by Hanna Vock
1. Gifted children need a few gifted playfellows too
Over the past decades I have come to know a number of gifted children, who were willing and able to play joyfully with (almost) all other children. They easily adapted to different characters and their peculiarities, they could play with children of the same age, younger or older, with quiet and raucous ones as well as with intelligent and less intelligent ones. These children disposed of a great desire for contact or a great willingness to get involved with other children or a pronounced social talent or all three of these.
Not all gifted children are so fortunate. Some feel like playing with only few children, namely those children with whom they can share their complicated ideas and thoughts. On the long run they are apt to become lonely or at least dissatisfied with their playfellows in the midst of a larger crowd of children (the kindergarten group).
In a nutshell …
At kindergarten it is important to see to it that gifted children do also get a chance to play with other gifted children. This article will elaborate why this is so.
It is not about segregation, but about integration which pays due respect to the gifted children’s legitimate need to find playfellows for the more difficult games, ideas and thoughts.
They, too, need positive “team experiences” and friends who dispose of a similarly sophisticated understanding of what friendship is all about.
Gifted children with many playfellows as well as those who tend to do with fewer playfellows will eventually need to get together with other gifted children to be fully satisfied.
To ensure this is an important responsibility of the adults.
Regardless of the individually different degrees of gregariousness, a pattern among gifted children can be seen:
1. Gifted children only rarely meet other gifted children if such encounters are not deliberately arranged.
2. Gifted children “spot” other gifted children when they come across them.
3. Quite a few gifted children will prefer playing with other gifted children if they have a choice. The playing activities may then sometimes take on an astoundingly different nature.
4. Once they have had the experience of playing with other gifted children they wish it could always be like that.
5. The experience of shared activities with other gifted children does not get in the way of contacts with non-gifted children, the opposite tends to be true.
2. What is an adequate playfellow for a gifted child?
When it comes to football or chess, an adequate playfellow would be one of similar strength, though possibly with a different focus. In football one child may be better at scoring goals while another may be a great defence player, yet another may be very efficient at regaining the ball from the opposing team or turn out to be a great goal keeper. All of them can have great fun (and be successful) when playing with one another.
However, if a child with a talent for football finds itself in a team of 10 children who have significantly less endurance and tempo, who often miss the ball and stumble over their own feet, it will, on the long run, loose interest in the training sessions. It is the same thing when it comes to intellectual pursuits.
This is an example from my own working experience at kindergarten:
Marja was 5 years old when she changed to our kindergarten. Again one of those children who just couldn’t quite relate to peers in age. When other children invited her to play with them she often declined. She was quiet, regularly retreated to an observer’s position and rarely joined on-going playing activities. Yet, Marja had great verbal skills, she was able to express herself eloquently and loved elaborate stories. I was looking for an explanation why she was not interested in joint playing activities. Kasper (punch)* and Crocodile came to help me:
Our Kindergarten had finally bought a new set of Kasper hand puppets after a long while without any puppet theatre. I played a little play with Kasper and Crocodile where the two were at first just having a peaceful chat, but then got into an argument. Eventually Crocodile tried to bite Kasper. Kasper would not take that, he chased Crocodile away. The greater part of our group was watching.
Then it was the children’s turn to play the puppets. One child would play Kasper and another played Crocodile. Then the puppets were passed on to the next two children. Marja stood quietly beside me, observed the scene, but made no effort to take her turn.
The stories the children played were mostly non-verbal, there were no arguments, but there were always splendid fist fights, lots of yelling, screaming and plenty of drama for sure: Kasper calls Crocodile – Crocodile shows up and bites Kasper – Kasper gives the Crocodile a beating – Crocodile runs away – laughter – applause – end of story.
An adaption of the subject matter that was perfectly adequate for the age group and subsequently allowed us to work on it, elaborating and refining the narrative. Children and adults were showing great enthusiasm and joy.
Except for Marja. She answered my question whether she wanted to take her turn with a determined “no”. A few minutes later I double-checked and then she whispered: “Yes, but I want to play with you.”
So …, another child that opted to “cling to a kindergarten teacher” instead of interacting with other children. What was her reason?
