Who are our gifted children?      Different from birth       Overexcitable  Some Behaviours
  Parents Strengths vs Problems    Early Readers      Numbers  Resources
Young Gifted Children

The Gifted Children's Association of British Columbia believes Early Childhood Educators are uniquely positioned and equipped to recognize and support many gifted children of before they are admitted to more formal learning programs.  In an effort to enlist the assistance of  knowledgeable, experienced Early Childhood Professionals the GCABC have produced a special newsletter from which the following information has been extracted.  The GCABC are seeking to translate these materials and produce them in a newsletter format suitable for distribution through Early Childhood Education programs, Public Health Offices, Medical and Dental Offices in an effort to reach parents of Young Gifted Children.  The GCABC will be happy to make a regionalized master copy available to organizations for gifted children around the world in order to introduce as many people as possible to the concept of young gifted children.  Please contact the GCABC via http://www.vcn.bc.ca/gca   or Lesley Ansell-Shepherd

Help needed to identify young gifted children
Numerous young gifted children experience difficulty when entering formal schooling .  Observation of their early behaviour is extremely helpful for proper identification and creation of appropriate learning programs for these out of step, asynchronous  learners. 
The strong observational skills an ECE teacher brings to their work with young children can help  parents and children to learn to work with, rather than hide, resent or fear their differences.

The unique learning styles that help define these children as gifted  can lead to many complex behaviours if  early needs are not recognized and met.  Behaviour changes that have been documented include: becoming argumentative, apathetic, socially withdrawn, out of control or clinically depressed, among a wide range of other behaviours.

Yet these are the children who beg to attend Early Childhood programs because of their extreme desire to learn.  We hope this newsletter will offer educators information to recognize and support these children in the earliest stages of their determined drive towards lifelong learning .

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Who are our Gifted Children? 

Gifted children are often defined based on what they produce, a definition of limited use in early childhood education.  They are also often defined by a list of traits many, but not all gifted children have in common.  Parents of these children agree the most useful definition of gifted children comes from the work of the Columbus group, a group of psychologists, educators and parents who came up with the following description of giftedness in 1991.

Giftedness is Asynchronous Development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally. 

This means these children develop in an uneven manner, significantly out of developmental step with their age peers.

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Different From Birth

Gifted children are on a developmentally different schedule from infancy onward.  This places them out of sync with expected development stages internally and externally.  Programs which anticipate limited powers of concentration and break complicated subjects into simple pieces for children to understand may stress gifted children.  Sequences may be too simple for minds which thrive on complexity and challenge.   Able to process huge quantities of information rapidly, gifted children may find nothing to interest or engage them in regular programs and may act out.

Stephanie Tolan, author and  gifted advocate, has a wonderful analogy for this process.  She likens it to feeding an elephant grass, one blade at a time.  Not only will he die of malnutrition before you can get sufficient food into him, he is unlikely to realize you are trying to feed him at all.  That single blade of grass is simply too small to notice.

Computers offer another analogy for these children's differences.  Like a multiple window computer, many gifted children work on several unrelated  problems at the same time.  An unconscious process  bubbling quietly in the background may suddenly end with ahaa! 
Having no idea where the answer appeared from, the child may only be certain that it is correct. Unable to explain why, they just know it.  (And will often defend it vigorously.) 

Adults unable to understand this process or achieve it themselves, often discredit or discount these abilities in young children and may insist they work in ways alien to them to solve problems.  You must show your work!  Not comfortable working in this fashion, accused of cheating by peers unable to understand this process, the gifted child may shut down in an attempt to become normal.

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Pushy Parents?

Do parents push these children and train them?  Force their development?  Usually it is the child who pulls rather than the parent who pushes. All parents think their child is gifted!  is unsupported myth.  Parents who notice their child's development differs from age peers have observed these differences since birth.  If they are familiar with the concept, they are usually accurate in identifying their child as gifted (84%).

Parents of gifted children often have some of the following worries.  Sometimes I'm frightened for my child.  I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility .  There are times when I feel isolated. I can't keep up!

Parenting a gifted child is more intense and isolating. The child's asynchrony  may cause them to exhibit a wide range of age behaviours at the same time, making them demanding to parent.  At four, they may be four playing soccer, eight when reading,  twelve building Lego® , twenty when worrying about world peace, and two putting toys away.  This wide asynchrony is difficult for parents, schools, and the child to handle.  It is hard to fit in when so much of your environment depends on chronological age, a measure which may be the least relevant part of a gifted child's development.  An Early Childhood Educator who shares their professional knowledge of a child's relative strengths can help parents enormously.

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Over excitable

Recognition and  acceptance of the child's internal differences is essential.  These differences likely include emotional intensity, unusual awareness and tolerance of complexity and paradox, and potential for extraordinary development.  Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski suggested the stimuli response  of these individuals is stronger than normal in five areas.  He called these overexcitabilities, (oe’s,) as they involve psychological and central nervous system sensitivity.  OE’s describe the unusual intensity of the gifted, as well as the many ways in which they look and behave oddly when compared to norms. These are brief examples of the five : 

Psychomotor oe  need for physical expression, movement, energy, dance.

Sensual oe highly sensory, touch, texture, colour, taste, light, sound. May be unable to  tolerate clothes labels, twisted socks, may be moved to tears by Mozart.

Imaginational oe dreamers, space cadets, visual thinkers, often think in metaphors.

Intellectual oe stimulated by intellectual challenge, problems.

Emotional oe broad range of emotional intensity, happier, sadder, more depressed than age peers, extreme empathy, compassion. 

Gifted people have different intensities and combinations of oe’s but Dabrowski believed emotional overexcitability to be central to them all. In young children these over excitabilities are often mistaken for lack of control and immaturity.

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Some behaviours of young gifted children

Gifted children often have abilities which may not be recognized.  They may also have highly creative abilities which are not expected and hard to see, or have disabilities which mask their high abilities.

The following are often (but not always) observed compared to age based norms: 

  • Has a good memory.
  • Has a subtle or mature sense of humour (may understand  word puns before other children) may not appreciate silly or bathroom humour of other children the same age.
  • exceptionally curious.
  • May see solutions that rarely occur to others.
  • Has a high energy level.
  • Has a wider knowledge base.
  • Uses advanced vocabulary.
  • Uses advanced grammar or sentence structure.
  • May be very interested in abstract terms (time, space).
  • Is interested in cause and effect relationships.
  • Has a long attention span for activities of own choosing.
  • May enjoy difficult puzzles.
  • Sees endless possibilities for various situations or uses for objects.
  • Says what he/she thinks without regard for consequences.
  • Great imagination, frequent daydreamer.
  • Highly developed powers of concentration, may need to be physically touched to become aware of surroundings.
  • May have advanced sense of justice and fairness (and may not be able to understand responses of age peers).
  • May be strongly motivated to do things that interest him/her, may be unwilling to work on other activities.
  • May be reluctant to move from one subject area to another, becomes so engrossed in concept that wishes to explore it fully.
  • Transfers concepts and learning to new situations.
  • May prefer the company of older children or adults.
  • May prefer to work alone, resists co-operative learning.
  • May have wide gaps in abilities or knowledge.
  • May struggle with easy materials but thrive on complexity.
  • May have difficulty with handwriting or pencil use. (complains of it being too slow)
  • May have advanced hand/eye co ordination.
  • May be emotionally sensitive (high levels of self criticism, may have low self concept and poor peer relations. May ask many questions about pain, death, anger, love).
  • May like to count, may play with number concepts ( work in bases other than 10 for example).
  • May choose factual books and dislike fiction and fairy stories.
  • May collect things.
  • May have more imaginary friends than regular children and be able to describe them in detail.
  • May be sought out by other children in leadership situations.
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Strengths or admired traits vs Possible Problems

Strength                             Possible Problem

Verbal skills                     Talks too much, talks above the heads of his or her age peers

Long attention span          Tunnel Vision; resists interruption, stubbornness, resists duties

Acquires/retains               Inaccuracy, sloppiness, impatient with others, dislikes basic routine
information easily 

Creativity, inventiveness    Escape into fantasy, rejection of norms, may be seen as disruptive

Independent, prefers         Inability to accept help from peers, nonconformity, reliant on self 
individualized work 

Critical thinking                Critical of others, perfectionism, unreasonable standards for self

Preference for                  Resistance to simple solutions; constructs complicated rules, 
Complexity                      bossy

Versatility                        Appears disorganized, scattered, frustrated over lack of time

Sensitive,                        Extreme sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection
empathy for others 

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A Study of 241 Profoundly Gifted Children   This study is especially useful to parents who have observed developmental differences in their children but are unaware of what those differences may signify.
Dr. Karen Rogers Associate Professor of Gifted Studies,
University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota

Dr. Karen Rogers, a researcher of international renown, analysed data at the Gifted Development Centre in 1994-1995 during a postdoctoral fellowship.  The analysis consisted of data on 241 children between 2½ and 12½ years of age, with IQs ranging from 160 to 237+ on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (Form L-M). 

Presented by Karen Rogers and Linda Silverman at the National Association for Gifted Children 44th Annual Convention in Little Rock, Arkansas, November 7, 1997.

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Early Readers Deep Readers

Many young gifted children teach themselves to read at a very early age.  By the time they enter early childhood education programs they may already be sounding out letters, reading signs, or reading accurately both aloud and silently.  Some of these children are such good readers that their silent reading speeds may cause it to seem as if they are skimming through picture books.  They may also be concentrating so deeply on their reading that they are unaware of people speaking to them, or teachers attempting to engage their attention.  As many adults assume children must be taught to read, even parents can be surprised by the reading prowess of their child. 

If you observe a child who rapidly flips through magazines or books, has trouble “hearing” instructions when they are looking at a book,  or seems to have skills of early reading, ask them about their abilities.  Are they able to read?  Can they read aloud as well as silently?  What types of materials do they like to read?  Do they need quiet time to enjoy their books?
Help them to find suitable reading materials for their ability and ensure that their reading time is shared  with, or not interrupted by non reading children.  If you have trouble engaging their attention when they are deep in a book, try a gentle touch rather than a voice cue to bring them out of their extreme concentration and back to a focus on outside activities. 

Finding appropriate subject matter for their reading ability age and interests may be a problem. 

Ladybird  first chapter books are often enjoyed as are Roald Dahl’s books, (Fantastic Mr Fox, The Twits, James and the Giant Peach , BFG etc.)  Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, and Beverly Cleary’s  books (The Mouse and the Motorcycle etc.)  Some young gifted children will resist fiction, especially anthropomorphic fiction and may insist on reading only non fiction books.


Many of these children already have a keen interest in numbers and patterns.  Introduce them to chess, backgammon, the Chinese abacus, Montessori math materials or Don Cohen’s book Calculus By and For Young People

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Bringing Out the Best a resource guide for parents of young gifted children Jacqulyn Saunders with Pamela Espeland , Free Spirit Publishing, 1986, 1991  This comprehensive guide focuses on characteristics, concerns (including schooling), and activities.

Drawing with Children, a course in enhancing creative capacity for Children and Adults Mona Brookes 1986, Jeremy Tarcher, Inc.  Great ideas for getting anyone to draw and express their creativity

The Kingore Observation Inventory Bertie Kingore, Leadership publishers Inc. Des Moines, 1990, a simple method of using teacher observation to identify gifted students from early childhood to grade 3

Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom,  Joan Smutny, Sally Yahnke Walker, Elizabeth Meckstroth, Free Spirit Publishing 1997  Techniques that work in the regular classroom with kindergarten and primary children.  Lots of reproducible sheets and easy to use activities.

Parents Guide to Raising a Gifted Toddler, James Alvino, Ballentine Books.  Compilation of articles from Gifted Child Monthly,  focussing on the young gifted child.

Raising Your Spirited Child  : A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic   by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Sept 1992, Harperperennial library

Teaching Montessori in the Home, The  Pre-School Years , Elizabeth Hainstock, Plume Books, Updated edition (September 1997)  Simple materials and techniques which allow a child to explore many Montessori practises.

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web pages

Gifted Children's Association of B.C.  Information on the B.C. organization http://www.vcn.bc.ca/gca

Gifted Canada , Canadian information on resources for gifted children  http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/giftedcanada

Hoagies gifted page, major source of info on all aspects of gifted children   http://www.hoagiesgifted.org

Eric clearing house on Disabilities and Gifted Education run by the Council for Exceptional Children  http://www.ericec.org/gifted/gt-diges.htm

Gifted Development Centre   Dr. Linda Silverman    http://www.gifteddevelopment.com

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These pages are maintained by Lesley Ansell-Shepherd
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