It's interesting how parents react when they reach the conclusion (or maybe just the hope or fear) that their child is gifted. Many realize that their child is gifted well before they reach school age. Sometimes I get inquiries from these parents, asking what they should do with their precocious youngsters. How do they keep them excited about learning? Is there something special parents should be doing to nurture these gifts? Whether the child is aged two, three, or five, parents are concerned, and rightly so. They may remember their own years as a gifted child with regret or anger. They may have a child who is far above and beyond the approximate 130 point gifted threshold, the kind of kid often described as, “scary smart”. Or perhaps they consider themselves to be more average in intelligence, and the whole gifted experience feels new to them. It is quite natural for all of these parents to have questions and to search for ways to support their gifted learner.
Experience has taught me a few things, and I'm happy to share my observations. Too many parents are afraid to discuss their gifted children openly. People often react indifferently or even negatively when a Mom or Dad mentions that their two year old is reading or their four year old is working on memorizing the multiplication tables. It can be a very lonely world when one feels unable to share the extraordinary day to day adventures as well as the early milestones. Many times, a parent just needs someone to bear witness and say, “Wow! That is amazing!” without any dire warning about how likely the child might be to grow up a social outcast. So, I try to listen, and reassure the parent who has a particular worry. It can help to just have one close friend or relative available as a supportive listener.
Online support groups and bulletin boards can be a great resource for these “newbie” parents. All should be aware though, that online communication is limited and frequently open to misinterpretation. Gifted listserves and boards should be used with discretion, and posts must be worded carefully to avoid any chance of offending others. A recent discussion on one list for parents of gifted children sparked several upset emails after one person referred to a common goal of “getting our kids into Heaven”. Gifted kids are a diverse group, representing myriad races, religions, and ethnic groups. It is wise to keep this in mind when conversing with other parents of gifted children.
As far as what to DO with these gifted kids, there are as many options as there are children. My basic advice is to continue doing the things that keep the child happy and engaged, and try to strew the child's path with books, games, toys, and materials that will appeal to them. I recommend classic playthings for bright two to four year olds, toys emphasizing creativity and unscripted play. My kids have had the best times playing with sturdy unfinished wooden building blocks, play dough, pattern blocks and wooden puzzles, dress-up clothes, simple dolls and board games. Art supplies such as finger and poster paints, markers, colored pencils, and crayons never go out of style. Gifted kids may use these items in a manner that is meaningful to them and very unique. A three year old future engineer may spend hours building an elaborate block city complete with carefully labeled office towers, city hall, and airport. The artistic gifted preschooler may sketch detailed drawings of a butterfly's life cycle. Even playing house is more complicated with a gifted child or two!
Though there are some cool electronic gizmos that are fun for kids to play with, I don't believe in the advertised educational power of the beeping, flashing, tech-toys. They're fine for an occasional amusement, but no replacement for the power of the imagination.
If your little one is having fun, chances are good that he's doing what he should be doing. You can buy some academic programs or workbooks if you like, but the child's own interest level should dictate how much and how often to pursue academics.