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Curriculum & Instruction        < Previous        Next >


Is Your Preschooler Gifted?


Q. How do you tell if your child is gifted or talented, and what should you do about it?


All children are gifted, one way or another. We hate the idea that some parents think their children are superior to others just because they seem smarter. We all need to be bit more gifted in the humility department. Being smart is nice, but it certainly isn't the only thing to be happy about in a child.


But let's face it: there are kids who are truly gifted, and likely to wind up at the top of their high school class as our future doctors, lawyers, business owners, inventors and leaders, or going in to creative fields such as art, writing and theatre. They have special needs just as much as kids with learning problems do. It's best to start addressing those needs just as early as you can. And that starts with knowing what you're dealing with. Is your child just cute? Or truly precocious?


Your 2- to 4-year-old may be gifted if he or she:

-- Has artistic ability or an unusual ease for numbers. Is there a "wow!" factor?


-- Reaches developmental milestones well ahead of peers, say, a year or two ahead.

-- Has an extensive vocabulary or speaks in sentences much earlier than other children his age.

-- Is curious, takes risks, experiments with objects, and constantly asks questions.

-- Is unusually active, enthusiastic about certain things, and stays absorbed on one task or playing with one thing for a long time.

-- Has a vivid imagination, "play-acts" a lot, and has imaginary friends.

-- Knows a lot of facts, and memorizes lines from TV, movies, or books.

The key appears to be early reading. Gifted kids don't always read before kindergarten, but often, that's a bellringer sign. It is thought that the cognitive changes in the brain that come with the ability to decode symbols (words on a page) give that child an accelerated road to intellectual development. So emphasize books, reading, language and interaction with your child, and you can nurture giftedness.


A lot of interaction and attention with adults will naturally spur the bright child's progress, so keep up the conversations, questioning, songs, games, "hanging out," and especially reading to and with the small child. Take your child to the public library once a week and let yourself be "caught" reading as much as you possibly can. Go to museums, go to fairs, go to rodeos . . . get out there and give your child a body of knowledge and experiences from which to draw. And talk about it with him or her, a lot!


There are tons of interesting books on the market with learning activities that you could do with the child and a friend, or pay a babysitter to do. Follow your child's areas of passion. Always have a "busy box" full of creative supplies, junk, oddities and whatever else your child might turn in to something else. Support hobbies and interests. It's probably a good idea to limit TV, since that tends to make children passive rather than active.


For preschool, the gifted child will do best with a maximum of enrichment and hands-on experiences with art, drama, storytelling, gardening and the like, and a minimum of worksheets, TV, prefab toys and so forth. While rules and structure are important, the creative child may chafe at some of the routines that are designed for the average child, so beware.


You might consider homeschooling a gifted child through the early grades if he or she is already reading in kindergarten. That's because teachers in even the best public schools have to spend so much time remediating pupils who are struggling that those who are ready for accelerated work often get short shrift.


But if you homeschool, watch out for another problem later on: if you decide to enroll your youngster in school on down the road, he or she is likely to be several grade levels ahead of his or her age peers. You may not like the socioemotional aspects of skipping grades.


On the other hand, there are negative socioemotional consequences of leaving a child with a mental age of 14 in a classroom of 8-year-olds. See? Rearing a gifted child is no piece of cake. But then, no one ever told you it would be easy to be a parent, did they?


Homework: For more resources for parents of gifted children, visit


By Susan Darst Williams Curriculum 11 2008


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