by Hanna Vock
Acceleration and enrichment are two methods of promoting giftedness – mostly in schools: skipping a class, taking part in a higher class in certain subjects, studying at university while still at school.
But we can also use acceleration and enrichment
in the kindergarten, and in different forms.
Acceleration in the kindergarten:
We can „move“ the child to a more appropriate playing and learning environment.
This can be done, for example, by offering the child early participation in activities that are actually intended for older children, for example, for children who will start school at the end of the current kindergarten year (pre-school programme).
A few practical examples are presented here, which are described in detail in the linked articles:
Two Little Ones in the „Club of the Great Scientists“
Gabriele Drescher-Krumrey reports that already in 2006, for the first time, she integrated two younger children who were not yet scheduled to enrole school the following summer into the „Club of Great Scientists“ and met with great scepticism from her colleagues. The age range in the club was from 5;1 to 6;2. Elias (4;9) and Jill, who had just turned 4, were to be added. The trial went well and yielded interesting findings.
Christa Ploth reports that after thorough observation she admitted Konstantin (4;2) to the Maxi Group Numbers (for the pre-school children) and that he got along well there. Konstantin showed great desire to work with numbers and also brought in his own ideas. She writes: „His ability to develop things on his own and find out in an experimental way was a new experience for me and I enjoyed supporting him intensively.“
Extraordinarily Talented Children at the English-Club
Verena Demirel and Silvia Petrikowski describe an English workshop. Nayla, who is not yet 5 years old, participates with joy and success, although she is by far the youngest there – and although she already has to deal with two languages, Turkish and German, both of which she speaks very well.
The Würzburg Language Programme 1 Year Earlier
Antje Sahm reports about Marike (5;1). Marike is not yet a pre-school child, but based on her observations, the kindergarten teacher decides to let her join the Würzburg Language Programme, which Marike manages effortlessly. Now she is also offered more difficult games and Marike enjoys coming to kindergarten again.
And the kindergarten teacher Sandra Krefft writes:
„For my project, I added the much younger Paula, as she is already very advanced. At the beginning, the other children were not open to her at all, because she is still one of the „little ones“. On the first day, they asked me why Paula was taking part in the project and had a rather defensive attitude towards her.
I explained to them that Paula already knows a lot and that she would like to take part (she was very interested from the beginning) and that it doesn’t matter how old each of them is. That was fine with them, and with each project day Paula became more and more integrated into what was going on. The other children let her talk just like the older ones and said nothing more about the fact that she was by far the youngest of the project group.
I think that was the most important thing Paula learned during the project. Of course, she also learned a lot about water and experiments. But I could clearly see how Paula felt more and more comfortable and became more open. In the beginning she was quiet, watched more and spoke very softly when she wanted to contribute. Towards the end, I had the feeling that she no longer made a distinction between herself and the others.
In the daily group activities, she now has a lot of contact with the other children in the project and has really blossomed. And she successfully started school early!“
We can also suggest to a presumably gifted child a complete change to another group with older children.
In a multi-group kindergarten, it is sometimes possible to avoid permanent underchallenging by moving the child to a group with more older and/or cognitively more developed children.
This is also and especially true for very young children. They are often in groups where no or only a few children are cared for who are already over three years old. In these groups, special care must be taken to ensure that children who stand out because of their good command of language, their highly developed play and/or their great independence can change groups in good time. Some particularly gifted children fit much better into a group of 3-6 year olds at the age of two than into a toddler group.
Since such a change of group is of great importance for the child on a daily basis, it should not be omitted because of organisational problems.
We can consider recommending early enrolment for the child.
Early enrolment is a now well-established form of acceleration. Whether this measure is appropriate for a particular child in an individual case should be carefully considered beforehand. Everyone involved in the decision-making process should be involved: child, parents, school and kindergarten.
