Understanding Giftedness and Talent

What is known about giftedness and talent

  • Giftedness is identifiable in very young children.
  • Early identification is essential for the long-term wellbeing of the gifted child.
  • Giftedness is present equally in boys and girls and children from all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Giftedness is not rare – it is estimated 10–15 per cent of the population is gifted.
  • Gifted children can also have learning difficulties and disabilities.

It is important that the term 'gifted and talented' is not used as a label. As with all children, every gifted and/or talented child is an individual, with a unique developmental and learning profile. To identify a child as gifted and/or talented is to recognise this individuality and respond appropriately.

Definitions of 'gifted' and 'talent'

There are many different definitions of giftedness and talent. The information below is based on Françoys Gagné's definition and model of giftedness and talent.  Gagné's model requires professionals working with young gifted children to consider their role in the developmental process that leads from potential to talented performance.

While families are the most important influence in children's lives, professionals working with children in early childhood and the first years of school also play a significant role. The services they provide, and the learning environments and curriculum that they create will be important catalysts in the development of gifted children's potential.

According to Gagné's model:

  • Young gifted children have the potential to develop capacities for high-level performance (competencies or talents) in one or more areas.
  • The extent to which young gifted children are able to develop their potential depends on a number of factors, including the support and teaching they receive from early childhood professionals.
  • Most young gifted children will be at the beginning of the process of developing their gifted potential into what will become talent in a specific area or areas. This means that in most cases, gifted young children can be regarded as having a generalised advanced potential that will start to show as advanced competency or talent in one or more specialised areas from the early years of school.
  • The particular areas or domains in which young gifted children will begin to develop talent will depend on both their natural abilities and environmental influences such as experiences they have, and support and encouragement they receive. It is not always possible to predict in which area or areas young gifted children may develop their potential into talent.
  • Gagne's model of giftedness shows natural abilities are in relationship to talents and environment and intrapersonal elements.
    In the above model, young gifted children have advanced potential or aptitudes (those characteristics listed on the left-hand side of the model) that can be developed over time and through environmental influence to eventually be expressed as talent in one or more culturally relevant domains, e.g. maths, science, language, dance, sport, music, etc. (listed on the right-hand side).
    The development of potential into talent is influenced by personal and environmental factors (Gagné calls these catalysts), such as motivation, health, family, education, chance events, etc. (these environmental and intrapersonal factors are identified in the middle of the model). Apart from rare cases of child prodigies who can exhibit talent from a very young age, young gifted children are usually on the left and centre sections of this model, and progressing towards the right section. The right side of the model represents the emergence of talent.


    Giftedness can be described as a natural aptitude or ability in aYoung boy playing maths games beyond age-typical range.ny area, significantly in advance of what could be typically expected. In early childhood, giftedness involves advanced development beyond age-typical expectations, and a potential for advanced learning and achievement in one or more areas. The level of advancement is significant enough to require specific planning for the child’s learning and care that accounts for their advanced capacities, so that they can experience wellbeing and achieve their full potential in all areas of development.


    Talent is defined as achievement or performance at a significantly advanced level. Talents are linked to specific domains or areas of expression, such as musical or artistic talent, athletic skill or academic talent. In the early childhood period, however, development is very holistic and fluid, and rarely specialised in a particular domain.

    Giftedness leads to talent

    The implication of the model is that while very young children may have gifted potential that may be later expressed as specialised talents, it is not usually possible or useful to identify specific domains where a young gifted child may end up developing talent. For example, a four-year-old child may show a capacity to create elaborate paintings that show a strong sense of  colour and form. These may be based on abilities such as perceptual sensitivity, creativity and imagination, capacities to observe and focus, and to learn. Such abilities could potentially form the basis of talent in a number of domains such as music, science, writing, architecture, and technical skills.
    To identify this child as 'artistically talented' may lead to narrowing the focus of the development of this child’s potential. This is not to say that families and educators would not encourage and support this child’s development in art. Rather, it is to emphasise that we should be careful of saying in regard to a young child "This is their talent". Young children should be supported in all areas of their development, and as they mature the child's own interests and motivations should naturally lead into the appropriate areas of specialisation in the school years.

    This means that giftedness is the potential for high achievement, and talent refers to the development of that potential into performance. Gifted children in the early childhood period and the first years of school will have the potential for high-level achievement. They will usually be at the stage where this potential can be nurtured and supported to begin to develop their talent or talents in specific areas

    Felicity was advanced in her drawing skills, as well as socially and emotionally mature. This was readily observed through both her emotional response to a class discussion of a book of Picasso's painting and her subsequent drawing. After the conversation around Picasso's famous painting of the Weeping Woman Felicity was indignant. "How", Felicity exclaimed, "could Picasso be so mean as to paint someone while they were crying?"  When the class was invited to produce some drawings that resembled Picasso's style, Felicity imitated the Weeping Woman picture, but presented it as a Smiling Woman.