The Mythical and Magical Memory of the Gifted Child

Every memory I have is shadowed by a gigantic pearled dragon or accompanied by a fairy flautist riding a rainbow unicorn monster stomping through jungle underbrush to a four-story waterfall. I think it’s safe to say that I grew up with imagination in spades. There is only one thing which could rival my imagination and that is my memory. Despite the fairies and dragons, my memory is annoyingly accurate and crazily intense. It is the pairing of the two, memory and imagination, which helps me as a parent to open up the world of my gifted children and how they feel about and how they respond to the classroom, their peers, and their home life.

Memory… like the corners of my mind. Not just the corners, but the sides and the middle and the front and the back. Memory is a funny and interesting thing. A five-year-old child with a great memory might make his parents ooh and ahh when he remembers in great deal something you’ve seen only once. A two-year-old who can recount how to make it to her Aunt’s house and back based on landmarks is a fun conversation piece for impressed parents. A ten-year-old who has memorized every dinosaur, every Pokemon™, every Harry Potter book, and every single thing his little sister says so that he can recount it at the moment you say no to him is a phenom for sure (even if it drives you crazy sometimes).

These are all great examples of the good use of memory. The trouble is that we can’t assign memory.

We can’t tell Johnny to memorize the times tables or Joann to memorize her alphabet after one or two passes, but not to be distracted by the movement of staff outside the classroom door everyday (Are you listening, Sally? No, I’m not. It’s 8:30. The tickets are carried to the office at 8:30 and the nurse gets in at 9:00). We have to understand that memories are not just nostalgia; they are imprints of everything we hear, do, think, and say. Our gifted kids are a never-ending energy ball of hear, do, think, and say- so is it any surprise that their memories are on overload?

As parents or educators of gifted kids, we should know that even if the details are so small and insignificant that we have forgotten them, it’s very possible a gifted child has not. Those little details which we have categorized as not necessary are just as new as the important bits are to the child. Those bits can become overwhelming and cluttered, but the process of dumping the memories we don’t need is not a skill I want my children to learn so early in their lives.

Gifted kids are constantly processing new information. They don’t only process information and curriculum, they process and file away conversations, feelings, patterns, expectations, and things they love so much they want to revisit them again and again (a passage from a book, a favorite flavor, or a sunny place on the playground). All of these swirl around in their mind in an inconceivable quantity. Someday they will learn to use them, appreciate them, categorize them, and back float amongst them; but for now, they are simply trying to live, learn, and grow in the real world while their soul giggles, glides, and dances through their new experiences.

This brings me to the gifted child’s imagination and the importance of encouraging a space in their memories for the imaginary. Gifted kids have unfathomable imaginations. Everything we present to them is an opportunity to learn something new; and new, to a precocious and expansive mind, means that anything is possible. In that new our kids build castles and stories and friends and memories. We have to let everything we offer to them, whether it’s a writing assignment or a chance to help in the garden, be a chance to use their imaginations as much as their memories. If we focus too much on the gifted child’s quick growth and amazing capacity for absorbing knowledge and information, we may close the door on myth and magic so quickly that learning becomes a chore and everything new becomes a reason for anxiety.

We can’t stop the memories from piling up inside our children’s minds, but we can encourage them to dig deeper and expand their perspectives. We can do this by appreciating and supporting their need to mingle fact and fiction. Memorizing a fact is a skill and a talent, to be sure… but imagining a new possibility growing forth from that one little fact? Well, that is the stuff of amazing invention and international bestsellers!

Make sure there is some room in your child’s expansive memory for imagination and I bet it will be filled in the most astonishing and unbelievable ways.