Recently I was asked how our International Early Years curriculum supported gifted children in discussion with a group of parents. My instant response was to talk about individualised learning and developmentally appropriate opportunities. I then looked to see if I could spot the child in question for any clues to further expand on my answer. The child was in the mother’s arms. 3 months old and asleep.
However, it got me thinking about how our curriculums support a gifted child? Most importantly is there even such a thing in Early Years? I have had past discussions with colleagues who have refused to accept that this can be recognised in Early Years children. After all, children grow at different rates and childhood is not a “race”. I agree with this, but I also think about the many children I have met over the years who had stood out with certain traits, cognitive skills and fascinations.
I remembered Nicole who used to come into my office for some ‘down time’ away from the stress of being “forced to play” with other 3-year olds. I would let her have 10 mins on my laptop exploring CBeebies and then give her a box of glue sticks to count to keep her entertained. I also remember Paul, aged 4.5 who could read, write and loved big numbers but his real passion was drawing horses.
Both would tell me they were bored in the nursery. This confused me as I believed that the nursery was full of motivated adults, was well resourced and had free flow continuous provision - which for me covered the needs of all young children. But had this been enough?
Other memorable children over the years included Emma and James, who could tap dance as well as Fred Astaire or the Penguins in ‘Happy Feet’. There was Tommy who loved The Simpsons comics and would spend most of the day reading on our sofa. After a while, he started to bring the Metro newspaper into school and read that too. Then there was Euan with his knowledge about cars and would stand by the fence reading number plates and talking about types of engines.
Interestingly, because we just went with the flow of the fascinations of these children the parents never insisted that we move them on to Key Stage One. They were just happy that their children who “got bored at home” were happy and had the opportunity to do the things they loved in school.
It wasn’t easy though. These were children who did need something extra to keep them learning. They needed the odd quirky resource, but most of all what these children needed were our attention. They wanted to show us things. They wanted to be listened to, they wanted us to celebrate their ideas and enable them. For these children, their skills, knowledge and understanding didn’t fit easily into an early learning goal. It was deeper than this and went into levels that even us as adults struggled to comprehend.
So, whether you wish to disagree that these children were gifted or not, I am of the belief that occasionally whatever the pedagogy of your Early Years setting – there will always be some children who are unchallenged and need more. By recognising this we can avoid the adults around them from panicking and pushing them on to their next curriculum too early.
So, my answer to how Early Years supports gifted children is to continue to extend and capture their curiosities and do it in such a way that genius is allowed!
Oh and let’s allow the genius of our educators in teaching too. Praise our best teachers and give them the things that they need to take risks and extend learning. Ensure they have a basket of glue sticks, money to buy comics, and time to support the curiosities of all children.
In Early Years we don’t have average children and average teachers so let’s recognise the genius of the Early Years’ experience – for all children – and be proud to say we support it.