I have lines out to several more folks for Q&As in our Facets of Gifted Education series, but today I thought we'd look at a different topic. Parents of gifted children often know there is something different about their child by age 3 or 4 or even earlier, even if most aren't officially identified until kindergarten or 3rd grade. If you find yourself with such a child, what should you do? And how young can children start learning a more formal academic curriculum?
As some of you know, I have a toddler, Jasper, who is almost 2. Since I work at home, we chose to put him in a daycare center about two blocks from our house. For the first year or so, it was pretty much just straight up childcare. But when he was about 15 months old, he moved to the "young toddlers" class, and now is in the "toddlers" class, and they've really stepped up the educational game. He learned to identify shapes including squares, ovals and octagons (granted, he loves yelling "octagon" and octagon for him means any shape with n sides where n>6, but still...) He pointed out the letter B to me on one of his blocks the other day, and counts his puzzles. It's pretty much pure memorization at this point -- he'll often count up to four or five, even if there are only three puzzles -- but if he had been home with me during the days, I doubt it would have occurred to me to teach him to identify octagons. And he loves learning all these things (in addition to hanging out with his friends).
While I know Jasper is a smart kid, I don't think he is profoundly gifted. Nonetheless, my experience with him has made me wonder about how parents can expose extremely gifted preschool aged children to a level of learning that keeps them challenged. One of the good things about preschool (good ones, that is) is that they tend to have more discovery-based curricula -- the point is to play and learn things, not necessarily all learn the same things at the same time. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I think that it's not a bad idea to get children into high quality preschools as soon as possible. Most "normal" preschools start for children around ages 2 or 3, but younger children -- like Jasper -- can definitely still be interested in these things. He would not be exposed to them nearly as regularly otherwise.
I am aware that this is probably a controversial statement, so I've been trying to find some research that talks about this issue. There is certainly research about the benefits of preschool; I found this article from Parents about Why Preschool Matters, and this old article about challenging gifted young children in preschool from Children Today, but these are mainly about programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. Most of the research on "childcare" programs (which can be for younger children) focuses on their effect on at-risk children, particularly low-income children. High quality programs have been shown to help such children, though the jury is out for kids from other backgrounds. It may be a wash.
I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers have found. Did you put your gifted children in childcare or preschool programs when they were toddlers? Did they enjoy them? Did it stimulate their little brains, or make the transition to school easier?