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Young Gifted Learners

The young gifted learner (ages 3 - 8) can be a source of joy and wonder in today's schools. A child enters our lives with many hopes and dreams.  Yet, because few school-based gifted programs exist for this age group, few teachers have the necessary training to identify or serve this population (Gross, 1999).  Undeniably children come to us with many strengths and interests and it is everyone's responsibility to attend to the potential and promise in all children.  The challenge is how to best identify and serve this unique population of gifted students.  

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has proposed the following "best practices" for meeting the learning needs of all young children. Let's see how we can begin to intertwine these recomendations with what gifted education practices have to offer:

  • Environments that are least restrictive
  • Services that are family-centered
  • Service delivery that is collaborative
  • Practices that are both empirical and value-driven
  • Practices that are both developmental and individually appropriate 

  Environments Are Least Restrictive

Activities and projects are student-centered and student-driven.  For instance, a child may want more time to interact with a center that really inspires them.  A teacher may want to give that child more time to look at a book about dinosaurs or another topic that captures their imagination. There even may be an opportunity for a child to learn from another adult or spend time at the library.

For More Information:

"The Importance of Being Early: A Case for Preschool Enrichment" by Ken W. McKluskey. Parenting for High Potential, 2000.(pdf)

"Teaching Young Gifted in the Regular Classroom" by Joan Franklin Smutney. ERIC Digest, 2000.

"What Do we Need to Know about Children who have Already Mastered Pre-school or Kindergarten Skills Prior to Entering the Classroom?"  Connecting for High Potential, 2006. (pdf)

Services Are Family-Centered

Parents are the first to recognize their child's strengths and interests.  They have an invaluable role to play as part of thoughtful planning of individualized instruction.  Teachers are often surprised when they open the lines of communication with parents.  Through an interest survey, a teacher may find that a student has been taking riding lessons since the age of 14 months or helping to repair a car with their parent at home.

For more information:

"Highly Gifted in the Early Years" by Miraca M. Gross. Roeper Review, 1999. 

"Parenting Young Gifted Children:  How to Discover and Develop Their Talents at Home" by Joan Franklin Smutny. Parenting for High Potential, March 1999. (pdf)

"Differentiated Instruction for Young Gifted Children:  How Parents Can Help" by Joan Franklin Smutny.  Parenting Forum, 2004. (pdf)

"Teacher-Parent Partnerships" by Kevin J. Swick. ERIC Digest, 1992.

"No Child is Just Born Gifted" by Barbara Clark. Parenting for High Potential, 1997. (pdf)

"Helping Your Highly Gifted Child" by Stephanie Tolan. ERIC Digest, 1990.

Service Delivery is Collaborative

NAGC believes in the importance of collaboration among gifted, general, and special education programs, and the subsequent need to provide support for these efforts. Collaborative efforts promote the strengths of all school programs.  At school, the gifted teacher will work closely with the classroom teacher as well as other specialists to provide for the special needs of each child.  A student who is an imaginative artist may have needs in the area of early letter identification.  Child development recognizes that children may reach different stages at different times in their development. Collaboration with child experts can provide parents and the school with the needed information to create services that will best meet each individual child. 

For More Information:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Child Developmental Stages-Website

Council for Exceptional Children-Website
This website has a wide variety of information on the needs of exceptional children including many resources for parents and teachers.

Practices Are Both Empirical and Value-Driven

Purposeful in-service or training in gifted education can significantly increase teacher effectiveness to structure observation of the children in class and provide information for meeting the individual needs of students.  The service of young gifted children must be reflective of the school community values and needs as well as based on best practice.  For example in one school where a child exhibits an interest in music, there may be access to a music teacher or gifted specialist who can come in regularly to work with that student on sound and rhythms. In another school, a teacher may be solely responsible for meeting the needs of young gifted children.

For More Information:

Gifted Canada-Website
Sponsored by the Gifted Children's Association of British Columbia, this website organizes many resources concerning gifted preschool children.

Project U-STARS~PLUS-Website
Project U-STARS~PLUS is working with school districts to support teachers in the early recognition and nurturing of outstanding potential in children from economically disadvantaged and/or culturally/linguistically diverse families and children with disabilities in order to improve their academic achievement in the area of science.

For suggestions on how to make informed, data-driven policy decisions for young children, check out "Understanding Research: Top Ten Tips for Advocates and Policymakers"(pdf) at the Voices for America's Children-Child Advocacy Institute.

practices Are Both Developmental and Individually Appropriate

There is much to be gained from the field of child development.  Children need to be actively involved in their own learning.  Two great psychologists in child development, Jean Piaget (1890-1980) and Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) helped educators learn that children need to be a part of the construction of their own knowledge.  In the classroom educators take what research says and infuse it into the community of learners in a meaningful way.  In the early years, a child may need information demonstrated in a concrete way before moving on to more abstract concepts.  In math children may not be able to understand patterns and shapes until they have had the chance to play and experiment with blocks and objects.  Yet, a gifted child may be able to move more quickly to the abstract and it is important that teachers be able to identify those strengths and interests and provide opportunities to children to continue to construct new understandings at their own pace.

For More Information:

"Nurturing Giftedness in Young Children" by Wendy C. Roedell. ERIC Digest, 1990.

"Creativity in Young Children" by James D. Moran III. ERIC Digest, 1988.

"Young Gifted Child" by Bev Shaklee, SENG. 2005.