Reviewed by Patricia A. Haensly.
The editor of this collection, Dr. Joan F. Smutny, senses an urgent need for early intervention in the lives of young gifted children. She intends this volume to provide "a framework of understanding" for readers who "cherish [young gifted children] as students, patients, friends, sons, and daughters." The book's 48 experts in advocacy for talented young children fill this framework with 41 chapters as they address five aspects of intervention: identification, special populations, parenting, meeting social and emotional needs, and creating effective educational experiences. Thus, as an anthology, this collection of individual, professional narratives of recommended practices represents the scope of educational literature related to gifted young children. It allows readers to select chapters of greatest interest to them.
Some authors articulate the two major themes that characterize the volume more clearly than others. These themes are: I) the necessity for teachers to learn how to recognize talent emerging in young children (e.g., Kingore's chapter), and 2) the necessity for teachers to be able to design and implement rich, practical, sensitive educational interventions (e.g., the Kitano & Perez, Shaklee, and Hanninen chapters). As Smutny indicates "early identification...is essential to...perceiving and meeting their needs" (p. 5), giving poignant emphasis to the volume's stated purpose.
Smutny is eminently qualified to collect and edit this anthology. She is founder and Director of the Center for Gifted at National-Louis University In Evanston, IL, a 1996 NAGC Distinguished Service Award recipient, author, and an enthusiastically received presenter at gifted conferences throughout the nation. The contributing authors are well known among gifted educators, although they are not all equally specialized in their focus on young gifted children. There are few surprises or break-through ideas as the authors have long been closely identified with the topics they developed for this volume. The volumes perspective is intensely educational, interwoven with the psychological needs of young gifted children. It is disturbingly Anglo-centric and unfortunately lacks a global perspective regarding young gifted children. Only a few chapters even allude to cultural diversity among young children in their titles, and then only as a subfocus.
Despite the breadth and depth of Smutny's expertise on this topic, it was disappointing that, as editor, she did not weave a more comprehensive tapestry-a bigger picture-from which readers might begin to construct a cohesive conceptual foundation for understanding benefits and problems of being young and potentially gifted. Smutny's introductions to each section concretely categorized each contribution's major focus, then described the chapter. Some chapters overflowed in redundancy and a few were trivial in perspective. The editor neglected to offer conceptual guidance for understanding strengths and limitations of an author's recommendations.
Nevertheless, outstanding chapters illustrate strengths in the content. For example, within identification strategies and techniques, Clark's description of the early process of becoming gifted dovetails nicely with Gelbrich's chapter on research about gifted infants and then with Kingore's practical application of appropriate procedures for observing and identifying advanced potentials.
Special populations receive special attention. Tolan's chapter offers an insightful understanding of the lack of fit between schooling and the needs of highly gifted young children. Wingenbach describes the gifted-learning-disabled-child's need for an integrative education, while Kitano and Perez place critical emphasis on training teachers to become gifted observers, planners, and evaluators in order to ensure that their practice nurtures giftedness effectively.
Parents are provided rich ideas for keeping curiosity alive (e.g., chapters by Walker and Halsted), and on offering one's children "heart-stretching and mind-stretching literature" through frequent reading experiences in the Hildebrand chapter.
LeVine, Kitano and Meckstroth explain well how parents and teachers can help young gifted children reclaim their strengths, using intensities and overexcitabilities for growth rather than restricting those intensities in order to fit in with others. Hanninen and Hollingworth clearly articulate design and implementation of effective preschool programs, giving a comprehensive view of needs and the fit that schools must design in response. Shaklee's chapter on educationally dynamic environments for young gifted children is a must read for all early childhood educators, describing developmentally appropriate practice as centering on developmental possibilities rather than limitations!
As a former director of a special summer program for precocious preschoolers, and now as a teacher trainer, I found Baum's chapter most intriguing. She describes fostering talent development using picture books as the basis for imaginative curriculum that speaks to each child's unique interests and abilities. Baum provides an extended example for designing a picture book experience, and supplies a picture book bibliography connected to domains ranging from physics to psychology and on to history. A favorite author of mine, Mitsumaso Anno, appears frequently across those disciplines.
In a manner befitting an anthology, this volume may best serve readers as a reference for review and/or exploration of possibilities, seeking out selections currently most personally relevant. It might also serve as supplementary reading rather than basic text in gifted education graduate courses even though many chapters simply describe good practice for all early childhood educators (e.g., Sisk's). Despite the few limitations mentioned earlier, the anthology offers rich thinking about meeting and understanding the young gifted child's needs. Thank you, Joan Smutny, for your foresight in taking on this task in an innovative and inclusive fashion!
Permission to reprint this book review was granted by the author and publisher, Roeper Review.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.