by Petra Cohnen
Based on the assessment of my colleagues – being in charge of the management of our facility I am exempt from daily work with the children – and upon some further observations of my own, I chose a 3 years and 10 months old boy, Ergün, to be my observational child for my certificate course on the advancement of the gifted.
When Ergün was introduced into our group for the 2 – 6 years old children he was only 2 years old. I have been staying in regular and direct contact with him as he has been attending our “perception group”, which I conduct.
… in a nutshell …
The author observes Ergün (3;10) and matches her observations with the criteria itemized in the Observational Chart by Huser. She follows up with an evocative observation (see evocative observation (see Modes of Observation), made during a planned activity, to further substantiate her assessment of Ergün’s aptitudes. A second objective of this approach is to strengthen Ergün’s self-confidence with regard to new challenges, since he has been quite shy when acting in the group.
I then observed Ergün closely over a period of two months to arrive at a clear picture of his aptitudes. I am organizing my impressions along the Observational Chart by Huser.
A 3 (Turning towards older children or adults)
Ergün loves to hang around the kindergarten teachers and follow their conversations. He then listens very attentively. Oftentimes he will come back later and ask questions about what he has heard earlier, questions which clearly show that he has been thinking about what he heard and that he has come up with some conclusions of his own.
Ergün is following a conversation between the kindergarten teachers about switching rooms, which involves his group’s room, and about all the moving of furniture that comes with that change of rooms. The colleagues are discussing how many carton boxes will have to be ordered. Later that afternoon Ergün comes to my office (for this he has to cover quite a distance clear to the other end of the building) and asks if I have ordered enough carton boxes, reminding me that the Sunflower Group (his group) and the Rainbow Group (the neighbouring group) will have to pack up all their toys too.
He also takes interest in older children and he likes to join them. It seems he seeks to assume a leading role among them, which to this day he has not done.
A 4 (Astonishing memory)
Ergün easily recalls things from months ago. With regard to annual festivities it is striking how he remembers the exact course of events in the preceding year.
In a conversation with his kindergarten teacher about last year’s Easter Fest Ergün says: “Yes, and last year we were looking for the bunnies and the eggs outside, my eggs and Lisa’s eggs were under the climbing tree.”
He recollects song lyrics quickly even if the songs haven’t been sung for quite a while. However, he often does not sing them together with the other children during morning circles but rather sings them to himself while playing so that he gets to choose the time to sing. He is not willing to sing a song upon request. When asked about a specific song he will simply answer that he does know that song.
Ergün draws a clear line between knowledge and the implementation of that knowledge. We appreciate his ability to draw distinctions and support him in his attitude.
A 6 (Critical attitude towards one’s own achievement – high expectations of oneself)
Ergün has high expectations of himself, his works must be perfect in his own assessment. Frequently he will say he is not able to do handicraft work. If, for instance, a cut out piece of paper does not meet his high standards he will cut it up into pieces. He seems very serious then, tense and angry. Another one or two attempts will finally meet his expectations. However, he does not always try again.
A 8 (Urge for independence and autonomy)
Ergün has an exact idea what he wants to do, when and where he wants to do it, and with whom. In general he accepts daily routines, yet he often debates them with his kindergarten teachers when they happen to collide with his current playing ideas. For instance, he wants to stay next door and continue playing while everybody else has already left for outdoors.
During the first months Ergün spent in our kindergarten the following situation occurred, and it still makes me smirk to this very day: I am having lunch with the children that day and I am telling them that after lunch we are going to join the Rainbow Group, because they are going to do some cleaning and tidying the room.
A discussion about cleaning developed: putting chairs up on the tables, rolling up carpets, and so forth. Ergün, 2;3 years old then, pointed out that he would not go to the neighbouring group, he would continue playing here! In the following conversation between him and me it turned out that he wanted to finish a building he had started. I explained to him that his building would have to be put out of the way too. But that did not impress him at all, which in turn made me wonder. I had rather expected his protest. He kept silent for a while and then asked whether there was going to be anybody else other than me to put up the furniture for cleaning. When I denied, his expression brightened up and he politely inquired whether I would not care to call it a day right then …
Comment by the course instructor:
This also reveals a truly early ability for combinatorial and strategic thinking as well as an understanding of temporal relations. Pretty steep! And – needless to say – it is quite cute.
