Gifted preschools? Do such schools exist? Absolutely. More and more preschools are being designed for gifted three and four year olds. The first step in choosing a gifted preschool is finding out whether your child is gifted.
Gifted preschoolers face some of their toughest struggles when they go off to preschool for the first time. Nurtured at home or in day care previously, the first experienced with organized schooling can be both a blessing and a curse. For gifted preschoolers, that first step in organized learning sets them apart: gifted preschoolers learn quickly that they are different. So do parents. And teachers may struggle when confronted with gifted preschoolers. All of these factors come together when identifying which preschoolers in a given classroom or at home are indeed gifted. This is why a gifted preschool is so important for these three and four year olds: teachers at gifted preschools can differentiate the learning experience.
While many teachers, when parents ask about their child’s potential giftedness, may comment “Every child is gifted in some way,” true giftedness stands out and cannot be brushed aside in a misguided attempt to be egalitarian–and teachers at gifted preschools know this. It is true that each person has unique abilities and inherently positive traits: it is not true that every preschooler is gifted in the educational sense of the term “gifted.” A truly gifted child tests a minimum of one standard deviation above the norm; many psychologists and researchers note that two standard deviations above the norm is more a more appropriate target for labeling a preschooler “gifted.”
Tests alone do not tell the whole story, however. Some signs to look for in gifted preschoolers include:
1. Advanced academic ability. Reading early (before age five), doing two-column addition and subtraction, multiplication or division (or even more advanced math) are all signs of gifted preschoolers.
2. Advanced motor skills, both fine and gross. Preschoolers who bike better than their older siblings, who roller skate or ice skate with precision and coordination, or who paint with the control of a child ten years older may be gifted.
3. Verbal and reasoning skills years ahead of their age. Does the four year old ask deep, insightful questions about racism? Can the five year old take apart a radio-and reassemble it properly? What about the three year old who corrects Grandma’s grammar?
4. A strong sense of social justice. While many five year old will be focused on learning appropriate social skills, gifted preschoolers may struggle with simpler notions while grappling with larger ones. A gifted four year old may shove another child off playground equipment in what appears to be aggression; a careful teacher will listen to the aggressor as he tells her the child he pushed was cutting in line, and had to stop being unfair to the others. Because gifted preschoolers have advanced thinking but not necessarily advanced coping skills, many precocious children can be labeled “troublemakers” or given diagnoses of ADHD or Asperger Syndrome when in fact they are gifted and struggling with asynchronous development.
Once your child has been identified as a gifted three or four year old, some tips for finding the right gifted preschools include:
1. Contact your local university. Schools such as Columbia University in New York City have preschools for gifted children.
2. Ask around. Your child’s current preschool teacher may be able to refer you to a local gifted preschool.
3. Consider Montessori school. In many Montessori classrooms, gifted three and four year olds can work at a six year old or higher level.
4. Google the term “gifted preschools” to find schools in your area.