Early Childhood Gifted Education

— National Association for Gifted Children
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Creating Contexts for Individualized Learning in Early Childhood Education

This position statement, initiated by the Early Childhood Division of NAGC, focuses on creating optimal environments for recognizing, developing, and nurturing the strengths and talents of young gifted children, age 3 through 8. Characteristics of these young gifted children can include (but are not limited to): the use of advanced vocabulary and/or the development of early reading skills, keen observation and curiosity, an unusual retention of information, periods of intense concentration, an early demonstration of talent in the arts, task commitment beyond same-age peers, and an ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships, and think abstractly (Clark, 2002; Smutny, 1998; Smutny & von Fremd, 2004). Although many individuals are influential in the lives of young children, this position statement targets those who care for and are responsible for teaching young gifted children, including parents, caregivers, teachers, administrators, and other members of the community.

Early childhood gifted education focuses on recognizing, developing, and nurturing the strengths and talents of all children age 3 through 8. Early childhood educators and family members have mutual goals to develop children's capacity and passion for learning to the fullest potential. In addition, research indicates that an interactive and responsive environment in early childhood supports both cognitive and affective growth and establishes a pattern of successful learning that can continue throughout children's lives (Clark, 2002; Smutny, 1998). As such, the creation of rich and engaging learning environments in schools, homes, and communities during early childhood can enhance educational opportunities for learners and help put children on the path to academic achievement.

In many children, a pattern of gifted behaviors and/or advanced performance can be seen as early as pre-school; however, classroom modifications for gifted students altering the pace, depth, or complexity of instruction are rarely implemented in pre-school and early-elementary classrooms (Robinson et al., 2002; Stainthorp & Hughes, 2004). Thus the early educational experiences of many young gifted children provide limited challenge and hinder their cognitive growth rather than exposing learners to an expansive, engaging learning environment. This problem may be intensified among traditionally underserved populations of young gifted students including culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse learners, as well as children from poverty because in many cases additional resources for providing enriched learning experiences in homes and communities are also limited (Robinson et al.; Scott & Delgado, 2005).  Therefore, NAGC believes that providing engaging, responsive learning environments in which young learners' interests, strengths, and skills are identified, developed, and used to guide individualized learning experiences benefit all children, including young gifted children. Further, NAGC believes that providing a broad range of educational, health, and social services is especially critical for enabling young children from economically impoverished environments to develop and demonstrate high potential.

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