How Do You Nurture the Early Strengths of Gifted Toddlers?
You’re pretty sure your toddler is a rapid, gifted learner but you really just want to know how to help their little three-year-old self. There’s plenty of time for special gifted programs and advanced learning, and formal testing might not happen until the elementary school years… So what about now?
Make Time for Self-Directed Learning
A consistent characteristic of gifted children is that they prefer self-directed learning. They want to do what they want to do, and learn what they want to learn. And a gifted youngster will aim that learning toward things they see older people doing like reading, math, puzzles, and concentrated artwork. Or if their gifts are physical or artistic, they’ll be dying to understand things like how games are played or music is made. Your job, as the parent, is to make sure your toddlers have the time and the space to advance in their self-directed learning path and to provide the materials to help them succeed.
Feed their Curiosity
Gifted learners express an intensity about learning and will sit there for a good long time mastering a puzzle. Gifted toddlers often go from several piece puzzles to 50 or 100 piece puzzles in a short time. They enjoy constantly increasing the complexity of experiences. Make sure to support their enthusiasm by supplying more and more complex materials for play. Keeping up with your child’s pace of learning is going to be a major challenge but also an important responsibility.
Advanced Reading and Eclectic Tastes
Gifted children are always looking for new sources of information and books are often the easiest to access. A gifted baby is likely to turn pages himself and will focus for a long time on the book you are reading to them. Think of yourself as the most important librarian in their lives and always be on the lookout for more interesting books. Gifted kids have eclectic interests so the books you provide could be anything from dictionaries to how-to manuals, art books, or children’s encyclopedias meant for older kids.
Even within the various levels of intelligence, gifted children very often teach themselves to read after being read to for a while. They tend to have favorite books, which they memorize fairly quickly with repeated readings. This advances to learning a few words by sight and to learning the alphabet sometimes by the time they’re two.
Parents often report that they did not actually teach their gifted young children much at all, they just provided information and opportunity. So rather than focusing on drilling facts and figures into your child, make sure to give them access to a variety of resources within their areas of interest. Remember, the learning is self-guided and children will prefer to pick up and peruse materials at their own leisure. It’s also important to note that a major part of the pleasure in learning lies in discovery, and in the ownership of that discovery. Gifted children enjoy making connections and figuring out new skills on their own.
Nurture Mathematical Discoveries
Children in the IQ range of 130s to 180s make up most of the students in highly gifted programs. What will become arithmetic skills and then math skills may show up first in intense interest in how things work: interest in the construction of toys or appliances, solving puzzles, and counting on fingers by age two are all typical. By age three or four they can often do arithmetic computations in their head. As with reading, your challenge as a parent is to keep up with what your child is curious about and supply the learning materials.
In the world of mathematics, the challenge is going to be less about finding resources that provide math problems – after all, there are plenty of workbooks loaded with math drills. Here, the issue is going to be providing the access to information that will allow them to make discoveries. Simple observations in nature or of architecture can feed that. Manipulating patterns, playing with geometry, or solving tangrams will help too. But again, you will need to provide materials as well as time and space for those discoveries to happen.
Take the Learning Further
Field trips to museums and libraries can help support your child’s curiosities about just about any area of learning. Nature walks and time spent outdoors – in green spaces or the concrete jungle – are always opportunities for learning. Remember, you just need to provide the access... Your gifted child will make the learning happen on their own. Take your child to a dance performance, an art show, or a concert and you’ll quickly find out if that’s their domain of giftedness.
Find other parents of very rapid learners and design mini “gifted programs” with them. One parent may have science knowledge, another have artistic gifts. You can each teach the others’ kids, broadening their range of experience. It also gets kids used to having mentors, which is often recommended as a learning strategy for older gifted kids.
Think of Their Future Intensity
In your quest to feed your enthusiastic learner, it’s easy to overlook nurturing their emotional side and the unique challenges that come with a gifted child. Most gifted children are naturally emotionally intense. They tend toward perfectionism and idealism, and often struggle with extreme sensitivity. For these children, being able to rely on simple routines brings great comfort. Make sure to establish a regular schedule for meals, activities, and sleep.
The nurturing atmosphere and simple daily routines of home life will be a refuge as your gifted youngster grows. Make sure there are private nooks and crannies to work on something he loves; reduce electronic noise and provide lots of interesting learning materials (art materials and some simple science tools like a microscope or binoculars are good to have).
As well, be ready for some pretty heady philosophical conversations. Intellectually gifted children are very often idealists with a strong sense of injustice. Now is the time to be an understanding listener but also the voice of optimism. Acknowledge their concerns but help them see the bright side in the situation, or at the very least explain some of the larger reasons behind the situation that’s upsetting them. If all else fails, take the conversation outside and couple it with a long walk to help calm your child’s worries.
Do you have a gifted toddler? How do you feed their lust for learning?