Early Enrichment for Young Gifted Children

Keri M. Guilbault, Ed.D., Past President, MCGATE

March 20, 2012

The National Association for Gifted Children’s (NAGC) Early Childhood Network supports collaboration between parents, caregivers and educators in order to develop the potential of precocious learners ages 3-8. Their position statement for creating contexts for individualized early learning can be found here: http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=1696.

Common characteristics found among young gifted children include the use of advanced vocabulary, early reading (without drill, coaching, or flash cards), keen observation skills, insatiable curiosity, an incredible memory, the ability to concentrate on tasks for long periods of time compared to age peers, and a unique ability to recognize patterns and relationships and think abstractly. Characteristics and behaviors indicative of giftedness can be evident as early as pre-school (or earlier) and recognized by parents or caregivers.

It is well accepted in the field of exceptional education that early intervention is critical to support students’ cognitive and affective growth. One can look at the success of programs such as Head Start, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Infant-Toddler programs, and Early Childhood Intervention services and recognize that providing nurturing, enriched and engaging environments during early childhood years can lead to enhanced educational success. This is the same need that young gifted children have. In addition, early enrichment as a form of intervention is even more critical for bright learners who come from poverty or traditionally underrepresented populations.

According to the NAGC Early childhood network, “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).”

Numerous studies show that when gifted children are provided early enrollment in kindergarten or first grade on the basis of intellectual, academic and social readiness, they perform as well as or better than their older classmates. It is imperative that young gifted children’s needs are not ignored and that responsive learning environments are provided as soon as they formally enter school. There is no research to support waiting for a gifted child to hit third grade or later before he or she should have access to developmentally appropriate educational services. Early recognition and intervention is critical for enabling young children from economically impoverished environments to develop and demonstrate high potential.

Some of NAGC’s recommendations for providing an appropriately stimulating environment for young gifted learners include the following:

  • Recognition of students as individuals who enter school with a unique set of experiences, interests, strengths, and weaknesses that will influence their readiness to learn
  • Informal and formal observations about student strengths and readiness that inform the planning of learning opportunities
  • Flexibility in the pace at which learning opportunities are provided (Some gifted learners benefit from acceleration to prevent needless repetition while others make gains with additional time to explore a topic in a more in-depth manner than same-age peers.)
  • Opportunities to build advanced literacy skills
  • Ample and varied materials including but not limited to technology, print material, and manipulative resources
  • Instructional strategies that foster an authentic construction of knowledge based on exploration, manipulative resources, and experiential inquiry
  • Interaction and collaboration with diverse peer groups of children having like and different interests and abilities
  • Experiences that range from concrete to abstract
  • Opportunities for social interaction with same-age peers as well as individuals with similar cognitive abilities and interests

Early enrichment and intervention for young gifted learners does not mean that the child has to be formally assessed and labeled, but that all learners, including those who show early signs or precocity should be allowed to blossom and grow in a nurturing and supportive environment.

Formal identification procedures are unlikely to begin as young as age three in Maryland as a result of the GT COMAR. There has been a misunderstanding by some that COMAR 13A.04.07 requires school systems to formally identify PreK-­‐2 students, and that MSDE is mandating that students be “tested” as early as age 3, disadvantaging students who live in poverty and students who are linguistically and culturally diverse. This COMAR statement does support the use of early talent development interventions (not identification), like the MSDE Primary Talent Development Early Learning Program (PTD), which can help school systems work to expand the services for all learners by recognizing that children develop at different rates and that giftedness sometimes is apparent at an early age.

By implementing the PTD lessons with all students, teachers can observe different forms of giftedness, including problem solving skills, critical thinking, and creativity that might tap into different strengths that may not be as evident in second grade or later on group measures such as the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) or the Naglieri Nonverbal Intelligence Test (NNAT.) This actually can benefit English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students and ethnically diverse learners who may stand out with these types of performance based activities. The Primary Talent Development model fosters experiences in which young students can display any of the following seven behaviors indicative of high intellectual functioning:

  • Perceptive
  • Communicative
  • Inquisitive
  • Persistent
  • Creative
  • Resourceful
  • Leadership

There should be an open door identification process in which all students are monitored and provided opportunities to participate in gifted and talented services in their areas of strength as they show need for such services. On-going assessments and progress monitoring from multiple data sources from Pre-K through grade 12 can increase the pool of candidates and ensure a more diverse population of gifted and talented students in our state.


