Relevance of Gifted Education to Early Childhood Educators

Here is the outline of a talk Melissa Jenkins recently gave to the Oakland Great Start Parent Coalition:

WHY SHOULD EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS CARE ABOUT GIFTED EDUCATION? 

Portrait of a Gifted Child:  The following excerpt is from the book “Genius Denied” by Jan and Bob Davidson:

“Carlos didn’t speak until he was three and a half years old, but when he did, he spoke in the complete sentences of a much older child.  His mother, Debbi, who had been told her son might be autistic or retarded, couldn’t believe a tester’s diagnosis that he was actually gifted, so she brought home two-hundred-piece puzzles to see what he would do.  Carlos put the puzzles together, starting from the center and working out.  With incredible speed, he learned how to read and write [and do mathematics].  At school, however, the children spent hours learning to add single digits by grouping teddy bears.  Carlos told his mother he didn’t like Kindergarten.  He wanted to go to school to learn, but he hated the pointless work.  By the end of the year, he cried to stay home.  The other children teased him for being different and bookish, and wouldn’t sit near him during lunch.  Some bullies even beat him up.  Carlos began to dread school.  His hair started falling out, which his doctor said was from stress.  He had trouble making friends.”

  • Gifted kids may have trouble fitting in in the typical public school classroom
    • They are often bored with the curriculum
    • They have a hard time finding peers in the classroom they can relate to.
    • They are often isolated and teased.
  • Gifted kids are just like other kids!
    • Stereotype of the young male child prodigy, thinks he is better than everyone else.
    • Gifted kids are girls and boys, all different races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities.
    • Gifted kids need friends too and want to belong!
    • Gifted kids need guidance and help navigating the educational system.  They cannot “take care of themselves” any more than any other child.
  • Gifted kids may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD or Asperger’s
    • Many characteristics of the gifted are very similar to ADHD characteristics.
      • inattentive
      • hyperactive
      • impulsive
    • “Bright students who are underchallenged in the classroom often display behaviours that mirror ADHD” from “Tips for Parents: ADHD and Giftedness:  What do parents need to know?” by M. Foley Nicpon
    • Some students which appear to have ADHD in the classroom may be simply gifted and underchallenged.  Others may both be gifted and have ADHD.
    • Gifted kids who do not also have ADHD should not be labelled ADHD.  This label can adversely affect them throughout life.
    • Educators and parents should consult competent professionals (typically psychologists familiar with both giftedness and ADHD) to determine what the case is for a particular child.
  • Many gifted kids respond to underchallenge in the classroom by underachieving.
    • Prevalent myth:  Kids identified as gifted early on often level out by the 3rd grade and thus are probably not gifted.
    • Fact:  Many gifted kids learn during their early school years that it is not hip to be different.  It is better to fit in.  Thus, by 3rd grade they learn to dumb down their responses and classwork and begin underachieving.
  • What can be do to prevent this problem?
    • Identify gifted kids early, during the toddler, preschool years.
    • Identify any otherwise twice-exceptional problems such as ADHD, etc. and begin to address early.
    • Appropriate educational programming where available.  Where not available, grassroots lobbying for better educational programming for gifted kids.
    • Provide appropriate enrichment and socialization for gifted kids (giftedinmichigan group, etc.)
  • Every child deserves the opportunity to reach her/his own potential!
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