Physicist Charles Townes’ (pictured here) laser invention changed science and society, also bringing him the 1964 Nobel Prize. His reflections about his own life brought about my suggested resources (below) for gifted children who seek answers to the big questions.
Resource #1: Brainy people who will explore the child’s philosophical questions
Within your network of friends, find retired persons, intellectuals, and brilliant thinkers who are challenged by the big questions: what is the aim, purpose and meaning of this universe? Of our lives? See whether the child connects with any of these people and feels free to discuss deeper philosophical topics that are of interest to them.
Resource #2: Wisdom literature
Gifted children try to explore anything, think about everything, and ask lots of questions. Wisdom literature provides a foundational structure for the child’s evolving values and beliefs. A spiritual leader from your faith tradition can recommend books and may be willing to discuss them with the child. As Townes said, “Science seeks to discern the laws and order of our universe, including human life; religion, to understand the universe’s purpose and meaning, and how humankind fits into both.”
Resource #3: Volunteer work
Gifted youngsters are usually taught that there’s some purpose they will try to accomplish in their lives. But that’s very localized–what they want to do with their life. Be a person in their world who broadens their perspective. Volunteer work can often teach the gifted and talented child how to contribute to the well-being of others. It also helps them practice nurture and develop empathy for others: animals, family, neighbors, the environment… depending on the type of volunteer work chosen.
Resource #4: Regular conversation
Intellectually gifted children often have a higher capacity for deep conversation. When talking with a gifted child, ask broader questions about humanity: “What are human beings about in general? What is this universe all about? Where do brand-new ideas come from? To what extent does God help us?” You’ll probably be amazed at the answers you get as you help children broaden their thinking.
After Townes’ death in January 2015 at age 99…
…Michael Werner, project scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Paul Goldsmith, chief technologist for astronomy, physics and space technology at the Jet Propulsion Lab offered:
Townes was a teacher above all else….He was never too busy to talk with us, and he provides a dramatic counter-example to the cliche of the inaccessible professor. Townes’ legacy includes the many students he mentored, and it will be perpetuated as we pass on what we learned from him to future generations.
Let us also guide along the children in our lives, helping them explore issues of faith and meaning.
Tweetable: Gifted children often take an early interest in the big questions; four ideas here. Click to Tweet