Advanced Abilities in a Toddler
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
Q: I have been told by an ex teacher that
my 33 month toddler may be gifted, but I am not sure. My toddler spent a
couple of hrs playing with her. I have only one child and haven't had
much experience with kids. So your opinion would be much appreciated.
My toddler knew the alphabet upper and lower case by 16 months, and
count count to 100 in three languages. I did not push her but she was
always curious and interested, plus she would get bored.
She always loved books since a baby. I noticed last couple of months
that she is reading words she has not seen before, or able to follow the
phonetics. She can read about 80% of her books.
I didn't want to focus on whether she may be gifted or not. But the
ex-teacher said that she had other qualities besides reading. E.g. her
vocabulary is extensive and speaks in full sentences most of the time.
She also has a good sense of humour E.g. she put a finger puppet on her
foot and called it 'foot puppet'. When her tights rolled up to her knees
she said "tights are pretending to be shorts". Or "the mummy
kangaroo has a baby in her pouch, she has a back pack in her tummy".
I recently potty trained her and said: "You will get 1 biscuit for
wee, 2 biscuits for poos". To which she replied "What about 3
biscuits?". I wasn't expecting this question so had to quickly say "3
biscuits for wee and poo together". Later on when I gave her only 2
biscuits, she asked "Can you give me the number 3 please".
She could read fifty names of the Thomas the tank engine friends after a
couple of goes. This didn't surprised me so much, but what surprised me
more was that she could identify the different engine characters
correctly. I certainly cant do that so I have to verify whenever she
identifies them. She seems to have excellent memory! She knows all the
children's songs and nursery rhymes.
Do you think my toddler may be gifted. I ask because I am looking into
changing her current daycare to a more reputable place with a better
Based on your description, there is no doubt that your little girl has a
number of distinct characteristics of an above average child. The
teacher may have seen certain traits that stood out in her short
observation to be able to make such a comment on her gifts.
If she is gifted, which is possible based on your description (we try
not to label them at such a tender age), you would have a very
interesting journey with quite a lot of effort that needs to be put in
initially to be able to help her meet her mental needs. Gifted children
belong to a special group. Given proper care in terms of their
educational and emotional needs, they will have the ability to achieve a
lot more than their average counterpart.
You appear to be on the right track as she is progressing well, keep up
the good work and just go according to her needs. Remember that she
would need varied and stimulating activities that are meaningful. Try
out new things. At her age, you should just keep exposing her to many
new things and she will show interest in a few, little interest in
others and perhaps no interest in some. Allow her a lot of free play
under guidance but try not to interfere too much. Cognitively advanced
children learn best when they self explore and discover.
As I have advised previously, a good start in nurturing an advanced
child's potential would be to encourage her to follow her interests at
this point. In case you find that she is fascinated with something, do
more of it and gradually increase its complexity. She appears to enjoy
books, so perhaps you may start with activities that include reading,
story telling, looking at pictures, etc. Have different types of reading
materials in terms of texture - magazines, newspapers, books with
hard/soft covers, fabric types and so on. Gifted children are sensitive
to texture and this would enhance their sense of touch. Having said
that, more work of the same kind may sometimes bore above average
children, so it is always important to try to have variations of the
same activity. This involves creativity on your side. You must also know
when to stop - a good cue is to observe when she starts to lose interest
(irritable, distracted). If this happens, drop the activity and allow
her some free play time. Pretend play is crucial and this is when they
develop their brain and unleash their creativity.
Ensure that she remains challenged all the time so as not to have any
time to be idle which may cause such children to throw tantrums or be
disruptive especially at her age and given that she has always been busy
and enjoyed it. The following are a few tips that you can use at this
stage and later to encourage her learning:
Help her determine differences; compare and contrast things/people.
Use measurement words often: little, more, many, half, quarter, etc.
as an introduction to early math.
Instead of reading stories from books all the time, create your own
and try to get her to contribute. Or play a game of stories - each comes
up with one.
You can also watch educational programmes with her and ask her the
“whys” and “whats” - and then explain. YouTube can be a good source for
educational clips - perhaps make some time where you can pick some
educational clip for her.
Look for similarities and differences and have her group things that
belong. It helps in critical thinking.
Create a scenario and ask her about what could happen in certain
At the same time, make sure that her enrichment is not limited to verbal
and literary - physical development is very important. Ensure that she
has toys that will improve her eye-hand coordination and problem solving
skills (blocks, beads, puzzles, etc.). Remember a balance of sufficient
enrichment and guidance is important, not to the extent of pushing her.
At this stage, the most important tool is plenty of love and security -
this helps development of a sound and happy mind.
As for schools, it is important to find a good one, which may be a great
environment for her to also develop her initial social skills. Speak to
the school about her abilities and have them assess her to determine
what may be best for her. However, a very structured programme may not
work best for her - she would need flexibility to enable her to explore
and discover so do keep that in mind.
Hope the tips are helpful and have a great learning journey with your
little one. Keep monitoring her progress and encourage her to learn
positively. All the best!