One of my favorite things about being a parent and working here at the Preschool is that I get to watch children grow and learn. I’m intrigued by what they come up with in their young brains. Kids are creative, interesting, and curious! And they are all unique in their development and learning. Some children show signs of academic giftedness at a young age, and parents often say: I’m pretty sure my child is gifted – what is preschool going to look like for them?

I’m a parent of a child who showed characteristics of giftedness as a youngster and is currently in an academic gifted program in FCPS. When parents tell me their child is advanced in particular ways, I think that I can understand what they’re trying to tell us, and I know that they are primarily looking after the best interests of their child.

So in today’s post, I’d like to talk about academic giftedness in preschool and try to put a little perspective around it.

I perceive at times (and this may be a bit of a Northern Virginia phenomenon) a high investment in academic performance. But I want to talk about giftedness as a personal trait just like hair color or shoe size, rather than as one child being “smarter” than another. Gifted is not “better than”, it’s just a different way of learning, and our job as educators is to help children learn right where they are. Every child in our preschool is special to us and every child has talents and strengths.

That said, giftedness is a real thing, and children who have these types of academic gifts benefit when we pay attention to and support their learning style. For example, a child with a particular academic gift might…

  • Use extensive vocabulary or complex sentence structure that exceeds what is expected for a child of his or her age
  • Read and comprehend print material that is more textually or thematically complex than what is expected
  • Memorize, recall, and share a large amount of factual information
  • Demonstrate a passion for (and/or aptitude in) specific areas of learning such as reading, math, or science

In preschool, we do observe that some children display characteristics such as these. While we don’t specifically test for giftedness, we look at each child as an individual and are able to provide additional opportunities to explore areas of particular skill and interest. We can…

  • Provide additional books and materials in the classroom related to particular areas of interest
  • Offer hands-on opportunities to explore more advanced math and science concepts
  • Create opportunities for your child to practice developing reading and writing skills
  • Observe and support the areas of learning and development that your child may not naturally gravitate towards, to keep a good balance

And there are some things you can do as parents to support your child.

Have realistic expectations. This one is so hard for me. Because my child has always had a significant vocabulary, I’ve often expected her to have the emotional maturity and decision-making capacity to go with it. But a young child is a young child, regardless of their academic skills, and expecting behavior that exceeds your child’s emotional maturity is a recipe for frustration. Gifted kids have meltdowns, gifted kids make bad decisions, gifted kids test your boundaries. Just like every kid there is.

Pay attention to social and emotional development. Supporting your child’s friendships, role-playing cooperative play and problem solving, and otherwise supporting your child’s emotional IQ is a great way to help your gifted child thrive. There are many children with academic gifts who experience themselves as being different in some ways from their peers, and this is normal if also frustrating at times. You can help them feel more successful relating to others by helping them learn to navigate interaction with their peers.

Create a learning-rich environment. Books, puzzles, creative toys, tabletop games, art supplies, musical instruments all create opportunities for your child to learn and explore. Fairfax County (link: Fairfax County Park Authority) has so many places to learn about history, geography, science, the environment, animals and farming, lakes and rivers, plants and birds and butterflies. Talk about what you see and do. Have your child help you in the kitchen. Go to the library, read, listen to music. Do things together and observe the world around you.

Take the long view. Your child has a lot of growing up still to do. I often worried that my child was bossy, stubborn, and sometimes defiant – but over time, these traits have been part of her developing her own grit and determination. Use this time to model desirable character traits to your child – model kindness, determination, goal-setting, problem-solving, curiosity.  Take a long-term view on this – your guidance will help steer your child in the right direction, but remember that your child will grow and mature in many ways over the coming years.

Preschool is about more than mastering academic concepts. We do have academic goals for our preschoolers, and we hope that each child leaves our program with skills they need to be successful in what comes next. But we also know that your young child has a long academic career ahead. These early years are key for their learning – but these early years are also key for their experience of childhood, for the joy and fun and play and interaction that characterizes this stage of life. I think gifted children are susceptible to pressure and expectation (sometimes both at home and at school), which is why balance is important.

So like I said, when you ask what the Preschool will do for your gifted child, I think we understand what you are asking. We are here to help every child to thrive, and to partner with you in that. Let us know what your child is especially interested in, what strengths you see, and what areas of growth you see in your child. Ask your child’s teacher what he or she sees your child gravitating toward at school as well. Let’s strategize together.