by Hanna Vock
You can offer measures of cognitive advancement at home or in kindergarten all you want – they will not reach the gifted child if …
- they do not correspond to the child’s state of mental development
- they do not take account of the child’s potential to understand and integrate new information extremely fast
In our work with a kindergarten group we have to offer at least a “bit” here and there which the gifted child can chew on for a while – there must be at least an impulse to ignite the child’s thinking.
Otherwise it will be bored, start fidgeting, fool around, turn away or even do all this simultaneously.
It would, no doubt, be better to offer continuous and custom-fit measures of advancement in stimulating conversations, small group activities and projects – except, the working conditions in kindergartens often do not allow for such special attention.
By way of two examples I would like to demonstrate what I mean by custom-fit advancement of gifted children.
In the first example there is a small girl who has chosen a project and is being supported wisely by her parents.
In the second example is about a small boy who was terribly bored in my kindergarten group; there was a shortage of personnel at the time and I had to find a way to tend to Daniel’s needs with as little effort as possible.
In a nutshell …
Cognitive advancement must be geared to the learning speed and the state of mental development of the child – one has to ”pick the child up at the point where it is”. By way of two quite different examples – in one case a 4 years old girl and in the other case a 5 years old boy – the author is giving an account of how such custom-fit advancement can be realised.
Example 1: Carolin (4) is counting cars
It is late in the afternoon. Carolin, 4 years of age, is sitting by the window looking out onto the street from the 1st floor.
Shortly before she learned how to write numbers by watching her older sister do her homework, copying the numbers form her sister’s worksheet.
Now Carolin is getting a sheet of paper and a pencil and makes a note of each car going by on the street.
She writes the next greater number for each car going by: 1,2,3,4, …
After a while her mother comes in and sees what the child is doing.
Soon Carolin runs into a problem. The numbers are getting bigger, with two digits now, and she cannot write them fast enough for all the cars passing.
However, the mother gives her a decisive hint enabling Carolin to continue.
She says: “You don’t need to write the numbers, you could just make a notch for each car and then count the notches afterwards.”
Carolin, baffled, goes right on to applying the new method of making a tally list.
At this point the 4-year-old has already shown an extraordinary performance.
But the story does not end here.
Carolin shows no fatigue whatsoever, but instead sets another mental assignment for herself: now she wants to sort the cars by colour. On a new sheet she makes notches in the upper left corner for red cars, in the upper right corner for white cars and in the middle below that for all other cars.
Then she counts the red, the white and the other cars and then counts the entire list to see how many it were altogether.
Read also: Basic Ideas of Mathematics.
Carolin shows the sheet to her mother and explains everything.
Her mother realises how seriously Carolin is about her self-made project and gives another impulse. She introduces the parameter of time.
“Well, you know how many cars have passed now, but you don’t know in what time they did.”
Carolin runs to the kitchen and grabs the kitchen clock. She sets it to 10 minutes.
Then she starts her work all over with great concentration and finishes it, too.
What do we see here?
- Carolin works mentally with great perseverance and entirely self-motivated.
- She has made a discovery all on her own: the scientific method of observation and documentation of the observed. This is what we often – and under great effort – try to convey to school children much later. Now you might say: Great if children do such things all by themselves. But what does that have to do with targeted cognitive advancement? And what is the problem anyway?
- This account comprises several steps of advancement which are all based on specific attitudes and considerations of adults. Some of these steps are taken while the child is sitting by the window counting the cars, some have been taken before the incident, but are of the same importance for the success of the project, as we can see.
Which are the steps of advancement?
There is the fact that the parents and the older sister have obviously allowed the little sister to watch her older sister do her homework and thereby learn to write numbers at the age of 4.
It can very well be considered a measure of advancement that there are paper and writing utensils accessible for the child at any time. Even if it is hard to believe, but this is not a matter of course for all children in our country.
There is a good deal of intellectual stimulation in the simple fact, that the child gets to see other family members in all kinds of situations making notes of things they do not want to forget.
An essential and entirely indispensable condition: the mother does not at any point try to disturb or distract the child from its project. She considers this occupation of the child to be worthwhile.
Instead she might at some point have said something like: “Get away from the window and go play outside, it’s nice weather – don’t you have to tidy up your room? – wash your hands – draw a nice picture …” Which could all be understood as saying: stop writing numbers already, do something kids of your age do. Apparently she is not uncomfortable with the child’s occupation and lets it do its thing.
When Carolin runs into a problem, because she cannot write the 2-digit numbers fast enough, the mother intervenes in a smart way. She gives helpful hints, needed for the child to continue at that point. She tells her to make a tally sheet. With this she is also providing the child with a new intellectual instrument.
The child immediately adopts the new technique and is thereby equipped to take its efforts to a new level. When Carolin is finished sorting the cars by colours she goes to show the sheet to her mother. This shows …
… that the child is convinced the mother will show interest in the work, that the mother understands what the child is trying to do, and that she will be able to accept the child’s achievement and that she will not reject the effort as inadequate and premature, maybe even trifling it.
Behind all this trust on the side of the child lies a good deal of wisely spent attention to the child on the mother’s side. That is the part of advancement that has taken place previously.
Carolin chooses the colours red and white when sorting the cars. The creation of the category “all others” is quite a remarkable intellectual accomplishment for a 4 years old child.
The mother understands this and shows the sheet to the father in the evening, who also recognises this as a great intellectual step for the child by showing his appreciation. He acknowledges the child’s achievement as naturally as he would acknowledge its courage to dive into the water from the side of a pool for the first time.
Carolin occupies herself with the project for quite a while. Her mother realises that she is still rather immersed in the project and decides to give another impulse, which the child readily accepts when getting the kitchen clock.
Finally, the fact that the child knows how to handle the kitchen clock hints at previous advancement.
It was therefore not only the current behaviour of the mother that helped the child to bring its project to a positive end. We have seen that there have been conducive conditions and measures of advancement preceding this incident, on which the child was able to build.
And it does not matter whether or not Carolin is going to become a creative scientist one day. But it does matter that the girl had an intensive, intellectually creative time that afternoon. If asked, the girl might call that afternoon a happy time.
This example shows that empathetic and intelligent advancement should begin in pre-school days. Just try to imagine the frustration this child might have experienced if its interests had not been appreciated.
Example 2 a: Malte is bored
Without specific knowledge about giftedness kindergarten teachers intentionally or unintentionally communicate their disapproval. Oftentimes children experience negative reactions by their kindergarten teachers signalling that their knowledge and curiosity are not appreciated.
A situation, which I have often witnessed and I, too, found myself caught up in from time to time when I was working in day-care:
During the morning circle: talking about the animals on a farm. The 3-6 years old children all want to tell what they know. The younger children are still learning the names of the animals and the sounds they make. Some children want to talk about their own experiences or what they have seen on TV. Their accounts usually last no more than 2 or 3 simple sentences.
Then there is 6 years old Malte, who has never been on a farm, but he owns a detailed picture book, which he has thoroughly studied, and his parents have talked about “egg production” with him. He wants to discuss the fact that the animals in his picture book are all running around outdoors while most of the eggs you can buy come from laying batteries.
He involves the kindergarten teacher in a dialogue about this and explains how lucky the chickens (in the book) are and what the term “ethical husbandry” means, namely, that the animals get to live the way that they naturally would. He wants to know how this applies to the other animals on the farm …, and he is not even close to finishing his little discourse, presenting his knowledge and asking his questions, but the other children are getting impatient, are not listening any more and start fooling around.
The kindergarten teacher is impressed, but also disgruntled because the morning circle is “getting out of hand”, and because she cannot give Malte the attention he deserves either. She stops him: “Yes, Malte, that’s alright, but now we want to sing the Chicken-Farm-Song.
Malte’s desire for longer conversations, which he seeks to have with his kindergarten teacher, because the other children will certainly not listen to him, is urgent, but hardly ever is there enough time for it. Too often he is being put off. The message he gets is that his desire is bothersome and his behaviour insubordinate. Often such a situation of recurring rejections persists for years without the child ever getting a positive feedback.
Example 2 b: Daniel is bored, too.
Luckily, 5 years old Daniel’s reaction in my kindergarten group was rebellion. First he gave up holding monologues during the morning circle; instead he increasingly disturbed the sessions, joked around and eventually he refused to take part and would not come to the circle any more, still disturbing the session from outside the circle.
In our full-time kindergarten almost everything was voluntary, except the morning circles (and lunch) where the children were to come together for some 30 minutes on a regular basis. I did not want to let him abandon his participation in the circle altogether, yet, at the same time I even less wanted to force it upon him.
At that time I was working without a second colleague in the group for several weeks so there was no time to take him aside and talk to him outside the circle or to involve him in an exciting group activity. In this situation the following strategy proved helpful:
- Showing I understood his frustration,
- giving him positive feedback,
- make a contract with him and stick to it,
- implement one feature in the morning circle that represented a little more of an intellectual challenge.
This attempt for a solution developed as follows
I saw why Daniel was getting increasingly frustrated with his experiences in the morning circle. All the games played, all the songs sung in the circle were too easy and played out for him. With a few 3-year-olds just having joined the group the discussion of current events was getting too slow and simple for him. That was why he was so bored.
See also: Permanent Frustration because of Being Underchallenged and Facing Incomprehension
The few occasions on which he got to explain something more difficult could not alter his over-all feeling that the morning circle “sucked”.
The kindergarten teacher’s sympathy does not help if it does not reach the child.
So I talked to Daniel and told him: “I understand that you get bored during the morning circle and that you don’t want to participate any more.” Since I found his decision (not to participate any more) legitimate I must have come across authentically and he apparently did not suspect a pedagogic trick behind my approaching him.
Next I felt I had to give him some positive feedback. So I said to him: “I know that you know a lot of things already and that things are just too slow for you.” This confirmed his own assessment of his perceptions and his judgement.
Upon my question what we could do about it he replied: “Maybe I could go outdoors during the morning circle.” (He was talking about the yard of the kindergarten.)
The only thing I could say was: “Yes, you sure could, and I’m sure you wouldn’t cause any trouble out there.” Daniel gave me a serious look full of expectation.
By that time I realised that I did not want him to never take part in the morning circle at all. But how could I tell him? Finally I said to him: “I don’t think it would be a good thing if you never took part any more; you would miss out on some important things, after all, this is the only time where we all get together and as a group.” He did not reject this idea and still had that expectant look on his face.
So I had to find some kind of compromise. I suggested that we negotiate a contract.
I asked him: “How about this: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you come to the morning circle, Tuesdays and Thursdays you can go outdoors instead. Daniel gave it a thought and then matter-of-factly replied that this would put me at an advantage, “because it would be three days inside and only two days outside”.
He was right, my proposal was unbalanced. That is what I told him: “You’ve got a point there, I guess, I’ll have to give some more.” So I promised him that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I would come up with a special, more challenging question for him – regardless of the topic that day. If I forgot, he would have to remind me.
This contract worked out fine. Daniel reliably joined the morning circle three times a week, he always knew what day of the week it was and acted accordingly. To my surprise and relief our gentlemen’s agreement helped him act responsibly during the morning circle again. He did not interfere or disturb us, but instead quite willingly accepted little responsibilities which he would not have before the contract, for example: explaining a kindergarten rule to the younger ones.
He would immediately sit up and take notice when his “special question” came up. He would give me a short glance, smirk and answer.
I, of course, had the problem of having a little something ready for him each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It was not always a question, sometimes just an additional remark I came up with spontaneously. It was great fun though, I have to say.
For instance: Before Easter some of the children were colouring eggs and this lead us to talk about chickens in the morning circle, like in the example with Malte.
Except that five years old Daniel was not so knowledgeable about the different kinds of chicken husbandry.
Anyway, I “launched” the remark: “Yes, and some chickens live in a cage the size of a sheet of paper – letter size.” The other children did not even catch my remark, but Daniel immediately gave me a questioning look.
After the morning circle he came to me, a sheet of paper in his hand, and asked me: “That is letter size, isn’t it?“ – “Yes.” – “But that’s way to small for a chicken, isn’t it?” – “It’s still the truth, though. It sure is a case of cruelty to animals, it should really be illegal.”
That was as much time as we had for our little conversation on the side – but Daniel had something to think about and eventually took his questions home to discuss them with his parents.
I thought it remarkable that he was content with so little extra attention.
He did not resent me for forgetting sometimes nor did he see his part of the contract in question because of it.
Apparently, for him the point was to feel that he was taken seriously. And I made sure to give him something to think about with every topic we had – a minute’s worth of effort for me, yet of great valuable to him, as it seems.
Soon the personnel situation got better and more intensive measures of advancement became possible again.
Published in German: October 2013
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint.