Gifted Child in Kindergarten: What To Watch For

If you have a gifted child, awesome! But receiving the news that your child is ahead can produce the same anxiety as learning that your child is behind. Each situation requires special consideration, with the ultimate goal of doing what is best for the child.

How do you tell if your kindergarten age child is gifted?

There’s no specific test at this age. Instead, educations look for abilities and behaviors, such as:

  • Learning to read early, or with little to no assistance
  • Understanding of numerical relationships beyond the comprehension of his classmates
  • Remarkable memory for detail
  • High sensitivity to her surroundings
  • Obsession with issues of fairness, right or wrong, good or bad
  • Complex story-telling

There are many other behaviors and abilities that might be a red flag that a child is “gifted” and may need support in kindergarten. There is a huge range of ability at the kindergarten age, partially because children come to kindergarten with a broad range of kindergarten preparation (some have a lot, some have none at all).

The fact that a child doesn’t read in kindergarten at all doesn’t mean that he isn’t a gifted child–it just means he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to learn to read. This is one of the reasons why educators at your child’s school may be loath to “test” or assign any one child the label of “gifted.” There is still so much time for children to develop. Kindergarten is really just the beginning.

How does a kindergarten help a gifted child get the most out of school?

In kindergarten, like in every grade, the key is to make sure that the child’s individual needs are met. If the child is a skilled reader, then support in pushing her in reading will make sense. The same is true if the child excels in math, writing, art, or any other subject area. The teacher will try and identify where the child is ahead, and then where the child is at grade level of perhaps even behind. (It is fairly common for gifted children to be far ahead in some areas and then really hate others, such as handwriting).

While a child may be gifted in some areas, it doesn’t mean that the child is emotional or socially mature. In most cases, the solution to help a gifted child in kindergarten is not to bump her up to first grade or beyond. Instead, it is about helping her develop emotionally and socially, while also providing her with the challenges she needs.

The best type of kindergarten classroom for a gifted child is a flexible one. Ideally, this is a classroom that has a smaller adult to student ratio, so that the teacher has time and the ability to spend one-on-one time with your gifted child.

Schools will approach the “delivery” of curriculum to your gifted child in different ways. Some will try and do everything within the bounds of the child’s regular classroom, while others will separate her from the classroom for her individualized instruction. While pulling the child from her regular classroom would definitely facilitate the academic portion of your child’s education, at the kindergarten level, I hesitate to recommend that this is the best option for such a young child.

Some children come to kindergarten having already participated in years of preschool or other organized daycare. Others come straight from home, never having done so much as a dance class with other kids. A gifted child who is very immature socially may feel bored in kindergarten, but in some cases it would be to the child’s detriment to remove her from the class.

Instead, if possible, I would hope that the kindergarten teacher would be able to help incorporate more challenging tasks for a gifted kindergartner in the classroom setting without having to single her out or send her out on her own.

One of the reasons I like keeping gifted children in with other kids at this age (even if they are getting harder work to do in the classroom) is that it can be easy to get obsessed with the “gifted” component of a child’s education, and neglect the other components of kindergarten: making friends, losing friends, resolving conflicts, learning to follow directions, forgetting to following directions, winning games and losing games, and so on.

If your child is bored in kindergarten, have a chat with your child’s teacher. Sometimes solving boredom at this grade level is as simple as trading out the child’s reading material in class, for something more complex or just on a more interesting subject matter.

What can a parent do to give a gifted kindergartner extra help?

At this age, if your child is already getting a little extra push from her teachers at school, I don’t recommend that you set up additional academic activities at home. Research shows us again and again that children need hours of PLAY a day to continue to develop their brains. If the child is in full day kindergarten, then her non-school hours need to be outside, on the playground, on her bike, or with her friends.

If you can’t help yourself and you just have to put your child in something, try to stay away from things that look like traditional academics (such as sitting at a desk). Pick out activities that stimulate her curiosity and the desire to learn and explore. Do science experiments that involve making a mess or blowing something up (safely). Go to the aquarium, or the museum. If your child is a budding artist, take her someplace new or different to sketch or paint.

Your gifted child is still a child, so don’t forget to treat her like one

The primary thing a parent needs to do for a gifted child at the kindergarten age is to not become wrapped up in the “gifted” part. If you make everything about your child being gifted, this becomes part of their identity. Your child may also come to associate being gifted with your love for her. Children love to please us, and doing well in school or being singled out for being smart is one of the easiest ways for child to earn positive affirmation from parents. But what happens to the child if the “gifted” label is lost, or they fail? Are they secure in your love for them?

Remember that your gifted kindergarten age child is still just a child, aged 5 or 6 years old. As much as she needs advanced instruction, she needs high quality food, lots of rest, stability and security in her home, and the love of her parents. It doesn’t matter how much tutoring she gets as a young child; she wont’ succeed as an adult if her other basic needs as a child are not satisfied.

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