How smart is my child?

Many parents wonder how their child compares to other children and are curious to find out if they are raising the next Einstein, or whether she is just on par with other children her age.

It is important to know how your child’s level of intelligence compares to other children her age, especially when it comes to time to choose a school. I have found that the single most important factor for achieving academic, social and emotional success is knowing whether or not the child fits the school.

Thankfully, there are certain childhood milestones that can tell us when children are ahead of — or behind — others their age.

Here’s an overview of what I call “Levels of Giftedness,” five levels for measuring children’s intelligence — from those who are simply bright, to those who are intellectually astonishing — with milestones that are common, but not necessary, to each level.

Level one

• These children show interest in many things before they are even 2-years-old — like colors, counting numbers in order, and playing simple puzzles.

• Most are good talkers by age 3, and by 4, many can print letters and numbers, recognize simple signs, their name, and know most of the alphabet.

• By the time they are 6-years-old, many read beginner books and type at the computer, and most read chapter books by age 7.

• It is not unusual to find six to eight level one children in an average classroom — children who are nearly always a few steps ahead of what the teacher is teaching the whole class.

Level two

• These bright children love looking at books and being read to, even turning pages without ripping them by the time they are 15-months-old. Some shout out the name of familiar stores as you drive past.

• Many know lots of letters by 18 months and colors by 20 months, and between ages 3 and 4, they count small groups of objects, print some letters and numbers, and they very likely drive their parents crazy with all their questions.

• They’ll sit for, what seems like, hours as you read advanced-level books, especially fiction and fantasy, to them, but they require a bit less of your time by age 6, because most of them read for pleasure and information on their own.

• Level two children can find only one or two others in their classroom who are as advanced as they are, which makes it hard to find good friends.

Level three

• They’re born wide-eyed and alert, looking around the room, reacting to noises, voices, and faces.

• They know what adults are telling or asking them by 6 months. You name a toy, pet, or another person, and they will look for it.

• Everything level two children do by 15 months, these kids do by 10 to 12 months, and they can get family members to do what they want before they are actually talking.

• By 2-years-old, many like 35-plus piece puzzles, memorize favorite books, and know the entire alphabet.

• By 3-years-old, they talk constantly, skip count, count backwards, and do simple adding and subtracting because they enjoy it. They love to print letters and numbers, too.

• They ask you to start easy reader books before 5 years, and many figure out how to multiply, divide, and do some fractions by 6 years.

• Most of these children are a full two to five years beyond grade level by age 6 and find school too slow.

• There are one or two level three children in every 100 in the average school. They are rarely in the same elementary class and can feel very, very lonely.

Level four

• Level four babies love having books read to them, and pay attention within a few months of their birth.

• They are ahead of level three children by another two to five months while less than 2-years-old.

• They have extensive, complex speaking by 2-years-old, and their vocabularies are huge!

• Most of them read easy readers by 3-and-a-half to 4-and-a-half years, and then read for information and pleasure by age 5, with comprehension for youth and adult level books at about 6 to 6-and-a-half years.

• There are about one per 200 children in the average school. Without special arrangements, they can feel very different from their typical classmates.

Level five

• Level five children have talents in every possible area. Everything is sooner and more intense than other levels.

• They have favorite TV shows before 6- to 8-months-old, pick out letters and numbers by 10 to 14 months, and enjoy shape sorters before 11 months.

• They print letters, numbers, words, and their names between the ages of 16 to 24 months, and often use anything that is available to form these shapes and figures.

• They show ability with 35-plus piece puzzles by less than 15 months and interest in complex mazes before they are 3-years-old.

• Musical, dramatic, and artistic aptitudes usually start showing by 18 months.

• Most speak with adult-level complexity by age 2.

• At 2- and 3-years-old they ask about how things work, and science — particularly biological and life-and-death questions — emerge.

• They understand math concepts and basic math functions before age 4.

• They can play card and board games ages 12-and-up by age 3-and-a-half to 4.

• They have high interest in pure facts, almanacs, and dictionaries by age 3-and-a-half.

• Most read any level of book by 4-and-a-quarter to 5 years.

• They read six or more years beyond grade level with comprehension by 6 years old and usually hit 12th grade level by age 7 or 8.

• We know they occur more often than once in a million and regular grade school does not work for them. Levels three through five score very high on ability tests.

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Once you have a sense of your child’s abilities, you can provide her with more activities and experiences that build on these strengths and take advantage of her talents. You can also begin your search for appropriate environments in which she will thrive. Choosing the right schools for your child might be the most important decision you ever make for her healthy intellectual and emotional growth.

Deborah Ruf, PhD, of Minneapolis, is a private consultant and specialist in gifted assessment, test interpretation, and guidance for the gifted. Having been a parent, teacher and administrator in elementary through graduate education, she writes and speaks about school issues and social and emotional adjustment of gifted children. She developed the Ruf Estimates of Levels of Gifted, which is delineated in her book, “5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options” (formerly titled “Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind,” 2005 [www.giftedbooks.com/productdetails.asp?id=48]) as well as in the new online assessment, TalentIgniter (www.talentigniter.com).