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New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Blog

What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


Dabbling in the Ever Expanding ‘Puddle’ of Learning

Identifying and Nurturing Growing Edges



Inspiration. It doesn’t always come when you need it. In fact, at times it can be particularly evasive. ‘Getting’ inspiration is one of those intangible processes, a bit like learning. We want inspiration to be on tap, readily available on demand. Likewise, there is often an expectation that learning occur “on demand” too.

While I would like to think it is recognised by most people that gifted kids are not all going to be all-rounders, there is an apparent unspoken expectation that gifted kids will learn simply because an opportunity is presented. Furthermore, this is expected to occur at a consistent rate for each ‘area’ of learning.

 But really, is it like that? Consistent?

 “You are really good at x,y,z so we expect you to ‘do better than that’ ... we have seen you pick things up faster than that before …you understood this before … were interested in this yesterday …” Of course it’s not. Well, perhaps I ought to put a proviso in there; if there are no barriers to areas in rapid development. If the pace is slow enough I guess it is more likely to be consistent … in not learning. But we’re not going there.

 In reality, we see learning spurts, and what may appear as learning regression or learning stagnancy. At any given time, learning may seem to: have stopped, be slow and incremental, or very quick; be narrow or broad in scope; and occur in one or more areas of interest or strength, seemingly related or not. Not to mention the frequency and timeframes for these, which can be somewhat random at best. As I see it, learning spurts are somewhat akin to growing spurts; to expect consistency is a fallacy.

As Deb Walker, CEO of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education so eloquently expresses through imagery below, gifted kids learning is more, well, like that of a grasshoppers: sometimes still, other times leaping; sometimes heading straight ahead, but often out on a tangent, and at times, back to a place previously visited; rarely ever in a pure lineal fashion at a consistent pace.


A few years back I stumbled upon the term “growing edges  and I thought this was a wonderful way of explaining this phenomenon. It goes beyond the notion of “teachable moments” to learner-driven exploration. Reading about growing edges immediately brought to mind the image of a puddle. Given it might seem a bit weird, but hey, I own that.

Just as a puddle stretches and expands in different directions at different rates and at different times, so do we all in our learning. These edges that are stretching are our growing edges. With the intensity our gifted kids experience, the rate and variances of this in different areas and directions is magnified and much more obvious, in turn making the need to be responsive even greater.


That “twig” over there away from the puddle’s edge may be insignificant for some learners, perhaps never being in the road or being removed naturally over time - by the wind, a bird, broom or whatever - in time for them to keep stretching at their natural pace, but, for a rapidly expanding puddle, it soon prevents stretch in that direction. If a narrow enough block it might evoke a “work-around” (lateral thinking), but if sufficient enough, this barrier may simply stop the expansion in its track. Does this sound familiar? Remind you of anyone or any specific context?

 Okay, so close your eyes and think back to when you last played with a puddle of water. Maybe it’s by your feet or next to where you were sitting, or perhaps it’s the condensation on the inside of the car window. I know it might have been a while. If you can’t remember then just imagine. Think about making it trickle in one direction or another. Sometimes the water flows freely, often wiggling off suddenly in unexpected directions, perhaps all on its own without any impetus, or with only the gentlest of touches, while other times it takes more effort to draw it out, particularly if you are trying to direct it. Now transfer this analogy to our kids and their learning. Where would you put your effort? In directing the flow? Or sitting back and observing, providing gentle prompting and guidance as seen fit, and responding to the natural shifts?

Now imagine again, that water, squiggling its way with sudden energy, perhaps a brief hesitation or two intermittently, but ultimately working its way far from the source and into uncharted territory, maybe doubling back on occasions, and even eventually joining up with one or more areas where the water has also stretched out in other directions …This is child-led learning in all its glory. Energy, focus and motivation are going into their natural growing edge, empowering them to explore new ideas, make new connections and be set to make even more connections over time, potentially unexpected and innovative ones at that.

 We cannot force learning. Ha! I think every parent/whanau reading this will know what I mean by that when it comes to gifted kids and their tenacity to do things “their way”. What we can do is inspire, invite, immerse, encourage, and be observant for those growing edges, so that as a “guide-on-the-side” we can support them through their sudden and very natural stretches in learning. We can remove barriers and promote that stretch. We can also talk with our children about growing edges and how learning is like our physical growth, it happens in spurts and that’s okay. Oh, and if you end up in a side-line conversation about growing pains … you might like to watch this clip together which is about lobsters and signals for growth. ;) I am sure that will start a whole new interesting conversation! Good luck!!


"...perhaps the best technique for supporting people at their growing edge is simply to provide openings for people to push against the edge and then be company for them as they stand at the precipice; once they are there, the growing edge is its own teacher"  - Garvey Berger



'What's the Story?' is a new blog section which is being written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


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What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

Image Credit: Slap water by Ctd 2005 is licensed under CC BY-2.0, Puddles on Bench by Brendan Landis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.



Dabbling in the Ever Expanding ‘Puddle’ of Learning

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