The reason became clear when I was playing with her. It turned out she had not only memorised my rather complicated story and wanted to replay it, but she even augmented it with an idea of her own. When the crocodile (I) began snapping at Kasper she dodged and shouted: “If you bite me today, I’ll have a muzzle for you tomorrow and you’ll never get to take it off again, just so you know!” The story then spontaneously took a conciliatory turn, in the course of which Marja was improvising quite smartly.
*(Kasper is the main character in a miniature universe of archetypical characters known to all German children – the “Kasperletheater”. The set of characters most commonly includes the policeman, the crocodile, the crook, the devil, the prince & princess, the magician, and a finite but varying number of others. The stories are usually performed as hand puppet theatre plays before live audience and usually have an educational, thought-provoking twist. It is customary for the children in the audience to get involved in the performances: they warn Kasper of looming dangers or they are being addressed directly by Kasper himself when he asks them to help him make a decision.)
Marja had high expectations with regard to the result of an activity. She wanted to play “a real story” and she analysed the situation with great accuracy. She observed the goings-on and drew the conclusion that it would hardly be possible to realise her idea of a real story with the children present in the room.
That was how her sad and frustrated expression and her whispered wish to play with the adult came about – and she whispered it because, from her experience at another kindergarten, she knew that she was separating herself from the group by asking for special treatment like that. So it was not – as one might have thought at first – the expression of poorly developed sociability.
What exactly did Marja need?
- She needed the kindergarten teacher to understand that Marja’s ideas with regard to playing with the Kasper-Puppets were far more advanced than those of the other children – and as a result of that: an understanding why Marja was frustrated.
- She needed play fellows who were able to play at her level. Unfortunately there was only the kindergarten teacher. Marja would need other gifted children with whom she would be able to act out her more complex playing ideas. This calls for the founding of Integrative Focus Kindergartens for the Advancement of Gifted Children, in which several gifted children are together with non-gifted children in the same group.
In the course of her study and discussion of a text from the book „Hochbegabte Kinder, ihre Eltern, ihre Lehrer“ [„Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers“] IHVO-course-attendant Sabine Handke wrote in 2003:
“Along with Webb et al. I am of the opinion that the gifted child needs peers in age with diverse interests and also peers in ability as friends.
If a gifted child does not succeed in establishing such relationships it may retreat into its shell.
If the child is pushed to join activities in a group or to make friends it may become a loner.
Gifted children often flee from the group in order to occupy themselves with things that suit their extraordinary inclinations. Sometimes they just don’t want to stick out with their abilities.
They do, however, need freedom and sufficient time so they can focus on complex matters and they need adequate partners for this.
In conclusion I can only support Webb’s statement that it is a difficult task for gifted children to develop the ability to wait for others to catch up.”
Which imminent dangers for the gifted child are being addressed here?
- The child might retreat and become a loner.
- The child might have to turn its back on the group in order to pursue its own interests.
- It is likely to feel uncomfortable when “sticking out” in the group and therefore tend to conceal its abilities and knowledge.
- It might experience a lack of freedom, time and partners for the pursuit of its complex ideas.
- It may despair of the task of always having to wait for everybody else to catch up.
And all that only because there are no adequate playfellows!
Pleas also read:
3. The yearning for a good team
Gifted children have an indefinite yearning for a good team.
I dare put this thesis forward, because it has been described in numerous papers of our IHVO-students how enthusiastically children reacted when they got to interact with a small group of equally motivated and intelligent children. (My own observations in kindergarten groups, too, do confirm this.)
The experience of a successfully operating team inspires them, regardless of the nature of a project or shared activity. It is a legitimate assumption that gifted children will not only appreciate such situations with surprising clarity, but that they will subsequently long to experience further such events.
The way they feel about it is not much unlike the way adults do who have once in their lives experienced a fully functional team.
It is most probably all about the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas without facing incomprehension and – as mentioned above – without having to wait for others to catch up.
At the same time, though, it is about the goal to be reached or result to be arrived at. With regard to these aspects the risk of having to settle for less is noticeably lower in a team of individuals with similar degrees of aptitude.
The more cognitively challenging the project is, the more this is true.
Gifted students from the upper forms of secondary school, who are able to reflect their experiences in depth, have reported of similar feelings.
For instance, presentations to be worked out in a team are not very popular among them – quite contrary to what many other students think about such shared activities. While the gifted student, after the first meeting, has a load of ideas as to what needs to be considered and what research should be done next (in other words: while he/she is just getting up to speed) the other team members are convinced that the subject matter is about to be concluded and they really don’t want to hear about further aspects or literature pertaining to the topic.
