Realizing that your preschooler is gifted can catch you unawares, especially if the child is your firstborn.
If you are lucky you may have a partner, relatives or friends who act as resources, or at least sanity-preservers, as you face the ultimate hands-on, independent learning challenge - parenting. If you are more fortunate still, these support people or some other source of information might give you the perspective that enables you to detect when you have a youngster that is developing faster than normal.
Identifying giftedness in young children Perhaps the most useful first piece of advice is to keep good, dated records of your child's development, not just of sitting and walking, but of the less glamorous stages too, such as grasping an object with finger and thumb, first using a two word sentence, and first turning of the pages of a book etc.
Children clearly progress at different rates in the various areas of development. A child may mature quickly in the area of gross motor skills but may be slower in his or her mastery of the cognitive milestones. Of course individual milestones are not, on their own, a good basis either for diagnosing giftedness or for concern. It is the overall pattern of development in the area, with due allowance for cultural and personality factors, that should form the basis of judgment. On this basis the adjacent tables showing normal developmental milestones, and those significantly advanced, may be useful.
The above details were taken from Harrison (1995) pp 24 & 33, with Harrison attributing her information to Hall, EG & Skinner, N (1980) Somewhere to turn: strategies for parents of the gifted and talented children. New York: Teachers College Press.
It is in the cognitive and social areas of giftedness that some of these milestones are often more difficult to assess. In addition to language development, Milner-Davis (1996) suggests notice be taken of a child's
A parenting response It has been said that parents of gifted preschoolers should just do what all parents should do-feed their child's interests and respond to their needs as they change, and stay loose (ie flexible). (The normal follow-on advice is to enjoy this time, for problems undoubtedly start when the child reaches school!)
While there may well be truth in this, Milner-Davis (1996) suggests it is important to realise that the needs of the gifted youngster may not all be ones of simply finding the right materials or enrichment activities, and moreover that interaction with preschools and day-care staff can be demanding.
For instance a child may have a need for independence and leadership at an age where his or her chronological peers may not generally be ready to be led-this can lead to intense frustration unless there are other opportunities for appropriate social interaction. And the frustration and difficulties may well lead to problem behaviours, such as bossiness, which might need to be addressed and modified.
Problems with day-care and preschool arrangements can include those which may seem trivial to the adults involved. The organisationally efficient practice of having a line of little toilets without privacy might offend the sense of dignity in some advanced preschool children. (Or alternately it might appeal to the humour of others.) Some emotionally mature children might find being talked about by adults in their hearing offensive. Alternately children who have passed the need for an afternoon nap might find a timetabled slot for one a real problem.
The same flexibility we need in ourselves as parents we also need to look for in a preschool or care setting. This includes flexible groupings to allow a child to find their appropriate cognitive, physical and social challenges, and flexible use of resources, without certain materials being withheld simply due to age. Arguments for early admission or transfers from one stage to another apply equally in the preschool setting as they do at school.
Almost certainly there will be problems and parents may seek to charge in and set things to right. This might not always be wise. One parent, for whom I have great respect, says it is important for the child to receive the message that the parent can do something about any problem the child faces (King, 1996). But she continues to say that one of the choices the parent may make, after considering the choices, is to do nothing and to leave facing the problem to the child. Parents and other adults can facilitate language and social development by talking with the child about such issues and problems that he or she might be facing. The child can be encouraged to raise some of different solutions and then to predict the likely consequences. Ideally this process gradually becomes the child's, with the adult gradually withdrawing and leaving the child a strong tool with which to face problems in school and later in life.
Parents can also use real life examples to show how different people can have conflicting opinions and still be good people, and how varying standards of behaviour and language might reasonably apply in different circumstances.
Activities for gifted preschoolers Now for some immediate practical ideas. Things to do in that rare commodity, "quality time". Or in the queue at the supermarket. Most of the following ideas come from an article "Ideas and activities for parents of preschool gifted children" by Laura Siegelbaum and Susan Rotner, that appeared in Gifted Child Today in Jan/Feb 1983.
Harrison, C (1995) Giftedness in early childhood. Sydney: KU Children's Services.
King, V (1996) Email message on TAGFAM mailing list.
Milner-Davis, Jessica (1996) The gifted child in the family: Responding to the early childhood years. Talk given at the NSWAGTC 1996 Annual General Meeting, Sydney.
Siegelbaum, L & Rotner, S (1983) Ideas and activities for parents of preschool gifted children. For further reading there is an excellent set of references in Harrison (1995) and Milner-Davis, in particular, quoted: Barnett, LA & Fiscella, J (1985) A child by any other name... a comparison of the playfulness of gifted and non-gifted children. Gifted Child Quarterly 29(2), 61-66.
Kitano, MK (1985) Ethnography of a pre-school for the gifted: what gifted young children actually do. Gifted Child Quarterly 29(2), 67-71.
Moss, E (1990) Social interaction and metacognitive development in gifted preschoolers. Gifted Child Quarterly 34(1), 16-20.
Reprinted with permission of the author, © David Farmer, www.austega.com/gifted/.
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