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Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms

by Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Coordinator, Center for Talent Development I recently had the pleasure of presenting a seminar for parents at Lake Forest Country Day School on the topic of “Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms.” I presented ideas from my book by the same name, published in 2013 by Redleaf Press, and while the intended audience for the book is teachers, I’ve found that parents are often very interested to hear about what they can be doing at home to support their children’s learning and development. The seminar included two big “take aways” for parents: The importance of play and benefit of making mistakes. Leapfrog student playing with blocks The Importance of Play Young children with keen interests, intense curiosity, and advanced cognitive abilities are more likely to demonstrate the complexity of what they know through open-ended play experiences than through traditional academic methods, such as reading and writing or reciting math facts and times tables. Construction play using wooden blocks, for example, is a very rich and creative experience that helps introduce children to math and science concepts related to geometry, fractions, and physics. Opportunities for planning, problem solving, and negotiating are available whenever children play together, but this is especially true when children are working together to build something. Communication during block play can include statements of leadership (“Let’s build a fort!”), questions (“Where should be put the look-out tower?”), assertions (“The gate is too small. Let’s make it wider.”) and even humor (“Look, I built a toilet!”).  Developing and honing communication skills are another benefit of children’s block play. Parents can encourage block play by purchasing a decent set of wooden blocks (natural wood in uniform sizes) and by providing the time and space to play with blocks. Girls, especially, often need encouragement from parents and teachers to dive in and experiment with construction toys in order to resist stereotypic misconceptions that blocks are just for boys. Many successful scientists and architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, have traced their passion for experimentation and design to their early experiences with blocks and construction toys. The Benefits of Making Mistakes You may have heard the phrase, “We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.” Easier said than done. Exceptionally bright young children can be perfectionists who are determined to get it “right” every time. Letting loose and experimenting with new materials and ideas can be a challenge. For example, in CTD’s Leapfrog course, Rocket Science, the children who learn the most are often the ones who build rockets that fail on the first launch. They must carefully examine the workings of the rocket model and develop a plan for correction. This process helps students explore and deepen their understanding of how the rockets work. Students who are successful launching their rockets on the first try, however, might not be motivated to take a second look at the details and characteristics of rocket construction. The students who repair and rework their rockets seems to leave the course with more knowledge and a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Leapfrog teachers celebrate these kinds of failures as wonderful opportunities for advanced learning. Parents can play a role in encouraging children to literally “mess around” as they play and learn. Parents can provide their children with open-ended materials such as clay, wire, and cardboard to construct inventions and models. A full recycling bin can be an excellent source of inspiration. A great example of this pro-mistakes attitude can be found in the picture book, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. In this book, little Rosie builds a cheese-copter that crashes after hovering just a few moments in the air. Rosie is discouraged, but her aunt proclaims, “Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!” Parents can support children’s learning but praising their efforts and explorations, even when they fail. Especially when they fail. Ann Gadzikowski is the Early Childhood Coordinator for CTD’s Summer Program. She earned her master’s degree from the Erikson Institute for the Advanced Study of Child Development in Chicago. If you’re interest in reading her book, please contact Redleaf Press.

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