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A Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son Marcus is now 2 years and 3 months old and is the only child we have.
We were watching a program about the solar system yesterday, and he wakes up this morning to name me all the planets in the solar system, starting from sun, Mercury then all the way to Neptune. He even quizzed me the order of the planets, and hinted me the answer by describing the Earth as "blue and white, and has moon"; Jupiter as "biggest" and told me the two which have rings are Saturn and Uranus.

Marcus' good memory first caught my attention when he was 17-month-old. He was looking out the window one day, describing the colours and the types of vehicles going pass. He was saying "silver car, blue truck, white ambulance, yellow tractor on blue truck, taxi, black motorcycle, blue bicycle, naughty, no helmet, silver car again!". And I was thinking that's interesting. It will need a certain degree of concentration even for me to do so. I then tested him and found out that he somehow recognised 13 colours, and more than 10 different types of vehicle.

At 18 month old, I bought him the alphabet chart. He learnt all the alphabets (both capital and small letters) within days. He also recognises shapes including semi-circle, trapezium, pentagon, hexagon, pyramid, cylinder and sphere. When we lie down for a nap, he enjoyed pointing out and naming different body parts on me. He was able to name 30 different parts then.

At 20 month old, he learned his phonic and he enjoyed singing the phonic song "A ei-ei apple all the way to Z zed-zed zoo". Every now and then he would change the items in the song, such as "apple to ant or ambulance, ball to bat, cat to cow". He was able to sing more than 30 different songs/nursery rhymes, and he told me that the ABC song and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" song sound the same (in rhythm). He can differentiate and describe top/bottom, up/down, near/far, bright/dark, light/heavy, in/out, big/small, and hard/soft. He recognises all the animals in his "first 100 animals" books and describes zebra as stripy, porcupine as spiky, flamingo as pink, giraffe with long neck, elephant with long trunk, reindeer with antlers, chameleon changes colour etc. He also recognises the native Australian animals such as wombats, platypus, emu etc.

He knew the days of the week, and months of the year. When he was 22-month-old, we would spend more than an hour in the fruit and veg section while doing our grocery shopping as he wanted to name the fruits and vegetables he knows. He was able to recognise more than 50 of them.

Now, he can spell simple words like his name, fish, pig, apple, cow and is self-learning more words every day from books or kids program. He enjoys typing all the words he knows on the computer. He can count to 100 and backwards from 10 to 1. If you write him a 3-digit number, he will tell you what it is. He can speak in sentences and will describe his experiences in playground or park when he comes home, such as seeing a duck family of 7 with mummy-duck, daddy-duck and 5 ducklings in the park; the swan's beak is different colour from the seagull's; the new playground has slides of different colour from the one he usually goes to.

He also enjoy playing pretend games such as having a marching band with him as the leader holding a chopstick as his baton, and his soft toys all lining up, each playing different musical instruments. When asked to name the instruments, he will tell you there are piano, drums, cymbals, trumpet, violin, accordion, saxophone, guitar and ukulele, and that ukulele is smaller than guitar, and only have 4 strings instead of 6.

Marcus seems to enjoy learning things which are in order, and shows good capability to remember things. He also seems to have very long attention span that he can sometimes spend more than hours reading his books or watching his Wiggles' DVD when he wants to. He has managed to learn how to turn on the DVD, change it when he finished with the previous one.

Marcus is our only child, and we honestly don't have much experience or knowledge with child development. Please give us your best advice. Should I take him to an assessment? He shows a strong desire to learn new things. Do you think sending him to a Montessori school when he turns 4 a good idea?
Thank you.

A: From your description, Marcus certainly has advanced really fast developmentally. It is amazing that he is doing what you described at this age and I am glad that you have been aware about it and have allowed his growth rather naturally. You have a potentially gifted child in the making and it is going to be a wonderful journey!

Firstly, you would need to equip yourself with the understanding of giftedness and how to help him further maximise his cognitive development. Most sites recommend great activities that you may use; but don't forget the play element in these activities especially for toddlers. Being young, it is hard to predict what they may sustain interest in, therefore, it is crucial to expose them to a variety of activities and gauge their interest levels.

Parents often assume that more “academically inclined” activities such as Math or word games may suit them better but it is equally important to try to expose other activities such as gardening, cooking, nature walks, etc. For example, a variation to learning Math can be done when introducing a child to baking. You can introduce first mathematical concepts such as half, quarter, etc. using measuring cups; depending on the level of the child. This would be a variation to the sit and do task and would certainly stimulate a gifted child's mind. Furthermore, it would also enhance other skills that involve many other details which develop the child's brain.

It is also a good time to introduce Marcus to the world of books now. Make reading as creative as you can - have a reading corner, in fact get him to help you make a reading corner and arrange books. Apart from reading him stories, get him to tell you stories or read an incomplete story and get him to complete it in his own way. Remember, this is a creativity activity and there is no right or wrong - everything is possible in the story.

Toddlers are also very fascinated with music so you may also want to stimulate him with musical activities. Expose different kind of music and musical instruments. I am sure you have been doing this - continue as teaching a young child about sound and music would stimulate the young brain as it is still at a developing stage.

Make sure that the activities are varied, meaningful and stimulating. At this age, he has an overwhelming to learn new thing things and experience new activities. Hands-on activities and exploring is the best for him at this stage.

As for school, perhaps this is a good time to send him to playschool to introduce him to his peers and social skills before he joins nursery. Any school that has an ability based programme would suit him the best. Speak to the principal and explain his advances and that he may need special attention.

Some helpful websites that you may want to check are: (this site is excellent!)

Hope the above helps - wishing you all the best!.


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