Albert Einstein was 4 years old before he spoke a word, and 7 before he could read. Winston Churchill failed the 6th grade, and Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. What do these three famous people have in common? Well, they're no dummies. In fact, they are all considered gifted, and in some cases, genius.

So how do you know if you are raising the next Sir Isaac Newton? According to Joan Smutney, Director of the Center for Gifted at National-Louis University in Illinois, and author of Stand Up for Your Gifted Child, while there's no blueprint for genius, there's a set of behaviors and traits that may indicate that your child has special gifts or talents. Gifted children often:

  • Express curiosity
  • Show creativity
  • Have an extensive vocabulary
  • Have a unique way of solving problems
  • Apply what they've learned to new situations
  • Have an exceptional memory
  • Are artistic, musical, or dramatic, with a well-developed imagination
  • Work independently, take initiative, persevere at challenging tasks
  • Have a sense of wit and humor
  • Have a sustained attention-span

"Joyful early childhood learning sets a child's attitude for later learning," says Smutney. Not only do parents often underestimate the ability and talents of 4, 5, 6, and 7 year olds, she says, but in this fast-paced society, we often fail to encourage children to be curious, to explore and create.

Those things take time and patience – two things our instantaneous society seems to discourage with vigor. Smutney adds, "We need to give them enough time to think and imagine and wonder. We need to help them rise to the next level and teach them that it's okay to take risks and make mistakes."

Nurture Your Child's Gifts Now

What can a parent do? According to Smutney, a lot. As parents, you can help bring out your child's gifts by challenging him from day one, without pressure. Stay flexible and open-minded and encourage your child to try new things. Then enjoy those new things with them.

Some activities parents can do with their children to bring out their gifts are:

  • Play with Legos – one of the best building toys for creative, original play.
  • Read books... lots of them! And don't rush it. Give children a chance to really soak up the illustrations.
  • Play with PLAY-DOH and other hands-on creative activities, which allow kids to explore new colors, shapes, and textures.
  • Encourage art – painting, coloring, drawing. Let them make purple skies and blue trees – whatever they decide, without pointing out what's "real."
  • Engage in imaginative play together. Pretend the couch is your spaceship, or the kitchen your restaurant.

Says Smutney, "Sometimes we're so academically focused, we overlook the role of creativity, imagination, and fun." Genius can't be taught, but it can be encouraged. And at its heart, being gifted means being able to think out of the box. Be patient with your child's creativity, even if it slows down your day. If she is the next Newton, you'll be giving her a head start.