your intelligent child's abilities.
What's more, putting bright kids on the fast track really seems to help, despite criticism that acceleration is bad for kids socially, makes them grow up too fast or creates knowledge age gaps. According to the study, kids who skipped grades were 60 percent more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a Ph.D. in a STEM field. In a September 2016 feature of the study appearing in the journal Nature, psychologist David Lubinski, who brought the study to Vanderbilt University with wife Camilla P. Benbow (both are study co-directors) argues that advancing students to higher grade levels costs little or nothing; all they need is earlier access to what's available to older kids.
Even less extreme acceleration, in the form of enrichment courses, seems to benefit precocious children as well. For example, the SMPY found that gifted kids who were given pre-college educational opportunities in STEM ended up publishing more academic papers, earned more patents and had higher level careers than their counterparts who didn't. For some notable examples, CNBC's Make It reports that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Lady Gaga are all one-percenters who have passed through Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youths—and we all know how they ended up.
Interestingly, Benbow, a dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University, says setting out to raise a genius is the last thing she'd advise any parent to do, since it "can lead to all sorts of social and emotional problems.” But to nurture your bright kid and keep them happy, she suggests parents try doing these eight things:
- Expose your kid to diverse experiences.
- Support your child's intellectual and emotional needs.
- Develop your child's strong interests or talents.
- Praise your child's effort, rather than ability, so he or she develops a "growth mindset."
- Encourage your child to take intellectual risks and use failures as learning opportunities.
- Avoid labeling your child, since being identified as gifted can be an emotional burden.
- Work with your child's teacher so he or she gets more challenging material, extra support or more freedom to learn at his or her own pace.
- Test your child's abilities.
For more info on the study, check out the video below.