Being far ahead academically is a trait shared by many children with high learning potential (HLP). They surprise you with a depth of specialist knowledge in conversation at home, or you discover an academic age gap from a recent assessment. Information is soaked up so rapidly that you wonder if there’ll ever be a limit to their ability to learn. However, you might have been told that other kids will “catch up” with them by GCSE age. How true is this?

A long stage of your child’s learning where they haven’t progressed onto more advanced topics is normally known as a learning plateau. Avoiding one can’t be guaranteed but several aspects can affect whether your child will continue to acquire knowledge and absorb it at a faster, deeper rate. You’ll need to remain patient when there are moments of unpredictability and stay grounded, so that you’re not unwittingly putting pressure on your child with unrealistic expectations of brilliance. If your child continues to be captivated by what they’re learning, their learning ability shouldn’t vanish.

Has Your Child Reached a Plateau?

They appear to be slowing down in their early teens

  • Your child had a reading age of ten when they were five but now other children in the class have caught up and can read complex texts. It is likely, however, that your child remains ahead in comprehension, because it requires reasoning and higher order thinking.
  • At secondary school, the range of subjects taught will mean less time to devote to each one. In that respect learning does slow down – so in a group setting there will be more children who appear similar.
  • In reading, is your child only going for books of a certain genre? In that case they’re not opting for a fresh challenge. But if your child sees reading as a vast adventure where they can explore varied settings and characters, consequently widening their range, that will continue to set them apart from most of their peers.

My son was amazing at primary school maths but now I’m not sure he is thinking like he used to – he recently got low marks for a test”

Real HLP-ness is demonstrated by intellectual depth. For example, your child will understand the reasons behind what makes an algebraic equation and be able to consider new ways to solve difficult maths challenges (see advice sheets: PA320 Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Thinking Skills) and  S306: Higher Order Thinking Skills).  If a test comes out with a lower than expected mark and your child’s knowledge is solid, it might be worth asking your son if they rushed, or perhaps misunderstood a question – things that frequently happen when there’s so much mental processing in progress.

My child complains that he’s learnt the same topic for four weeks but he doesn’t ask for different work”

There are children who need to feel approved by other people or who don’t want to draw attention to themselves, perhaps because they worry about alienation from other class members or because they’re worried about their teacher’s reaction. Even if they like doing new work, the teaching pace may be too slow, and adjustment of pace and accelerated learning would be good for them. Agreement between parent and teacher about developing your child’s talents means that there’s less likelihood of interest and learning stagnating. Advice sheet PA315 Meeting with the School has suggestions about the best approach.

She’s turned down the chance to work with older kids in a science club to try something completely random!”

Applaud your child’s spontaneity. Even if it’s a club that doesn’t connect with their main passion, your child will broaden their learning and engage in the company of other curious children.

My teenage daughter isn’t progressing”

Perhaps your daughter lacks confidence speaking up in class, or puberty means that she’s preoccupied with fitting in or looking and behaving in a way that conforms to gender roles.  All adolescents naturally experience a temporary drop in IQ score, but for girls it can be five times steeper!  ( Talk to your daughter about maintaining her individuality; no matter what is portrayed by social media or her peers. She shouldn’t underestimate herself – school should help with finding a mentor and allow your daughter the chance to achieve goals and risk-take in a safe environment. If she is great at maths, hopefully her teacher will understand that it is due to real ability, not just working hard.

He’s forgotten what he’s learnt”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will struggle. HLP children often dislike repeating something that they’ve studied already – be that lines for drama, how to write a paragraph or simultaneous equations. It’s important that you help your child distinguish which subject topics need revising and why, then think of a meaningful way to help them bust boredom so that they don’t plateau. For example, they might know a French noun but might have forgotten if it’s a masculine or feminine word. Could you download a different language app for them which will encourage your child to change how they practise their language learning, such as speaking it aloud or placing an accent in the correct place? Or get creative: find them family or friends to practise their French on, invite them round, and encourage your child to run a “cafe” at home serving simple French food where they use phrases such as “Vous désirez”. A friendly native speaker to chat with would also be welcome.

…even the Gifted & Talented Co-ordinator thinks a plateau will happen”

The G&T Co-ordinator may be drawing on their experience of previous children. Hitting a plateau will almost certainly happen if your child isn’t given new learning. This can apply to any child but particularly to children who have high potential, who certainly won’t achieve if opportunity isn’t there.

Help Your Child Soar

Gifted children often have multifaceted abilities – your child could be a natural at coding or acting even if they don’t follow specific classes, therefore try to ensure that they receive challenge in these areas outside of school to keep them engaged.

Long-term achievement also requires self-motivation, so keep checking that your child is challenged, not struggling when work gets harder, so that it doesn’t eventually put them off and offer them challenge yourself. For example, if they’ve mastered Python programming, rather than just creating a game, could they use it to build something e.g. a banana operated radio. Set the expectation that a prototype may not work first time and will require tweaks.  Read more in advice sheet: PA305, Inspiring Motivation to Learn

Work with your child on pursuing topics that they love and introduce them to astounding new concepts. Hopefully their thinking will soar for a lifetime!

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