The gifted also have little enthusiasm for others who just hang in there without contributing anything; in addition, they find it rather frustrating when there is no input coming from anybody else; after all, good team work feeds off the ideas of everybody else in the team.
The emotional response of 5-year-olds can be quite similar.
It is not that they are so strongly inclined to play alone,
but it is the want of positive team experiences that may turn gifted children into loners.
4. The longing for friends
Aside from a desire for good teamwork, gifted children (as well as youths and adults) also have a longing for good friends. Oftentimes, when they make friends they are subsequently disappointed because their concept of friendship is not all that childlike any more (today you’re my friend, tomorrow you’re not, and then the next day you are my friend again) and they have higher expectations of friendship with regard to continuity, reliability, fairness and an adequate exchange of questions, feelings, ideas and thoughts.
See the example: “A Concept of Friendship is Being Developed” in:
On Gifted Pre-School Children’s Reasoning and Emotion.
5. Two tendencies in the discourse on the advancement of the gifted
In literature and in the media, when discussing giftedness, there seem to prevail two lines of thought.
The first of which sees gifted children, isolated, in regular social groups (school classes, kindergarten groups). Here the focus is on the recommendation to address these children with greater acceptance and understanding of their particular intellectual needs while creating a climate of tolerance towards diverseness within the group.
At the same time it is being emphasised that intellectually gifted children should be placed in normal groups as they, in particular, have to be supported in developing other areas (motor skills, social skills) too.
The other line of thought, which I prefer because it goes the extra mile, places additional emphasis on how important it is for gifted children of all ages that they get to have the great experience of cooperating with children of comparable aptitude and of getting involved in activities which cater to their cognitive potentials and learning pace.
It will be a rare exception when such a scenario comes about at random, since – with a ratio of 1 to 3 per cent gifted children in an age group -statistics have it that these gifted children will be single individuals in any regular group / class.
Why “Integrative Focus Kindergartens for the Advancement of Gifted Pre-School Children”?
If we follow the first line of thought much has been gained when kindergarten teachers recognise and show understanding for the intellectual needs of gifted children. This is certainly possible in a “normal” group or in an inclusive group in which there is only one single gifted child.
It is just as well possible to get the children to understand and accept instead of denigrating each other. It is also possible to look around among the other groups and try to find other children of higher aptitude and then work with them across group boundaries.
All this is a lot easier, more effective and comes along more naturally if a gifted child is placed
in an “Integrative Focus Kindergarten for the Advancement of Gifted Pre-School Children”.
Here the child will come across other gifted and non-gifted children, it learns to deal with them, join them and profit from their ideas.
- It is less likely to experience its being different as quite so disturbing.
- Several Kindergarten teachers are knowledgeable about the phenomenon giftedness and have learned to communicate with the child appropriately.
- There are more activities which appeal to the gifted child, as it “pays off” much more to arrange for such activities for several children than it would for one single gifted child.
Integrative advancement (where several gifted children are included in an otherwise “normal” group) is, as far as I am concerned, the best type of advancement for children of pre-school age.
The older the children get, the more important I find special classes, courses and workshops, as these are the only places where they will be able to learn the way they do. This then brings about the pedagogic and quite manageable task of helping them stay “down to earth”.
That means, they need to develop an awareness of the learning, working and living conditions of the majority of their peers in age. The aim is: do pursue the building of an elite of knowledge and achievement but not one of arrogance that turns its back on the realities it is surrounded by and looks down on them.
Then why a special treatment in the first place?
Because it is natural that in the course of equally good education for all members of an age-group the “gap will widen”, that is to say, knowledge and cognitive processes of the gifted will increasingly detach themselves from the average – it is only in this way that outstanding achievement becomes possible. In sports and music this is commonly acknowledged and undisputed.
What a prospect, if this awareness were to become commonplace in the areas of mathematics, language, technology and many other fields …
See also the projects at an Integrative Focus Kindergarten located in Bonn:
– „Snow Worlds“ Seen through a Lens – An Art Project Involving Photography
– Making Friends in the Researchers’ Club
– Living Like the Mongolians for Once
Date of publication in German: January 2015
Translated by Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Impressum