MCGATE looks forward to working with MSDE and local school system staff as well as other educators, advocates and community members to inform and implement this regulation as part of the inter-­‐related educational policies and practices offered within all Maryland Local School Systems to maintain our #1 ranking. It will also help close achievement gaps at all ability levels, within student sub-­‐groups and among school systems statewide.

For more information on young gifted learners, the Primary Talent Development Model and the Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Children, please visit these sites:





Council for Exceptional Children Website. (2012). Early Intervention for Young Children At-Risk for Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from


Coleman, M. R., Buysse, V., & Neitzel, J. (2006). Recognition and response: An early intervening system for young children at risk for learning disabilities. Full report. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, FPG Child Development Institute. http://www.recognitionandresponse.org/images/downloads/2006fpgsynthesis_recognition andresponse.pdf

Gross, M.U.M. (1999). Small poppies: Highly gifted children in the early years. Roeper 21 (3), 207-214. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10124.aspx

Robinson, N. M. (2004, Winter). Parenting young gifted children. Northwestern University Center for Talent Development. Retrieved from http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/docs/ctd/talentw04.pdf

Ruf, D. L. (2007). Tips for parents: How level of giftedness, gender, and personality affect school behavior and learning. Davidson Institute for Talent Development Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10480.aspx


Annotated Bibliography

Elkind, D. (1998). Reinventing childhood: Raising and educating children in a changing world. Rosemont, NJ: Modern Learning Press.

Written by child psychologist, David Elkind, this book examines modern conceptions of early childhood, including a chapter describing definitions and identification of intelligence and giftedness in young children.


Hodge, K. A., & Kemp, C. R. (2006). Recognition of giftedness in the early years of school: Perspectives of teachers, parents, and children. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30, 164-204. 


This study followed 14 children, identified as potentially gifted while preschoolers, for up to 3 of their early years of school, collecting questionnaire data from 26 teachers and the parents, as well as interview and norm-referenced test data from the children. Teachers rated more highly the children whose test scores were more consistently in the gifted range, but more than half of the children were underestimated by at least 1 teacher, especially where nonverbal ability was higher than verbal ability. Strengths in reading were more readily recognized than strengths in spelling and mathematics. Child attitudes and behaviors, as well as some mutual parent-teacher distrust, may have contributed to teacher underestimation. Implications for practice and further research are discussed.


Louis, B. and Lewis, M. (1992). Parental beliefs about giftedness in young children and their relation to actual ability level. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36(1), 27-31.

Some parents believe their preschool children to be gifted, but little is known concerning these implicit beliefs. This study provides data on the relationship between specific items perceived by parents to be indicators of giftedness in their young children and the children’s actual measured ability level. Parental beliefs were found to be associated with actual IQ status. In particular, parents’ beliefs about memory, creativity-imagination, and abstract thinking abilities were associated with higher IQ, and knowledge of body parts with lower IQ. These data suggest that (a) parents have specific and differentiated beliefs concerning the constituents of giftedness in their young children, (b) parents exhibit a fairly high degree of accuracy in their judgments of their children’s ability level, and (c) parental beliefs differ as a function of the actual ability level of their children.


Robinson, N. M., Lanzi, R. G., Weinberg, R. A., Ramey, S. L., & Ramey, C. T. (2002). Family factors associated with high academic competence in former Head Start children at third grade. Gifted Child Quarterly, 46, 278-290.

This study examines the factors related to the academic achievement of the top 3% of third grade students participating in the National Head Start/Public School Early Childhood Transition Demonstration Project.


Scott, M. S., & Delgado, C. F. (2005). Identifying cognitively gifted minority students in preschool. Gifted Child Quarterly, 49, 199-209.

Scott and Delgado examine the efficacy of a pre-school screening instrument for identifying cognitively gifted minority students.


Scott, M. S., Perou, R., Urbano, R. C., & Hogan, A. (1992). The identification of giftedness: A comparison of White, Hispanic and Black families. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36, 131-139.

A survey was sent to White, Hispanic and Black parents of children in the gifted and talented program of a large urban school district. The results indicated that there were few differences among the three parent groups in either the characteristics that had indicated to them that their child might be gifted, or in the attributes which they believed were current descriptors of their gifted child. Large group differences were present, however, between the White sample and the two minority group samples in the percentage of families who requested an evaluation of their child for possible placement in the gifted and talented program. Fewer of the minority parents made such a request. This factor could contribute to the underrepresentation of minority students in gifted programs.