We eventually solved the problem by moving large parts of his construction to the neighbouring room where he continued his work. I finished my day in accordance with my roster.
A 9 (Occupation with social, philosophical, political and ecological issues)
Ergün’s father is from Turkey, his mother is German. Ergün is aware of this and speaks freely about it with the other children. He talks about his father not eating pork and explains the reasons why. It is a mystery to him that the other children (mostly of Christian background) do not have forbidden foods. Ergün, who is now three years old, is a representative of our children’s parliament for his group (2- to 6-year-olds). He takes great interest in all upcoming matters and many of his ideas are discussed by the other children.
Presently the children are concerned with the topic “reconstruction / construction works at the kindergarten”, consequently this matter is also being discussed in the children’s parliament. It was Ergün’s idea to have the blueprints displayed on the wall in the “big corridor”. He discussed it in the children’s parliament that should it be possible to observe the proceeding reconstruction efforts, and he has concrete ideas how this can be realized.
A 11 (Quality of questions and examples)
Ergün stands out when it comes to asking thoroughly considered questions on the most diverse topics. Many children of his age have trouble following his lines of thought; he tends to play with and talk to children who are older than he is.
A 12 (Taking things literally and demanding explanations)
In the course of the on-going restructuring measures at our kindergarten Ergün, along with seven other children, will have to join another group. Ergün deals with this situation in a significantly different manner than do the other children. While the other children are mainly concerned with the question whether they are going to make the move together with friends of theirs, Ergün is predominantly interested in the question of the necessity of the whole change. “Why do we have to move to the Dandelion Group’s room, why not the little children?” Only upon the explanation that it is his group’s present room that disposes of a sleep- and baby-change-space he is willing to accept the decision. With this he demonstrates an early ability for critical thinking and questioning along with an expectation that he himself find solutions to problems.
A 14 (A sense of humour and a liking for puns)
Ergün is quite fond of coming up with joke rhymes and funny words in the course of the Kon-Lab-Programme (language improvement). He understands irony and reacts to it with a conspiratorial/insider’s joy.
Ergün is helping clear the tables, a kindergarten teacher is doing the dishes and asks him to bring the cups. Ergün, who is obviously not all too motivated today, is dawdling back and forth between the tables and the sink bringing single cups at a time. The kindergarten teacher looks at him with a smile and says: “Better watch it, Ergün, so many cups in one haul, that’s way too difficult for you!” Ergün beams with pleasure and chuckles.
B 2 (Depressive, apathetic behaviour – day-dreaming)
Whenever Ergün is convinced that he is unable to meet a given demand he will go into refusal. This happens within minutes. He checks the situation, makes an assessment and – without asking any further questions – comes up with a judgement.
In our “Perception Project”: We are setting up an exercise track. All children contribute their ideas and then make the setup together. Ergün does not know this kind of game yet and says: “I have no idea what to do with the objects, so I can’t set anything up!” Throughout the entire activity he cannot be moved to participate, he sits on the bench at the side, he is silent and looks sad.
Comment by the course instructor:
Apparently it is not enough for him to simply join in on an activity. This corresponds to your assessment that he prefers to take on a leading part among the older ones. He finds thinking just as important as doing, that is why he is now experiencing “failure”. He seems to find it unsettling, that other children have ideas where he does not. He may need some time to learn how to bear a situation like that or to play it off. True self-confidence in a situation like this (everybody else is having better ideas than me …, great! How inspiring and enriching for me!) may not come to him before he has held a leading position for a while.
B 4 (Psychosomatic symptoms)
Ergün’s parents tell us about him having trouble going to sleep occasionally. In such situations he says he doesn’t have any friends and does not want to go to kindergarten. During guest attendances his parents have seen him participate in many free playing activities with other children, which gave them reassurance. Still, Ergün thinks he has no friends and we take that very seriously.
