Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Very recently, I overheard a conversation between parents who were lamenting the lack of academic programs for gifted toddlers. I have to confess that this puzzled me greatly. Everything is new and amazing to a toddler. A gifted toddler often seems to learn through osmosis. Why would such a child need the structure of a special academic program?
I'm not pooh-poohing the idea of a one or two year old child exhibiting gifted traits. I have four children who picked up the art of reading without any formal instruction; all while still in diapers. I have witnessed early talkers, seven month old walkers, and a two year old whose favorite material for independent reading happened to be adult field guides. I know a girl who was so intrigued by pregnancy and childbirth that before her second birthday, she had a very clear understanding of the whole process, and had to be distracted lest she 'spill the beans' to a six year old friend. Another precocious child I know was able to identify cars by make and model at age two. His accuracy was uncanny. I couldn't have told you who in our crowd drove a Plymouth or a Ford, but he sure could!
My point is that these young children I've encountered have been allowed to find their own passions. Their parents and caregivers did not dictate when they would learn a given skill. Some of them have attended daycare or preschool, but not some ultra-early kindergarten or academic enrichment center. The best educational situations for these amazing little people allow them lots of freedom to move, to explore, and to make choices. There is no need for a gifted two year old to be forced through a checklist of kindergarten activities before he demonstrates readiness. Developmentally, it may be harmful for a child to be pushed to meet goals that he is not ready to achieve. Instead, I propose that adults expose their gifted toddlers to a wide variety of people, places, and things. Encourage them to utilize all of their senses. Follow up on anything that they get really excited about, whether it be vacuum cleaners, cars, or seashells. Chances are that they will absorb all the information you can get your hands on, and then they'll move on to another topic.
I'm not an extremist. I believe that some kids do better with more structure and some with less. I know there are two year olds who enjoy workbooks. But I think it is a mistake to impose a rigid program on most young children, and there is a certain danger inherent in calling for more, more, more formal academics for babies. Mandatory preschool may be right around the corner, and what happens after that?