Kindergarten teachers have a great deal of responsibility in this matter and are well placed to advise parents on the best date for enrolment. After all, they have usually known the child for a long time and have been able to perceive and assess his or her actions and reactions in many everyday situations.
Unfortunately, many kindergarten teachers tend to advise against early enrolment on principle. The IHVO Certificate Courses on the topic of „Advancement of gifted children in kindergarten“ are also attended by kindergarten teachers who have increasing difficulties with this prevailing negative attitude and are looking for arguments to recommend early enrolment to parents.
This decision for or against early schooling should not be about the parents‘ career concerns, ambition or competition with other families. But for particularly gifted and highly gifted children, enrolment at age six is often simply too late.
When weighing the pros and cons of early enrolment, it seems important to consider the following questions and to clarify them as much as possible in discussion with all parties involved:
1) Does the child want to go to school?
2) If so, why? What are his or her ideas about school? Are they realistic?
3) If the child does not want to go to school yet, why not? Is the child afraid of starting school? Can this fear be reduced?
4) What interests and abilities does the child have – in relation to the requirements at school?
5) Will the child’s main playmates stay in the kindergarten or will they start school?
6) In which areas could the child possibly have difficulties in achieving the required performance?
7) Is there a reasonable prospect that the child will overcome these difficulties if allowed to start school?
8) What is the parents‘ position on the issue of school enrolment? What reasons do they express for or against it?
9) What is the position of the host school/teacher?
Explanations of these questions can be found here: Questions before an Early School Enrolment
It should also be noted here that the child may be allowed to „sniff around“ at the receiving school before a final decision is made for or against early enrolment.
A change of group as well as early enrolment must be well accompanied, as they require a special psychological effort from the child.
Experience shows, however, that children usually manage these steps better than parents and kindergarten teachers expect. After a successful acclimatisation, many positive reactions of the children can be observed: more contentment, more balance at home… My experience is that in all 21 cases that I have accompanied as a kindergarten teacher or through parent counselling, early enrolment has had predominantly positive effects over the next few years (that I have been able to survey).
The three acceleration measures described above can only defuse the problem,
but do not get to the root of the problem.
The positive effects sometimes evaporate again in the case of gifted children because they quickly catch up with the developmental advances of the other children and then feel bored again or misunderstood. For them, the pace at which learning takes place is very important; if there are only a few stimuli per kindergarten day or per school day for the alert mind, or if repetition is a nuisance, then the feeling of being in the wrong film can arise again.
See: Examples of: Quick Learning and Examples of: Perceptual Speed
In addition to the more drastic measures of „moving“ a child to a different playing and learning environment, there is another good way to accommodate the child’s accelerated development: Enrichment.
This method has the advantage that it not only responds to the learning acceleration that has already taken place in the child’s life so far
– but it can also take into account the characteristics and current pace of the learning processes of gifted children.
Enrichment means inserting additional stimuli to the learning or educational programme in order to better adapt the curriculum to the learning and developmental needs of the gifted child. According to Lehwald (1991), the enrichment approach aims to „uncover starting points for individual support through systematic intervention in developmental processes.“ (p. 135 – see Bibliography.)
Enrichment measures thus presuppose considerations of individualisation.
The child remains in its familiar learning environment (its kindergarten group), but is encouraged and guided to solve tasks in the kindergarten that are commonly seen as tasks for much older children or even for adults.
Experience shows that mastering such tasks brings a great boost in motivation and clear satisfaction.
1) Rabbit, Dog and Black Rat – A Pet Project
In it, Rachel (5;9) leads a small group project in the kindergarten together with her kindergarten teacher Heike Miethig.
The author presented this example at an educational symposium in Bensberg. The ensuing discussions in the working groups revealed,
– that the pedagogical approach presented allowed the girl to experience self-efficacy,
– that it is positive when children (especially girls) are encouraged to take on leadership roles if – as in the example presented – a democratic approach is taken,
– that children who take on leadership roles in the group must also learn to allow others to take on leadership roles,
– that possible resistance from parents of other children must be countered by clear, professional argumentation.
