by Hanna Vock


Often as early as at the age of 3, 4 or 5 years gifted children notice that they are quite different from the other children of the same age: their interests, their cognitive abilities and often enough their command of the language. No later than when they enter kindergarten they will experience their being different quite distinctly.


… in a nutshell …

It is often said: „Gifted children are children just like all children.“ As almost always, it is not quite that simple. They have the same basic needs, but at any given time they also have special playing and learning needs which differ greatly from those of their peers in age.

Our culture should allow them to not only perceive their being different but to also express this at pre-school age.
It should be our aim at kindergarten to let them experience the „flow“ frequently.


Evidence for this is in the statements of some adolescents, who graduated from the gifted class at the Christopherusschule in Brunswick and told me in a conversation about their kindergarten days:

Young woman, 18 yrs.:

„It may sound funny – but in kindergarten I used to feel much more like a grown-up. It was what they were talking about and what they did which I found interesting. What the other children were playing didn’t interest me.“

Young man, 18 yrs.:

„I realised right away that I couldn’t talk about the things I was interested in with the other children in kindergarten. There really was no point.“

Young man, 17 yrs.:

„I was in kindergarten for three years and I was bored most of the time. I just couldn’t deal with the other children and neither could they deal with me. So I just did my own thing and they did theirs. I never joined the tinkering sessions, except when we made lanterns, everybody had to make one.“

Young woman, 16 yrs.:

„I found kindergarten was quite fun. I loved romping around and I spent most my time outside. Inside it was rather dull. I often had the feeling I was in the wrong picture.
But I had already read interesting books at home when I was five. In kindergarten nobody was supposed to know that, though. Neither did I want anybody to know that I was able to write. I just didn’t want anybody to know these things.“

All four of them reported that their kindergarten teachers as well as their parents urged them to adapt themselves, to join in on specific games, to spend more time playing anyway, be more like the other children, do what they do.

All four of them, as early as in their kindergarten days, had a strong, sometimes distressing sense of being different.

Was that young man happy, who said: „I just couldn’t deal with the other children and neither could they deal with me. So I just did my own thing and they did theirs.“?

There is reasonable doubt. Maybe he would have been happier if he had been in an environment where there was true exchange of ideas and participation in the other person’s thoughts, where there was playing and working together on a high level …


In kindergarten gifted children basically do have the same basic needs as all other children:

They want to …

    • play with other children
    • have fun with other children and with adults
    • exchange ideas and make friends
    • create something in a collaborative effort, make decisions and achieve something
    • gain recognition
    • become ever more self-sufficient
    • understand what is going on around them
    • understand what is going on with themselves
    • they are on a quest for more knowledge, interesting people and media, from whom they might learn something fascinating about the world.

The individual shape these basic needs take on may differ greatly, though.

A 4 years old child that is gifted in the field of motor skills might have great interest in and enjoy learning complicated sequences of dance moves or improvising, while many other 4-year-olds are happy if they manage to clap their hands or walk in time with an easy tune. The gifted child will inevitably be bored and largely under-challenged if for years nothing more challenging happens in its environment. It cannot seem to nurture its talents.

And to take it even further: The child does not want to keep performing the same old and hardly elaborate dance moves together with children who, in its point of view, only poorly manage to move along with the music.

Maybe it would be desirable for this child:

1. to recognise its giftedness in kindergarten
2. not to have to dance with the group if it does not want to
3. to be encouraged to show its artistry and be acclaimed for it
4. that the kindergarten teachers recommend to the parents letting the child participate in dance course outside of kindergarten (if the child seems interested)

A five years old child that is gifted in the field of science may feel extremely frustrated when an “exciting experiment” is being announced and that experiment consists in watching a candle burn, feeling the heat of the flame and finally blowing it out; things it knew all along.

The same thing is experienced by first graders who enter school with great expectations and shortly after are deeply disappointed by the tediously slow learning pace at school.

Even though the principle needs of gifted and not gifted children may be largely the same, their concurrent playing and learning needs may be quite different.

The playing and learning needs can be rather special.
It is equally important for parents and kindergarten teachers to understand this.

I coined the phrase “special playing and learning needs” in 2000 when I was teaching my first class of kindergarten teachers. It has proven to be wise and fruitful in subsequent courses to delve into the question of special playing and learning needs of individual gifted children and to derive concepts from this inquiry.

The individual shape of playing and learning needs is closely related to the individual talents and potentials of the child. And it is dependent upon the degree to which the child has been able to unfold its talents so far. In the case of an intellectal giftedness the decisive factor is to what degree the child has been able to develop its independent thinking.

A 3½ years old child, that plays chinese checkers at home, will not be very thrilled by the game “Tempo, kleine Schnecke” [Speed up, little Snail!”], which is a very popular yet simple and easy game among 3 – 4-year-olds.

In general we can say that gifted children do not only prefer more difficult games,

but want to reconfigure their games, the course of the game and its outcome to make it more demanding.

See also the example of Marja and the Punch-handpuppets in the article:
Playmates and Friends of Gifted Children

In their regular job training kindergarten teachers usually do not learn much about the potentials and needs of gifted children. The consequence are frequent pedagogic troubles, which keep surfacing in our courses:

    • the current abilities of the gifted children are underestimated
    • the potential for development and the speed at which it takes place are underestimated
    • the children’s intrinsic motivation and endurance are underestimated
    • the social (yes, this too!) and mental maturity, the ability of metacognition (reflecting about the thinking process itself) and the ability to reflect (mental assessment and evaluation of experiences made) are underestimated
    • the scope of the children’s fields of interest is underestimated

If that is how things are, adequate advancement cannot be provided. Instead there is a permanent danger of under-challenging the children.

See also: Permanent Frustration because of Being Underchallenged and Facing Incomprehension

If however, a kindergarten offers demanding and interesting activities, that correspond well to the interests of the children, kindergarten teachers are apt to make encouraging observations. This is how Ute Bleiheuft came to write in one of her assignments during her IHVO-Certificate-Course:

“The gifted child I observe for my assignments gave me the impression that she was in an entirely different world. She hardly spoke and worked with great focus. When the CD was over she seemed very happy.”


My comment on this on the side of Ms Bleienheuft’s paper was:

“She was experiencing the “flow”, that is a mental state of great concentration (one might even say: her brain was finally allowed to come up to speed); and she was in a state of bliss, being able to do and learn something that was suitable for her own potential and talent. The “flow” results in a feeling of deep satisfaction. Gifted children get way too few chances to experience this. It should be experienced regularly, though, and the longing for it is always present.

We could well pronounce it a major aim of the advancement of gifted children to help them experience this state regularly.“



Finally, with a grain of salt (even the gifted are prone to alcoholism), a quote from a novel. A scientist, an expert of rocket engineering, who has lost his memory is told by a colleague:

“Sounds like you went to a great party last night!”

“Let me ask you seriously – is that the kind of thing I do? Get so drunk I pass out?”

“I don’t know you well enough to answer that.” Will frowned. “I’d be surprised, though.
You do know us scientists. Our idea of a party is to sit around drinking coffee and talking about our work.”

That sounded right to Luke. “Getting drunk just doesn’t seem interesting enough”.

From: Ken Follet (2000), Code to Zero


Published in German: October 2012

Translated by Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint

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