Nurturing a Gifted Toddler
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My son Wesley will be 2 years old on the 27th of August, and at this
time, he has learned to recognize all letters, some punctuation
(question mark and exclamation mark), numbers up to 100 (I imagine he
could count that high but often gets bored after 32 or so), colors, and
every shape I've been able to think of. He identifies letters by name,
and can repeat the accompanying sounds that letter makes (upper and
He can read and spell aloud between 20-40 words, and enjoys sitting
alone with books for long periods of time. He also has mastered the
ability to write every letter, and can currently write his own name, and
several other words- though his letters are still "jumbled". He writes
the letters in order ("w-e-s-l-e-y") but one will be up and to the left,
then down, then on top of one another, etc.
This last week he's begun sounding out unfamiliar words and I suspect he
will be reading fluently in the next year.
People have asked how I do it- what program I'm using, and I must reply-
I don't do anything other than give him tools. He is truly teaching
himself. I try to answer his questions, and help him when I can, but I'm
not pushing him- he's pulling me.
He walked very late (17-18 mos or so) and never crawled. (We ended up
having to get a physical therapist for him, which worked beautifully)
Instead, he devoted every waking moment to flipping pages of books,
drawing, and learning to write. It's what he enjoys, and has since the
Case in point- the first time I saw him write a word:
He had misbehaved and was told "no" very sternly. He gazed up at
me, then looked down at the pen and paper he held and said "eN-Oh,
no" and wrote "NO" on his scrap of paper. I still have it on my
fridge, dated many months ago.
My question is this: I do everything I can think of to enrich his mind
at home (he's got shelves of books), and his weekday caregivers (who are
friends & family) understand and so as well- but I know there will be a
time in the not too distant future where I will be obliged to enroll him
in school of some kind.
I am lower middle class, and live paycheck to paycheck, like so many
people today- and I do not have the funds to enroll him in the school he
no doubt deserves. I've seen programs available for disabled, autistic,
or delayed children (and thank goodness for that)- but aside from TAG, I
know of no resources for gifted kids, and none at all for toddlers. I've
heard of getting kids "tested" for this sort of thing, but how? Where?
By whom? And if I did, what could I do with that information?
If his IQ was outlandishly high, what could I do with that? I would
still have to put him in a Kindergarten class that I already know he
will be bored with. I'm just looking for some direction, some advice. I
know there's not much I can do for him now- but what can I prepare for?
What will my options be when the time comes for school? I'm at a loss.
I've seen all kinds of stuff about gifted kids and teens, but little and
less about toddlers. Any advice would be appreciated. There's nothing
more dangerous than a smart, bored kid.
While I would not like to label such a young child, I do believe that
your son is gifted. Gifted toddlers exhibit a wide array of distinct
behaviours that makes them different from their non-gifted counterparts.
Your son shows some of these distinct behaviours and I am sure there are
many more which is not listed here.
It is crucial for gifted toddlers to be identified - and rather than
formal testing (not advisable until they are around 6 years of age) -
parents are best to identify gifted children. This is very necessary as
children who do not have their intellectual needs met long-term can
experience a host of problems later in life. It is good that you are
aware of his abilities and are looking for ways to help him develop his
The best thing for a young gifted child to do is to be able to explore
his/her surrounding that feeds the needs for that extra stimulation. So
providing him with educational materials that challenges and stimulate
his thinking would be a great start. Monitor and observe his strengths
and use activities that interest him to motivate him further. At this
age, they should be provided with a variety of materials to determine
what really interests them. At the same time, also monitor his dislikes.
Say, if you find that he dislikes “number” related activities, find a
different way to nurture that interest. Use measurements, for example to
introduce the concept of numbers and simple math. Instead of direct math
related activities, you can actually introduce simple math using
measurement scales - e.g., by the beach, a pail of sand, half a pail of
sand, etc. Give him appropriate educational enrichment to stimulate his
mind. It is crucial to spend quality time with him to be able to tune in
to his interest and respond accordingly. As long as the activity
requires stimulation and interests the child, it would surely help him
Apart from direct learning, there are other ways to expose a young
gifted child. Children can only develop interest when they are aware of
what is out there. For example, museum visits, field trips, visiting a
farm, nature walk, etc. What is crucial here is the variety of
activities. If he show interest in a particular area, provide him the
opportunities to explore his interest in depth. At this stage, home
stimulation and support of interests is a crucial aspect of development.
At the same time, allow for a good amount of free play - avoid “over
guiding”. Parents sometimes get carried away and provide too much
stimulation, and may not allow the child to self explore with limited
time for free play. Allow the child to be on his own exploring the
learning materials you have provided. For example, even if he is not
able to complete a puzzle, get him to keep trying instead of running to
his aid. When the child gets used to parents who keep helping them, it
may deter them to think for themselves and always wanting parents to
help out. This may slow down the development of their cognitive
Do also read as much as you can on giftedness for greater awareness and
if possible, join a local association for gifted children. Check if
there is one close to your area. You would be surprised how much help
can be provided. Sharing information on parenting gifted children is one
of the best ways to help nurture a gifted child. It would also be a good
idea to constantly look up the internet for the latest on gifted
education. There are many good articles on enrichment for gifted
children that you may use for your son.
What I would recommend though is for you to go through this great web
hoagiesgifted and you will find the
latest on giftedness and great resources for parents. There is loads of
free online information here. If you plan to purchase a book, please do
so through this site to support and keep it growing.
As he grows older, family relationships should be tended to as well. It
is indeed very exhausting to bring up a gifted child, so it is best to
have relatives help out. This is also good for the child, as the child
learns to manage various relationships. Emotional support from the
family is very important as gifted children are known to demonstrate
heightened sensitivity and complex emotions.
If it is hard to afford a good school, have you thought of home
schooling him at least up to kindergarten? It may be a good idea but
this requires a lot of time, energy, effort and sacrifices on your side.
It would be good if there are other children of similar abilities that
can grouped together. Then, maybe twice or thrice a week, you can send
him to a centre for enrichment.
Having said that, make sure he has a balanced life. Let him enjoy his
childhood to the fullest. Allow him to explore on his own as you are
doing right now - but monitor him all the time. To be creative, he needs
to be independent. Observe his likes and dislikes in learning and try to
cater to his needs.
Having a gifted child is a lot of hard work and takes up a lot of energy
of the carer, but perseverance will pay off! Here's wishing you the very
best in your parenting journey. Good luck!