2) Another enrichment is the contract with Daniel in the morning circle. You can find it here: Custom-fit Cognitive Advancement (there the example 2b: Daniel is also bored).
Finding individually appropriate, fitting enrichment building blocks,
challenges the kindergarten teacher’s ability to observe and her creativity.
Enrichment can also fail
if it is not integrated into the child’s life in its group, but if it is only an isolated measure, especially during the settling-in period. This is because during this time the child intensively observes and feels whether she or he feels comfortable in the group and finds stimulation. In this way, it forms an opinion about the new living environment, which can quickly turn out negative and rejecting.
When Cora came to the kindergarten at the age of three years and 0 months, she was not enthusiastic. She was firmly convinced that it would be better to go straight to school, as she had learned from her older brother, who was also gifted, that kindergarten was „baby stuff“ for him. She had closely followed the struggles of her brother, who did not want to go to kindergarten long before he started school and was then finally enrolled early. She played school with him at home, learned letters and numbers from him with ease, also successfully engaged in arithmetic problems and Minilük boxes on her own.
When she was 3;1 (and her brother was interested in dinosaurs), she quickly composed the following lyrics to a melody she knew:
“Diplodo-, Diplodo-, Diplodo- mag ich sehr.
Warum kommst, warum kommst, warum kommst du nicht mal her?
Weil er aus-, weil er aus-, weil er ausgestorben ist,
weil er so, weil er so, weil er so gern Blätter frisst.”
〈“Diplodo-, Diplodo-, Diplodo- I like very much.
Why do you come, why do you come, why don’t you come here?
Because he’s out, because he’s out, because he’s extinct,
because he’s so, because he’s so, because he likes to eat leaves.“〉
In this regard, it is interesting to note that Roedell, Jackson & Robinson (2000) cite as one of twenty „notable behaviours“ of gifted preschoolers: „Notice when a child spontaneously makes up story or song, especially when these process new experiences or involve playful use of pronunciation, rhyme, rhythm, and the like.“
(p. 63.) (See Bibliography.) And that is obviously the case here with Cora.
The kindergarten teacher learned from the mother’s stories and from her own observations that Cora had great problems getting to kindergarten every morning. She asked the mother what Cora liked to do at home. It was arithmetic.
The headmistress then offered Cora that she could first come to her office every morning, that they would then both do arithmetic together for ten minutes and that she would then take Cora to her group. This enrichment in the form of a contract worked for some time. Overall, however, Cora was too much „in the wrong film“ in the group and soon resumed her attitude of protest and refusal, so that she was finally, after a few more attempts, deregistered from the kindergarten.
The headmistress had shown great commitment here at the beginning. She was probably disappointed that the child was still not (!) satisfied and then, due to a lack of experience with highly gifted children, did not make any further promising attempts to integrate Cora into the kindergarten and to motivate the group leader to respond appropriately to Cora in the group’s daily routine.
Enrichment also means considering with every offer or project,
what might be a specific cognitive challenge for the gifted child.
The aim is that the child does not turn away (inwardly and outwardly) from the common activity, but finds a way to contribute with his/her specific strengths and interests.
A few possibilities, for which you can find examples in chapters 4.2-4.8 of this manual, will be touched upon here:
- In small experiments, the child can be supported in writing down the results using numbers, letters or other signs.
- In a theatre project, the child who has the superior overview can take on the role of the responsible prop master or prompter.
- When making a picture book, the child can take over the labelling and numbering of the pages.
- In a museum exhibition created in the group, the child can try out the role of the museum guide.
- When looking for new project ideas, the kindergarten teacher should increasingly include the interests of the gifted child and also let him or her participate in the design of the project – according to her or his already developed possibilities to plan and think into the future.
