Posted by: waikatogifted | June 29, 2011

Waiting for School

The WAGC series on the young gifted child continues as we look forward to our visit from Sue Breen.

Download the flyer for our visit from Sue.

By the age of three or four, many gifted children are seeking out the the kinds of learning activities often provided for five-year-olds in new entrant classes. Parents can be run ragged keeping up with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and begin counting down the weeks or months until the school teacher can begin to share the load of providing learning experiences for their child.

A few months pass, the 5th birthday still some way off, and the parents quite often begin to worry over one of these two things:

  • The child is even more ready for school intellectually, but clearly far from ready in terms of social skills or physical independence. Will everything “come together” in time?
  • The child’s learning is positively turbo-charged. On a par with a friend’s child who is five-and-half, six, or even older. Will school cope?

What should parents do?

I have come to believe that one of the highest priorities for the gifted preschooler is independence. Teachers in early primary school often express concern over a gifted child in their class who needs more thinking challenge, but who does not have the independence skills to work alone on the tasks that would challenge him or her, even for a short time. Parents can lay a foundation for independence in the classroom before the fifth birthday rolls around in some of these ways:
  • Your child may love a challenge, but don’t select projects and activities that will be challenging from start to finish – you will end up helping all the way through. Look out for activities that your child will manage part of alone. Some activities will be suitable for your child to start independently, and not require adult help until later, such as putting patty pan papers into muffins tins before you bake together. Other activities will need adult help at the beginning, but be suitable for the child to finish alone, such as cutting out cardboard shapes together for the child to decorate and assemble.
  • Build your child’s confidence in following instructions. Verbal instructions, with as many steps as the child is ready for; pictorial instructions, like the ones in new Lego sets and simple no-bake recipe books; and sometimes written instructions for the child who is beginning to read. Help out by all means, but see how much your child can do alone, and encourage perseverance.
  • Plan tasks together, to build organisational skills. Have your child plan a picnic in the backyard; or the order in which to visit the library, the grocery store and Grandma; or activities to fill a wet afternoon. Ask questions when tempted to give advice. “What will we need if we are going to make a tent in the lounge? Where do we keep those things? How will we keep baby from pulling the tent down until you have had a fair chance to play in it?”
Some gifted children will not have natural strengths in independence and organisation, but every gain is a gain worth making, no matter how small. Helping young gifted children to do things can be fun and strengthens family bonds. However, to use the analogy of a balanced diet, independence needs to be a regular offering on the menu as the school years approach.


Physical skills in some children who are intellectually gifted are delayed, just as they are delayed in some children who are not gifted. Studies indicate a significant relationship between fine motor skill development and success at school, so time is well spent on everyday things like learning to do up buttons, and on fun things like learning to cut with scissors. The more difficult these things are for your child the more important it is to do them in fun contexts, and when the child is well fed, well rested, and neither too hot nor too cold.


Independence in social settings concerns many parents of gifted children. The concept of “normal for gifted” applies here. If your child is socially “normal for gifted” he or she may be as sociable as anyone else’s child when talking with people who share interests and ideas, such as adults, older children, and other gifted children. Problems in interacting with same age peers may be due to being too young to rationalise that people who don’t share an interest in how insects breathe (for example) can be fun in lots of other ways. However, there is no substitute for a same-sized friend on a seesaw, and we can create opportunities for our children to find value in age-mates so long as we balance these with opportunities to share ideas with mind-mates.


Some gifted children have social difficulties regardless of the age, interests or abilities of their companions. If these difficulties (or difficulties with motor skills) are wearing you down, do ask for help. Plunket nurses, early childhood teachers, people from your local gifted children’s association, doctors, and occupational therapists may all have ideas about who can offer the best help in your area.
Child in apron with spoon in hand and baking mixture on face.

Helping in the kitchen may build an attitude of independence. This youngster appears have discovered some additional benefits!

Will school cope?

One of the reasons to join your local association for gifted children is so that you can ask people whose children are just a little older than yours whether their school coped, and what they might do differently in approaching schools and talking about giftedness (or in not doing so). Do bear in mind that teachers change schools quite often and that, as they say, “your mileage may vary”.


If you decide to approach the school about your child’s giftedness before he or she is due to start, ask whether the school has a policy (a set of guidelines the Board of Trustees has written) or procedures (a set of guidelines the senior staff have written) on gifted and talented children. Schools who have these documents will usually be willing to give you a copy, and a few schools even have them on their websites. Appropriate policies or procedures do not offer a cast iron guarantee of what will happen in every classroom, but they do offer a shared understanding and a great basis for discussions. Take any opportunity to talk to the principal or the new entrant teacher, but the policies or procedures will help you to decide what to talk about.


I am very much in favour of talking to the school several months before profoundly gifted children start, having been a new entrant teacher myself. However, I also know parents who feel that doing so has worked against them. Some teachers are rumoured to enjoy “discovering” giftedness but not to like having it pointed out to them. Some parents feel that their child’s school labeled them as “pushy” and that it would have been nice to delay the labelling process until their child had at least started school. Local knowledge will be helpful in guiding your decision, especially if school zoning or distance will reduce your choices.


There are reasons to believe that schools will cope – the National Administration Guidelines tell them to, and New Zealand trained teachers are very child-centred by philosophy. There are also reasons to believe that teachers will find your gifted child challenging to cater for – most teachers have no pre-service training in giftedness, most schools have no funding specifically for gifted education, and most advisory roles in gifted education disappeared recently, as a cost-cutting measure. Try to temper supportive optimism with common sense and resilience in your relationships with schools.

Photo credit: Alison Henry



  1. Considering school options at the moment. What a great common sense article. Great point about Teachers ‘discovering’ giftedness. Food for thought. Thanks

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