Stimulating Gifted Toddlers and Preschoolers at Home

Father teaching toddler daughter
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Parents of gifted toddlers and preschoolers often worry that their child may be bored and wonder what they can do to keep them challenged and stimulated. There are plenty of at-home learning opportunities that are age-appropriate, yet advanced enough for a gifted child. These ideas will push them in a way that is satisfying and fun, without being overly-structured.

Developmental Differences

Always remember that different aspects of your child's development flourish at different times. For example, your child may intellectually be ready to build things with blocks, but still lack the fine motor skills needed to do so.

Sometimes it's easy for parents to forget that their gifted toddler or preschooler is still only their biological age. Parents of a gifted 3-year-old who is reading at a third-grade level, for example, can "forget" that their child has only been alive for three years.

No matter how smart these young gifted children are, they haven't come close to exploring all the world has to offer and may not be able to fully comprehend some of the topics they're able to read about. And regardless of how intellectually gifted a child is, they will still need playtime for their social and emotional development.

Thinking about these young gifted children and the world this way makes it much easier to come up with ideas to keep them engaged. The years before children go to school can be an exciting time for parents as they learn about their child's interests and abilities.

Subjects Children Can Explore

At-home activities are a great way to reinforce concepts being learned at school (or that your child will encounter once enrolled), but they are also a good opportunity to expose your child to a variety of ways to captivate their mind—some that you may discover they have a special talent for or interest in.

Language, Letters, and Reading

Some gifted children love language, particularly verbally gifted children. They may be fascinated with letters and words, asking to be read to all the time, or they may even teach themselves to read. However, even those children who aren't obsessed with language may enjoy exploring this area.

Magnetic letters for the refrigerator, foam letters for the bath, and alphabet puzzles and books are all wonderful resources to have at home, particularly for young toddlers who haven't yet learned the alphabet

Videos or DVDs that illustrate the alphabet and reading, such as those by Sesame Street, are also fun and stimulating learning tools. You may also want to explore the wide variety of tablet apps and computer games designed to foster language skills.

Numbers and Math

The mathematically gifted child may naturally love numbers, patterns, and even simple math problems. Again, even children who are not mathematically gifted might enjoy exploring the world of numbers. Magnetic and foam numbers are good resources to have at home, as are number of puzzles and books.

Simple household objects like kitchen utensils or office supplies can also be used in counting and pattern-making activities. For preschoolers, you can even integrate math into pretend play; have your child be the cashier when you play store, for example.

Exploring Science

Whether it's biology, botany, astronomy, physics, or chemistry, each branch of science offers much to explore for intellectual stimulation. There are many simple principles that even children can understand, and the law of gravity is a good example.

All it takes to get a gifted kid thinking is to ask questions that illustrate some of these simple principles, such as, "Why does a ball fall down when we throw it in the air?"

Botany can be explored by simple nature walks. Astronomy is easily explored by looking at the moon and the stars, particularly over a period of days to observe the changes in the sky. Chemistry is easy, too. Just bake a cake or cookies with a child and talk about the changes baking creates in the ingredients. A trip to the doctor for a check-up or an illness can be a springboard to discussing how the body works.

Parents don't need to have all the answers; they just need the questions. Look for books on different branches of science written for young children to fill in the gaps.

You may also find books of science experiments kids can do with their parents.

Art Projects

Because people tend to think of academic subjects when they think of gifted children, they often forget about other areas of exploration like art. Parents can go beyond the usual crayons and coloring books to help their children explore this creative side of life by keeping craft supplies on hand for art exploration:

  • Construction paper
  • Feathers
  • Glue
  • String

Almost anything that can be glued and pasted gives children a chance to get creative.

Finger paints and watercolor paints are good to have on hand, as well. Even better are tempera paints, since they allow a child to use paint brushes of different sizes, providing more ways to develop motor skills. The key is to allow the child to be creative and to teach children that there are no rules when it comes to art.

Books on arts and crafts for children are readily available to provide inspiration. Some children may even like to learn about famous artists and their styles, then mimic them in their creations.

Music Exploration

Music is another non-academic area that parents may not consider as they wonder what they can do to keep their gifted child stimulated at home. All it takes to explore music is a catchy playlist and speakers, along with some pots, pans, lids, and spoons.

Combining music with crafts, children can make musical instruments, or parents can buy toy instruments that they can experiment with. Preschoolers may enjoy coming up with song lyrics based on their favorite storybook characters.

Provide Learning Opportunities

As children get older, it can become more and more difficult to keep them stimulated at home, but in these early years before they begin attending school, it can be fairly easy. It isn't usually necessary to provide formal lessons for gifted toddlers and preschoolers; they mostly need exposure to different areas of learning and the opportunities to explore them.

Parents don't need to worry about pushing their children when they provide them with these resources. Toddlers and preschoolers will likely embrace the chance to try different things, and their reactions will let you know when you're on the right path.

1 Source
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  1. National Institutes of Health. It’s a Kid’s Job.

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.