The Fine Arts: Teaching Child Prodigies

Figure 1.--

A child prodigy brings to mind a child with an extraordinary ability that is not usually found in a young child. Encarta identified those historical figures that as children were so described. The abilities these individuals had ranged from being able to read at an early age, having exceptional ability in music, art, mathematics, languages and a specific sporting ability. Many of the personalities in the Encarta listings were described as precocious children.

Long Term Impact

There have been factual as awell as fictional stories and films about such children and the way adults treated them. Often the child prodigy's talents are such that parents encourage them to perform in public. Oddly, the story develops into a scenario in which the child prodigy has to sacrifice childish activities in the pursuit of musical excellence. Over practicing at the expense of social interaction makes a very good film with the audience wanting to knock some sense into the parents who are being nasty to a vulnerable gifted child. Fortunately as the story progresses the child rebels and the final outcome is that the child is allowed to relax and do activities associated with his age as well as physical and emotional development.

Modern Children

These are historical and story book child prodigies. Having taught several emensky gifted children, the first thing I can say is that they bear little resemblance to some of the historical prodigies and the characters that inhabit story books. My first lesson was to learn that these were kids with extra ordinary abilities. They had lots of childish needs which were not always academic ones but needed to be developed as well.

Summer Camp

The lesson was learnt at a summer camp. We had visiting experts who came to talk to the kids about their sphere of expert knowledge. These were great lectures but one day I was with a group walking to a candy store. We passed some blackberry bushes growing wild. The kids wanted to know what they were. I said that the fruit could be eaten. I ate one to prove the point. Then I told them about blackberry collecting and making a pie with them afterwards. Suddenly eyes shone with wonderment. After lunch the camp director came to me and explained that the children wanted to go on a blackberry hunt and I was in charge. We had a wonderful afternoon collecting the berries. We ate as many as we collected. Arrived back in camp and we made the blackberry pies for dinner that night.


None of my guys wore glasses. They all had A1 vision. Not all of them read books all the time. They gathered information from a variety of sources. This includes books, newspapers, radio, TV, films and from listening to others with more knowledge than they had.

Singular Passion

All of them had at least one passion that they followed. If it was sport they sought every opportunity to play the game. They had a vast general knowledge of the game and if it was football, they would have a particular specialised knowledge of the club they followed.


I have always found it very rewarding to have an artist prodigy in the class room. Every day is a surprise because the chalkboard is likely to contain interesting sketches. It might be ‘horses’ one day and ‘racing cars’ the next. When the relationship is well established there can be a cartoon sketch of oneself. This I found amusing. On another occasion a pupils brought a sketch drawn while I was teaching. The sad thing about the chalkboard drawings was that they lasted a moment before they were removed so the day’s lessons could begin. If only I’d have thought to take a photograph!


At the moment I’m working in a school that teaches languages. I was surprised to discover that two of my pupils are prodigies. Not only can they speak their mother tongue but can speak can also speak one other language fluently. They are learning English. One pupil has also volunteered to learn French as well. Another 8 year old is, in his spare time at home, teaching himself German. Ten months ago the pupils could hardly speak English. Now they can read, speak and write it. They have made phenomenal progress far beyond what I would have expected based on past experience.


It seems that almost what ever these children do is successful. A new piece of work will be looked at carefully before they proceed. They will ask questions and immediately call for clarification if something has not been fully understood. I once felt very uncomfortable when I said to one of my prodigies to explain the lesson to the class. He did and I was taken aback with the ease in which he accepted the challenge. The kids enjoyed the change of teacher though and they volunteered to tell the form about their interests.


Some of the children are gifted musicians and this is the case for one boy I teach. He can play the piano at an exceptional level. What he does not like is to play in front of an audience. However, I respect his decision and have not forced him to play in school concerts. He does not mind being in a choir so long as he is not the focus of attention.


One guy I taught was great with computers. He was amused at my ability and listened to what I had to explain and then showed me other ways to do the same thing. Oh well you live and learn!


I have found in sport that they have excellent hand and eye coordination. They and enjoy many different games too. They play to a high standard and have a natural understanding of the game and tactics that others have to spend long hours of training to develop.


These guys have singleness of purpose. They get an idea and they pursue it to the end. One kid wanted to make a talking book. He realised that the tape player could also record as well play. He came to me and asked could he take the machine out of the library into a quiet room. I did not fully understand why, but could see that there was something he wanted to do. I got the librarian’s permission. It was then that the pupil took out of his bag a blank tape and proceeded to make the talking book. The fact that he had the tape already with him was evidence that he had been planning to do this for a day or so.


Clothes these guys wear is fashionable. They have the latest fashions just like their peer and get just as scruffy in their play. Some have a sense of the occasion and wear the right clothes for the activity they are doing others are too interested in the activity to bother about what they are wearing.


Literature would have us believe that a prodigy’s skills and high achievement set them apart from their peers. Yes it does. I have read the book Able Misfits and the problems of mixing in with their peers is an important theme throughout the case studies. It is not my experience and in my teaching I have encountered few prodigies with this problem. It has been my experience that these kids know how to interact with their peers. They have a best friend and lots of other ‘mates’ that they get on well with. It is not always love and friendship. There are occasions when they fight. This is usually when an argument has got out of hand or the rules of the game have been violated. What ever the cause the end result is fisticuffs and well not condoning a fight it is clear these pupils are no ‘softies’ and have given a good account of themselves. After the battle comrade returned and they go off into the sunset best buddies with the guy who they were knocking the stuffing out of or who moments before, was doing the same to them. At other times they have a coolness that allows them to fend off an argument before it becomes conflict. I once saw this happen and all it took was a few calm words from the prodigy to his friend. Who’s intense emotion of the moment was dissipated and his raging anger was calmed as if it was the easiest thing in the world.


I have encountered those with dyslexia. This linguistic difficulty was the cause of their frustration and held their development back until special teaching methods aided their progress.


To summarize my experience of child prodigies it would seem that they come in all shapes and sizes. They have been girls and boys. None wore glasses. Neither have they been the social outcasts that books suggest. Rather they have an ability to fit in with a wider ages than just their peer group. Like us all they need the opportunity to be with their own age group. They also need to be with children like themselves as well as having a need to interact with older children and adults. Some have unexpected learning difficulties despite extraordinary skill in one area. They also have many interests and pursue them to a deeper level of understanding. Einstein was the worst student in his maths class and was unable to remember his multiplication tables to the frustration of his teachers. My guys do not fail in this aspect of arithmetic but understanding fractions can be troublesome. Thank goodness!

William Fergusson


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Page
[Return to the Main prodigy page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Countries] [Garment styles]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Main Chronology Page]
[The 1880s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]
[The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Kilts] [Caps] [Sailor suits] [Sailor hats] [School uniform] [Scout]

Created: April 26, 2003
Last updated: April 26, 2003