- Actively support early and rapid individual learning processes. Here is an example from my kindergarten group:
Reading course for Milena
Milena spoke perfectly at the age of five (monolingual). She used every opportunity in role play to experiment expressively with language. She often asked the meaning of difficult words she did not know. She learned from older children to draw letters and numbers, and she wanted to know what the letters were called, which she then reliably memorised.
At every picture book reading, she stayed until the end and enjoyed talking at length about what had been read to her.
At the age of five, she answered my question whether she would like to learn to read with a resounding yes, and she also learned to read in kindergarten with little time and no visible effort within a few weeks, with the help of my old school primer from 1956.
See also: Early Reading.
Another frequently tried enrichment idea is the idea of the „little pedagogical assistant“, but this is problematic and often unsuccessful. Kindergarten teachers as well as school teachers always ask cognitvely underchallenged children to help the weaker ones, hoping that this will make the gifted child happier.
Some children, however, feel such a request as an imposition, even if they do not (cannot) express it. The situation in which this demand puts them is also not enviable: they experience that there is little of interest for them in kindergarten (or in school) and that no one takes the trouble to satisfy their cognitive needs either. Now they, who get so little, are supposed to give something to others in return (take work off the teacher’s hands). In some children, this causes feelings of indignation and resignation.
In addition, such a request often means a total overtaxing: a small child who does not know how and by what means he/she has learned to count or calculate („I have always been able to do that“) cannot put himself/herself in the shoes of the child with learning difficulties who has not understood the principle even after the third explanation by the teacher. The gifted child cannot imagine which intermediate steps or detours could help the child with learning difficulties.
The situation is somewhat different when it comes to a child who shows an early pronounced pedagogical-psychological interest and high social giftedness. For this child, the task of helping the weaker may be an appropriate, sometimes self-chosen challenge.
See the example of Anita (more below in this text), who at times took on the new youngest in the group with great commitment and skill. You may have already read this example in the post Permanent Frustration because of Being Underchallenged and Facing Incomprehension, but below I will include it again in full in this post.
But even in this case of Anita, helping the weaker ones does not replace the child’s right to appropriate support. Anita’s interest in the little ones also diminished as soon as she was given other, suitable mental challenges and was able to establish intensive play contact with the much older children in the group.
Some things we can’t do at kindergarten, but some things we can do
The possibilities of individualisation and enrichment at kindergarten are limited by the framework conditions of the work. Where a kindergarten teacher (or an assistant or a trainee) is alone in the group at times, such measures – like the systematic observation of individual children – remain wishful thinking. Group sizes of more than 20 children, in some cases up to 28 children, also stand in the way of work that promotes giftedness.
See: Improving Framework Conditions!
Under these circumstances, individualisation and enrichment considerations will rarely have a satisfactory effect in the long run. Even a well-trained kindergarten teacher who has received further training on the topic of gifted education will hardly be able to come up with so many special challenges in a group with another 25 or 26 children that the gifted child will be adequately supported.
In discussions with parents, I then often have to tell the parents that the sufficient and satisfactory intellectual promotion of their child, at least in the kindergarten and primary school years, will remain mainly their task, i.e. the task of the parents.
But even small impulses (as with Daniel in the morning circle, see above) or even just appropriate linguistic communication with the child can have the effect that the child gets along well in the kindergarten.
At age 4;1 she joined my kindergarten group. She had already attended another kindergarten. Her parents had sought my advice because Anita was determined to never go to the old kindergarten again. They were worried because Anita had undergone great changes since she had joined that kindergarten.
„She used to be cheerful, funny, mostly in a good mood and very active. Now she’s mostly a nuisance. She complains about everything, she is naughty and gets fresh with us, never feels like doing anything, acts up every morning when she’s supposed to go to kindergarten and more often than not gets in her own way with her bad moods“,
the mother reported. Since the parents had noticed her accelerated development they had her tested and a very high IQ was diagnosed.
