Dear Dr. Courtright,
We are looking for resources for gifted and talented toddlers. I know your program starts at 4th grade, but any suggestions you can give us for helping our child thrive until then would be appreciated. Thank you!
It is correct that our program serves students much older than toddlers, so I’m sure you won’t be surprised that there aren’t resources available through Duke TIP that would serve very young children. You may find something of interest on the website of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), or at a site developed by parents for parents, Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page . However, there is precious little information for extremely young children available to support parents.
My best suggestion/advice would be along the following lines (for what it’s worth…):
First, follow the lead of the child in your efforts to nurture their growth and development. Parents rarely go wrong when they listen to their child and, based on what they hear the child expressing an interest in, provide opportunities to learn more in that domain. Given the child can conduct themselves appropriately, childrens’ museums, art galleries, concerts, the circus, all can be explored when the child expresses an interest. Parents often go wrong when they try to force a topic or a skill on the child when there is no spark of interest there for the child. Let the child lead the way, and you’ll rarely go wrong.
There are two characteristics that commonly manifest themselves in gifted children and adults: intensity and asynchrony. Intensity applies to virtually all domains – intellectual, emotional, physical, sensory, imaginative – and this “rage to learn” is typical in gifted youngsters. In light of the first recommendation, as the child wants to know more and learn more, as the parent you can be ready to help provide access to experiences and things (stuff – like Legos and blocks and books…) that align with that area of interest, feeding the need to know more. The second characteristic, that of asynchrony, is the child’s characteristic of achieving developmental milestones and benchmarks at an earlier age than their peers, those typically developing children. This suggests that you might be on the lookout for toys, books, games and crafts that would be appropriate for a child one or two or three years older in order to provide a level of challenge that enables the child to grow, but not to be overwhelmed or fail at the task because it is too abstract or complex for their current level of development. There is a term educators use, “the zone of proximal development” – a $2 phrase for a simple concept: give to the child the activities and tasks that enable them to learn what they don’t already know or know how to do and are ready to learn next, but not at TOO high a level. Again, going back to my first point, it’s about knowing your child, and helping her/him move ahead without overwhelming the child – follow their lead.
Finally, for a toddler, the rule is “Play is Their Work.” It is developmentally appropriate to play at a sand table, to finger-paint, to mold clay, to build with blocks, and in doing these tasks that seem to us adults as “just fooling around” are actually important to the growth and development of neural connections in the brain as the child grows. Continuing to do what I am confident you already ARE doing is essential: talking with your child and naming, describing things in the environment to provide the language development that matches the intellectual development, as well as reading aloud to share “together time” while enhancing the verbal skills, and sharing puzzles and crayons and scissors in rudimentary crafts – all of these are things that are just a part of good parenting that should be pursued with pleasure and will help your child develop those gifts.
I have tried to provide some clear information given the general nature of your question. If you have more specific questions or concerns to raise, I’d be happy to respond as best I can.
Gifted Education Specialist
If you are a TIP parent or teacher and have a question for a TIP gifted education research specialist, please contact Richard D. Courtright, PhD, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.