Gifted children often cannot wait to go to preschool. They may follow an older sibling into their classroom and cry when they have to leave. After all, look at all those books, art supplies, and science stations to explore! Things can go right off the rails, however, if the teacher and the classroom aren’t prepared for everything a gifted child brings with them. And I don’t mean the lunchbox or the fidget spinner!
Gifted children are more intense, use more complex thinking, and more driven than other children. Even at the preschool level. This is a child who may teach himself to read, tells wonderful stories, creates wonderful multi-media art, and practices kicking a soccer ball into a goal until it is too dark to see the ball. At 3. It can also make a child argue about school routines, insist on changing the rules of every game, and constantly discuss and examine every item in the room. Imagine the average teacher’s reaction when a gifted toddler wants to grab the story book from the teacher at circle time to determine exactly which type of dinosaur is displayed. Is that a T-Rex, a brontosaurus, or a brachiosaurus? She can pronounce their names and knows the difference at 2, and she wants to figure this out, while her classmates are making growling sounds or picking their noses!
Here are some suggestions for teachers to understand and manage the behavior of their gifted students without crushing their spirits or allowing them to run the classroom:
- Learn about the child’s gifts. Knowing who you have, who you really have in your classroom: it will help you make a plan. What they like, what they love, and what frustrates them. This doesn’t mean that you focus the class on them, but you know that a module on space will elicit a lot of interest, and a module on the color red will not. Unless you talk about the red planet, Jupiter.
- Learn about the multiple sensitivities of gifted individuals. They are not limited to intellectual gifts. They can include physical sensitivity, emotional sensitivity, and even spiritual sensitivity. Some will be easier to deal with than others. But you want to teach the whole child, right? That way, you see a three year-old’s intense need for movement throughout the day or wanting to have a formal ceremony for the recently deceased goldfish as normal, not perverse.
- Explain the rules, negotiate the deal when possible, and acknowledge the frustration of things that seem unfair or arbitrary. Helping gifted individuals fit into a society that says it loves giftedness but really supports conformity, without crushing their spirit, is tricky. You can help. Bring their awareness to the fact that controlling the game and telling people what to do and how to do it makes other children less likely to want to play. This is real teaching. Even if their new rules for Candyland are truly innovative. Take a look at Gifted Or Disordered? The Unrecognized Behavioral Traits of Young Gifted Children for more on the real behavior differences in gifted children. And read How To Talk So Young Gifted Children Will Listen to learn how to successfully communicate with these quick little minds.
- Don’t forget handwriting! Many gifted children want or need more opportunities to learn to write. But they need you to understand what makes handwriting interesting and rewarding to gifted children. For more on this subject, check out Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!).
- Offer real enrichment, not busywork or babysitting. I have heard stories from parents of teachers who tell gifted children to read to their classmates, or tell them to “teach” their friends about shapes. This alters the relationships between classmates and is not a good idea. These kids are going to be singled out soon enough as different. Build friendships, not mentorships. More worksheets that they can race through isn’t better. Find worksheets that challenge them, even if you have to look at kindergarten or first grade materials. Better yet, make your own, following their interests. You will be rewarded by a child that loves school and knows they are truly seen as an individual!