When I got to know Anita she was not quite 4 years old. We had a long conversation and also spent some time looking at a picture book. I noticed her vast vocabulary, her fluent and expressive speech, and above all, her smart questions and thoughts about a picture book story. If I had not been able to see her, but only heard her speak, and if I had not known her age, I might have thought she was a smart and well fostered 6-year-old girl. On that day I saw her the way she – according to her parents – „really“ was; that is in a positive mood, active, cheerful and charming.
Anita’s parents had already decided to find a new kindergarten and they had already looked at two other facilities together with Anita. Each time Anita declared decidedly that she didn’t want to go there either.
During a visitation of our kindergarten Anita thoroughly inspected the facility and posed questions which are usually asked by parents, for instance:
“Are the children allowed to go outside on their own?“
“Is it permitted not to finish one’s plate?”
which I answered at length. In the end she declared that she would „like to join“ our kindergarten.
In the first weeks she spent almost all her time sitting on a chair observing. She hardly approached other children or reacted to their attempts to approach her. In group activities she kept low key and made no more than an occasional utterance. She abided by all rules from the beginning on and did not seem discontent or tense in any way.
Her parents gave us the feedback that now Anita would get ready for kindergarten without grumble in the morning and in the evening she would talk about what the other children and the kindergarten teachers had been doing during the day. Her assessment of her situation at the time:
“I’m doing fine.”
During this period Anita showed so little of her giftedness that my colleagues expressed their disbelief with regard to it.
When, after a few weeks, several 3 year old children joined the group, Anita began to play quite dedicatedly with the „little ones“, who were about one year younger than she was. This made her appear „rather intelligent“ even in the eyes of my colleagues.
For Roedell, Jackson & Robinson (2000, p. 63) (Bibliography) a striking behaviour of gifted children is:
“Note, if a child adapts its own language to the developmental state of younger children, i.e. uses shorter phrases, avoids difficult words or changes the pitch of its voice when playing with very young children.“
Anita greately facilitated the process of acclimatisation for these children and was ardently accepted as their leader by them. Anita took on the role of the kindergarten teacher and proved to dispose of great communicative and socio-emotional aptitude. However, she kept up her reluctant attitude towards the other children.
Anita’s family then went on a holiday trip for three weeks, which was awkward timing with regard to her integration into the group. As usual in such a case this raised the question: What can I, as a kindergarten teacher, do so that Anita will look forward to her return to kindergarten after the holidays?
In the case of this gifted child I was reminded of the pre-school-agenda, which I conducted yearly for the children to be enrolled at school in the following year. This agenda consisted in a weekly half day where the pre-school-group would perform more difficult tasks, go on field trips (without having to take regard for the younger children) and with me playing the „teacher“. These mornings were very popular, and the next age group was already looking forward to soon be participating in these activities; Anita had already noticed this. I asked her before the holiday trip whether she would like to check it out upon her return to kindergarten.
The parents then reported that Anita was really looking forward to the pre-school activities and kept asking, when she could go back to kindergarten.
On the first pre-school morning the other children were surprised, that Anita was coming along into the adjacent room and tried to explain to her, that she did not belong there. Anita was a little irritated and I stood by her explaining to the others: „That’s OK, Anita is coming along today to see if this might be something for her.“ The children soon realised that Anita fit into the group quite well, she took part and was quite able to keep up.
For Anita this was the breakthrough: she not only looked forward to these interesting pre-school mornings, but even became fully accepted as a playing companion by the „big ones“. She had arrived where she belonged with her 4;3 years of age: with the 5,5-6-year-olds. The next summer she was quite naturally enrolled at school. She eventually skipped the first form and also the fourth.
Her parents were, above all, glad to get back their „good old Anita“: cheerful and
Here, acceleration has proven its worth.
Basically, I would like to see
that for gifted children both,
acceleration and enrichment,
be taken into account and be implemented
in a smart and sufficient manner.
Date of publication in German: June 2021
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint.