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Nurturing a Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son Wesley will be 2 years old on the 27th of August, and at this time, he has learned to recognize all letters, some punctuation (question mark and exclamation mark), numbers up to 100 (I imagine he could count that high but often gets bored after 32 or so), colors, and every shape I've been able to think of. He identifies letters by name, and can repeat the accompanying sounds that letter makes (upper and lower case).

He can read and spell aloud between 20-40 words, and enjoys sitting alone with books for long periods of time. He also has mastered the ability to write every letter, and can currently write his own name, and several other words- though his letters are still "jumbled". He writes the letters in order ("w-e-s-l-e-y") but one will be up and to the left, then down, then on top of one another, etc.

This last week he's begun sounding out unfamiliar words and I suspect he will be reading fluently in the next year.

People have asked how I do it- what program I'm using, and I must reply- I don't do anything other than give him tools. He is truly teaching himself. I try to answer his questions, and help him when I can, but I'm not pushing him- he's pulling me.

He walked very late (17-18 mos or so) and never crawled. (We ended up having to get a physical therapist for him, which worked beautifully) Instead, he devoted every waking moment to flipping pages of books, drawing, and learning to write. It's what he enjoys, and has since the beginning.

Case in point- the first time I saw him write a word:

He had misbehaved and was told "no" very sternly. He gazed up at me, then looked down at the pen and paper he held and said "eN-Oh, no" and wrote "NO" on his scrap of paper. I still have it on my fridge, dated many months ago.

My question is this: I do everything I can think of to enrich his mind at home (he's got shelves of books), and his weekday caregivers (who are friends & family) understand and so as well- but I know there will be a time in the not too distant future where I will be obliged to enroll him in school of some kind.

I am lower middle class, and live paycheck to paycheck, like so many people today- and I do not have the funds to enroll him in the school he no doubt deserves. I've seen programs available for disabled, autistic, or delayed children (and thank goodness for that)- but aside from TAG, I know of no resources for gifted kids, and none at all for toddlers. I've heard of getting kids "tested" for this sort of thing, but how? Where? By whom? And if I did, what could I do with that information?

If his IQ was outlandishly high, what could I do with that? I would still have to put him in a Kindergarten class that I already know he will be bored with. I'm just looking for some direction, some advice. I know there's not much I can do for him now- but what can I prepare for? What will my options be when the time comes for school? I'm at a loss. I've seen all kinds of stuff about gifted kids and teens, but little and less about toddlers. Any advice would be appreciated. There's nothing more dangerous than a smart, bored kid.

A: While I would not like to label such a young child, I do believe that your son is gifted. Gifted toddlers exhibit a wide array of distinct behaviours that makes them different from their non-gifted counterparts. Your son shows some of these distinct behaviours and I am sure there are many more which is not listed here.

It is crucial for gifted toddlers to be identified - and rather than formal testing (not advisable until they are around 6 years of age) - parents are best to identify gifted children. This is very necessary as children who do not have their intellectual needs met long-term can experience a host of problems later in life. It is good that you are aware of his abilities and are looking for ways to help him develop his potential further.

The best thing for a young gifted child to do is to be able to explore his/her surrounding that feeds the needs for that extra stimulation. So providing him with educational materials that challenges and stimulate his thinking would be a great start. Monitor and observe his strengths and use activities that interest him to motivate him further. At this age, they should be provided with a variety of materials to determine what really interests them. At the same time, also monitor his dislikes. Say, if you find that he dislikes “number” related activities, find a different way to nurture that interest. Use measurements, for example to introduce the concept of numbers and simple math. Instead of direct math related activities, you can actually introduce simple math using measurement scales - e.g., by the beach, a pail of sand, half a pail of sand, etc. Give him appropriate educational enrichment to stimulate his mind. It is crucial to spend quality time with him to be able to tune in to his interest and respond accordingly. As long as the activity requires stimulation and interests the child, it would surely help him learn.

Apart from direct learning, there are other ways to expose a young gifted child. Children can only develop interest when they are aware of what is out there. For example, museum visits, field trips, visiting a farm, nature walk, etc. What is crucial here is the variety of activities. If he show interest in a particular area, provide him the opportunities to explore his interest in depth. At this stage, home stimulation and support of interests is a crucial aspect of development.

At the same time, allow for a good amount of free play - avoid “over guiding”. Parents sometimes get carried away and provide too much stimulation, and may not allow the child to self explore with limited time for free play. Allow the child to be on his own exploring the learning materials you have provided. For example, even if he is not able to complete a puzzle, get him to keep trying instead of running to his aid. When the child gets used to parents who keep helping them, it may deter them to think for themselves and always wanting parents to help out. This may slow down the development of their cognitive abilities.

Do also read as much as you can on giftedness for greater awareness and if possible, join a local association for gifted children. Check if there is one close to your area. You would be surprised how much help can be provided. Sharing information on parenting gifted children is one of the best ways to help nurture a gifted child. It would also be a good idea to constantly look up the internet for the latest on gifted education. There are many good articles on enrichment for gifted children that you may use for your son.

What I would recommend though is for you to go through this great web site at hoagiesgifted and you will find the latest on giftedness and great resources for parents. There is loads of free online information here. If you plan to purchase a book, please do so through this site to support and keep it growing.

As he grows older, family relationships should be tended to as well. It is indeed very exhausting to bring up a gifted child, so it is best to have relatives help out. This is also good for the child, as the child learns to manage various relationships. Emotional support from the family is very important as gifted children are known to demonstrate heightened sensitivity and complex emotions.

If it is hard to afford a good school, have you thought of home schooling him at least up to kindergarten? It may be a good idea but this requires a lot of time, energy, effort and sacrifices on your side. It would be good if there are other children of similar abilities that can grouped together. Then, maybe twice or thrice a week, you can send him to a centre for enrichment.

Having said that, make sure he has a balanced life. Let him enjoy his childhood to the fullest. Allow him to explore on his own as you are doing right now - but monitor him all the time. To be creative, he needs to be independent. Observe his likes and dislikes in learning and try to cater to his needs.

Having a gifted child is a lot of hard work and takes up a lot of energy of the carer, but perseverance will pay off! Here's wishing you the very best in your parenting journey. Good luck!


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