Keeping Gifted Toddlers and Preschoolers Stimulated at Home

Caucasian father and daughter playing in bedroom
Peathegee Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Parents of gifted toddlers and preschoolers worry that their children may be bored and wonder what they should do about it. You want to keep your child challenged and stimulated so she will develop to her full potential.

How can you provide learning opportunities that are age-appropriate yet advanced enough for a gifted child? You don't want to fall into the trap of pushing your child too much or providing overly-structured activities. This could lead to frustration and anxiety. Also, remember that different aspects of your child will be on different timetables. Your child may intellectually be ready to build things, but lack the fine motor skills needed. Your child will still need play time for her social and emotional development.

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 been alive for only three years. However, the world is a big place, full of information on a wide variety of subjects. No matter how smart these young gifted children are, they haven't come close to exploring all the world has to offer.

Thinking about these young gifted children and the world this way makes it much easier to think of ways to keep them challenged and stimulated. These years before the children go to school can be exciting times for parents as they learn about their child's interests and abilities. The world is wide open!

Areas Children Can Explore

  • Language, Letters, and Reading: Some gifted children love language, particularly verbally gifted children. They may be fascinated with letters and words, want 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, alphabet puzzles and books—these are all wonderful resources to have at home, particularly for the young toddlers who haven't yet learned the alphabet or learned to read. Videos or DVDs of the alphabet and reading, such as those by Sesame Street, are good too.
  • Numbers and Math: The mathematically gifted child may love numbers 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 puzzles and books.
  • Science: Whether it's biology, botany, astronomy, physics, or chemistry, each branch of science has some simple principles that even children can understand, and much to explore for further intellectual stimulation. 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, questions like "What 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. A trip to the doctor for a checkup 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. You may also find books of experiments for kids to do with their parents.
  • Art: Because people tend to think of academic subjects when they think of gifted children, they forget about other areas of exploration. Art is one of those areas. Parents can go beyond the usual crayons and coloring books to help their children explore this creative side of life. Keep craft supplies on hand for art exploration. Construction paper, glue, feathers, string, and almost anything else that can be glued and pasted give children a chance to learn about art. Even more unconventional items like macaroni can be used to create artwork. 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, which would provide more ways to explore painting. The key is to allow the child to be creative. Books on arts and crafts for children are also available at the library. 
  • Music: 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 radio, playlist, or CD player and some pots, pans, lids, and spoons. Combining music with crafts, children can make musical instruments, such as those available on Paul Borgese's Web site. Beyond that, parents can buy toy instruments that their children can experiment with. Even inexpensive toy keyboards can be quite sophisticated, with rhythm keys and different tones.
    • As children get older, it can become more and more difficult to keep them stimulated at home, but in these early years, it can be fairly easy. It isn't usually necessary to provide formal lessons for gifted toddlers and preschoolers. They mostly need the exposure to different areas of learning and the opportunities to explore those areas. Providing children with these resources at home not only gives them such opportunities, it also helps them (and their parents) determine their areas of interest. Children who don't have the opportunity to explore astronomy may not know how much they love it!

    Parents need not worry about pushing their children when they provide them with these resources. Unless parents force their children to learn, it's not pushing, particularly when their children are toddlers and preschoolers.