Comment by the course instructor:
Very bright children often have problems going to sleep even when there are no emotional problems involved. Sometimes they are simply too excited and mentally active. Check: Little Need for Sleep?
Another important question in this context is how Ergün defines the term friendship at this point, what his idea of friendship is. Playing partners are not necessarily friends in a deeper sense of the word. This might be an interesting topic to deal with in a small group of similarly bright children. Maybe there he could open up and verbalise his thoughts easier.
C 1 (Large Vocabulary)
Ergün is able to describe feelings and situations very well. He often adds explanatory examples to his statements, probably because he has noticed that sometimes his words are not easily understood by the other children.
“A new subtenant – actually an uptenant – has moved in with us. But this one has four legs and doesn’t pay rent.” The empty expressions of the other children prompt him to add: “We have a marten in our attic.”
C 3 (Good verbal skills)
Ergün makes correct use of the tenses, he speaks long sentences and gets the syntax right.
“Yesterday I was in an amusement park with my dad and we took a ride on the carousel. Next time on the weekend, my dad and I are going there again.”
C 3 (Excellent observational skills and perception)
Ergün will oftentimes know exactly how another child got hurt, he quickly finds lost things and perceives other people’s moods with great sensitivity. In most cases he turns to his “favourite” kindergarten teacher. This person of trust is very important for him because he has so many perceptions and does not like being left to himself in processing them.
“Quarrel” in the big corridor: Lisa, a girl from his group, is being pushed around and bullied by some other children. Ergün is watching the scene, tries to help Lisa but it is no good. He needs a talk with his kindergarten teacher during which there is “physical contact” to cope with the situation.
E 2 (High ability for social adaption)
During many playing activities, especially in language improvement sessions, Ergün will make mistakes intentionally as soon as he notices that he stands out with his performance. He would rather adapt to the prevalent level of performance and therefore starts making mistakes. The role of the “master” makes him feel uneasy.
Comment by the course instructor:
Does he really need this kind of language improvement activity? Is there a possibility to launch a similar programme at a higher level for the verbally more advanced and maybe older children?
E 4 (Pronounced sense of justice – high sensitivity)
When Ergün feels treated unjustly, tears will roll. Experiences of injustice often preoccupy him for longer periods of time. Here too, “his” kindergarten teacher is an important person of refuge for him.
Ergün responds vehemently to occurrences of injustice, he will clearly speak up and call the injustice by name and demand, not only for himself but on behalf of others too, that justice be reinstituted (situations around the meals, the use of rooms and spaces and the like).
On the basis of the afore described behaviours and ways of conduct I arrive at the following conclusion:
Ergün is a child with widespread interests and outstanding abilities in “thinking” and “speech”. One of his favourite activities is listening or simply being around when older children and adults are having their conversations. He maintains good contacts within the group and reliable relationships with his group’s kindergarten teachers. He has high expectations of himself and sometimes does not believe he can master certain demands, especially when they involve something unknown. Oftentimes he will avoid such situations. It seems that his concept of friendship is rather sophisticated as he will play with other children, but does not consider them his friends.
This assessment leads me to the following question:
What does Ergün need in order to successfully deal with his high expectations of himself?
My idea for an activity for Ergün
In the course of our Perception Project I worked out a role playing game with the children that was yet unknown to them. Ergün gets the assignment to document the children’s suggestions by making “notes” or “sketches”. These cards made by him are then to be used as a “storyboard” in the game later. Ergün is able to make detailed drawings and feels self-confident in this activity. Therefore he will most presumably accept the task.
This gives him a chance to witness from a safe position how the children are dealing with the new demands. With his being in charge of making the cards he is not actively involved in the planning effort while he still is an important person in the process fulfilling a responsible function. Eventually the cards are going to be used as “stage directions”. My idea is that with this procedure he can learn from the other children.
The concept is comparable with a technique used in systemic transaction analysis where a communication is meant for one person but directed at a third person so that the person it is meant for does not have to react to it and may thereby put up less resistance to the message involved. (See: Schmid, B., Fauser, P (1998). )
All six children of the Perception Project are present. In the last session the children decided that a princess’ castle and a knight’s castle are to be built today. The necessary materials have already been named during the last session. Everything is ready.
Ergün gets the cards and some pens along with the task to make sketches of the things the children are to act out. He inquires what exactly it is that he is to draw, saying that he does not know. The children calm him down saying that they will tell him what to draw.
This is how in the course of this activity the following directions/cards are created: “draw a princess’ castle”, “draw a knight’s castle”, “dress up”, “knights are riding their horses to the castle”, “princesses meet knights”.
Ergün draws the essential points on the cards. His work is speedy and steady. The card “princess’ castle”, for example, shows a pen and part of a castle. I ask him why there is only a small part of the castle on the card and he explains: ”That’s enough, the others draw the real castle.”
Comment by the course instructor:
He is showing a high level of abstraction and good judgement as to what is essential.
The other children are waiting patiently for Ergün to finish and show them the respective card; they like the cards. Ergün seems increasingly relaxed and contented.
Ergün later joins the other children in drawing the actual chateau and castle, without needing further encouragement. In the next game he prefers to take on the role of the “director”, who presents the cards. The children play another few rounds of the same and Ergün sticks with his role.
At the end of the session we sit down to talk about how our plans worked out and the way things went. The children evaluate the game, say what they liked about it and make suggestions as to what should be changed for next time. Ergün participates vividly in this discourse. He is very happy when the children say that his cards were really nice and there was never any question what was to be done.
Two of the children want to be presenting the cards next time. Ergün says, that in that case he would not be joining the game. I assure him that he does not have to, but is very welcome to join. And I ask him to give it some thought and let me know what it would take for him to want to join in next time. At the next session we play the game again. Ergün’s terms were such that he would get to decide at what point during the session he joins in. Neither the children nor I have a problem with that. He eventually joins us for the second round.
Ergün has come to see how other children deal with a new task, which means they apply and how they are having fun with that. I hope that repeated experiences of this kind will help Ergün develop his own strategies and trust his own abilities. We shall continue with this developmental approach in our Perception Project as well as in our general work in the group.
On the basis of my observations I have come to the conclusion that Ergün is an extraordinarily bright child. This evaluation is supported by the numerous criteria from the Huser Checklist and the article Indicators of Possible Intellectual Giftedness which he meets, with an emphasis on the aspects “thinking” and “language”.
Ergün shows keen perception. Things he is interested in will occupy him over extended periods of time. His lines of thought are equally complex and original. When confronted with new experiences he responds with a sense of guarded interest, sometimes with reluctance.
His high expectations of himself sometimes get in the way of his curious mind and his achievement.
Comment by the course instructor:
It is for the smartest ones to understand early on that there is yet much to be learned and that they are not yet good at everything. Since learning comes so easily for gifted children and they often experience themselves as “lone learners” Ergün will yet have to go through a number of learning cycles with a beginning (can’t do yet), a process (learning) and a result (can do) to develop an awareness of the nature of the process and to come up with more confidence in his ability to learn.
Ergün’s tendency to intentionally avoid certain tasks keeps turning up. Consequently it appears to me I should mirror his behaviour and give him a safe context in which he can come to a better understanding of the reasons for his avoidance strategies and change them.
Comment by the course instructor:
Could it not be that the idea of having him change his ways by a conscious effort would be asking a little too much of a 3-year-old? We would rather advise to have him deal with concrete learning experiences instead of subjecting him to a mirroring interview where he would have to confront his weakness directly. We presume that he is quite aware and at unease with his tendency to avoid new situations. Why not take it from there and encourage him by pointing out his previous successes to him, reassuring him that he is a skilful learner?
For further reading on Ergün’s advancement see:
Date of publication in German: 2013, November
Copyright © Petra Cohnen, see Imprint.