By Ellen I. Honeck, Ph.D., coauthor of Teaching Gifted Children in Today’s Preschool and Primary Classrooms: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Children Ages 4–9
All gifted children are unique (including young gifted children), and as such, there are many ways to support a young gifted child. But some general strategies apply to most children. Here are five that can be helpful at school or at home.
1. Know your child.
This may seem obvious, but you’ll want to really dive in deep and understand your gifted child’s characteristics. Focus on her strengths—what is she good at doing, what objects draw her attention, what activities does she participate in, what are her favorite books and/or objects, and what is she doing when she is truly happy or content? It is important to recognize what your child is telling you, both in words and actions. When you understand your child’s strengths, it becomes easier to support her interests.
2. Provide a wide variety of opportunities.
Young gifted children have a passion to explore and are often not intimidated by trying new things. Children need to be exposed to a wide range of experiences and opportunities. They may not know they are interested in something if they have never had the opportunity to try it out. Children should get to explore nature (taking hikes and walks, visiting creeks and parks, and so on); visit various places (such as museums, gardens, zoos, and more); try a variety of games (board games and physical games); be exposed to many types of books (nonfiction, fiction, fairy tales, picture books with illustrations and photographs); as well as a plethora of other ideas. If your child is intimidated, move slowly and provide a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar.
3. Promote creative thinking activities.
Creative thinking can be promoted through discussion and questions, as well as through hands-on activities. Gifted children have a natural curiosity, which often leads to a ton of questions. Adults can get worn out from the constant barrage of questions, but try to treat questions as opportunities to promote higher-level critical and creative thinking. Engage in dialogue by asking open-ended questions that ask gifted children to think of items and things. Use question stems such as
- What did you see?
- What did you notice?
- What did you find?
- What picture does it create in your mind?
- Why do you think this might happen?
- What patterns do you see?
- What would happen if . . . ?”
Creative thinking activities should also include hands-on, open-ended exploration with new materials. These materials do not need to be expensive toys. They can be recyclable items such as cardboard boxes, plastic lids, and jars; objects from nature such as pinecones, flowers, and rocks; old electronic items to take apart and explore such as computers and stereo components; art supplies such as chalk, finger paints, and collage materials; and anything else that promotes imagination. The opportunities should promote open-ended creative and imaginative play, allowing the child to design without a predetermined physical model.
4. Understand asynchrony.
Gifted children are not necessarily gifted across all areas. And physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development do not always keep pace with one another. You could be having a very high-level conversation about a science concept with a gifted child, and the next moment, the same child is crying because he didn’t get his way. It is important to recognize that the gifted child is still a child.
5. Support social-emotional needs.
One of the many ways to support gifted children’s social-emotional learning needs is to teach them coping strategies. Help them tolerate stress and anxiety with relaxation and mindfulness techniques. You can find many techniques online and in apps and books such as Feeling Worried! by Kay Barnham.
Another great technique for kids is positive self-talk—instilling optimism using a growth mindset. Help children focus on seeing the positive aspects of what is happening around them.
Bibliotherapy is the act of sharing books that have characters who are dealing with the same struggles as the child. This is a great way to talk through needs and issues that affect the social-emotional well being of children. Bibliotherapy is a nonthreatening way to address the needs of gifted children, since they can discuss the character and the story. Search online bookstores for titles relating to your child’s issue, or ask a librarian for recommendations.
It is important to support young gifted children in a wide variety of ways. Many resources are available to help you understand the various needs of your child and explore the strategies that work best for him or her. But these five guidelines above are a good place to start.
Ellen I. Honeck, Ph.D., has been involved in gifted education as a classroom teacher, administrator, gifted specialist, curriculum developer, consultant, adjunct professor, and associate director of a gifted education institute. She is actively involved with NAGC’s Early Childhood and Special Schools and Programs Networks, presents at national and international conferences, and received the 2016 President’s Award from NAGC. Ellen is the dean of the Gifted and Talented Academy at Laurel Springs School and director of curriculum and instruction at the Knox School of Santa Barbara. She lives in Centennial, Colorado.
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