Gifted & Talented in the Early Years: Practical Activities for Children Aged 3 to 6


Margaret Sutherland

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    About the Author

    Margaret Sutherland is a lecturer in additional support needs at the University of Glasgow. She is the Director of The Scottish Network for Able Pupils and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning. She has 31 years’ teaching experience in mainstream primary schools, behaviour support and latterly in higher education. She has written articles in the field of gifted and talented education and is author of Developing the Gifted and Talented Young Learner (SAGE, 2008). She speaks regularly at conferences, leads courses, workshops and seminars across the UK, and has worked with students and teachers in Korea, Tanzania, Malawi and Denmark.


    My thanks go to Kirsteen who, as an inspirational five-year-old pupil in my class, set me off in the direction of gifted and talented education.

    Thanks, too, go to the staff and children of Killermont Primary School and Nursery, Bearsden and Lenzie Primary School and Nursery, Lenzie. In particular I would like to thank Shona Mathieson, Susan May, Harji Kaur and Mairi Gillies for allowing me to visit their early years settings and for offering helpful and supportive comments at each stage of writing.

    Advice and support were gratefully received from my colleagues and friends, Chris Smith and Niamh Stack, and from Jude Bowen at SAGE Publications.

    Finally my thanks go to Andrew and Louis – the third dog to accompany me during the writing process – for ‘putting up with me’ as tensions rose and deadlines drew near.

    The poem on page 126 is reproduced from Global Citizenship: A Handbook for Primary Teaching, 2002 with the permission of Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford OX4 2JY, UK, Oxfam GB does not necessarily endorse any text activities that accompany the materials.


    For all the children I have worked with – for those I discovered who were gifted and talented, and for the ones I missed because I didn't look in the right place or offer the right opportunities and challenges.


    The importance of early education cannot be overestimated. A love of learning and a sense of excitement, purpose and creativity formed in the early years can go on to have lasting impact on the lives of young people. Opportunities offered in the early years can develop into lifelong passions, giving our world a diversity and richness that can only enhance and augment the lives of all. As someone working with young children you are in an ideal situation to offer these opportunities. It is a very privileged position to be in and one we need to take seriously if we are to help young children develop in a way that celebrates and cultivates their full range of abilities and aptitudes.

    If you're reading this book then it is likely that you have in your care a child who is demonstrating abilities beyond what might be expected for their age. These children, sometimes referred to as ‘tall poppies’, will be doing things in your early years setting that often leave you standing in amazement – such as the three-year-old child who goes into the story corner and reads a book for themselves. There is no doubt that young children are often capable of more than we think. National initiatives in the UK (Early Intervention, Scotland; Foundation Stage, England and Wales) have helped to raise expectations among educators. Perhaps less well documented are the group of children who often receive the label ‘gifted and talented’. It is the educational experiences of these children that this book will explore.

    International (UN, 1989, 1994) and national (DfES, 1998, 2001; SEED, 2003; SOEID, 1994) initiatives have seen an ever-increasing move towards inclusive education. There is much debate as to what this term means and there are a plethora of books on the market that consider just this issue. For the purposes of this book, ‘inclusive education’ is taken to mean children learning together: learning from each other, from the adults around them and from their communities and families. The focus of this book will be to explore how we can meet the needs of the so-called ‘tall poppies’ mentioned above within an inclusive education framework.

    The first chapter of this book sets out to explore how we might include gifted and talented individuals in our settings. It considers the labels we use to describe gifted and talented children and looks at how the adults’ beliefs about intelligence will impact on what they do, say and look for in the early years setting. It challenges educators to think about the nature of intelligence and to think about inclusion in a new way.

    Chapter 2 investigates the tricky area of identification. It suggests practical ways of identifying young gifted and talented learners – interview questions, observation sheets and tracking sheets are suggested as ways of building up an ‘holistic picture’ of a child and their abilities. It considers how culture, history and educational experiences influence responses to gifted education and highlights the common issues countries across the globe grapple with when providing for gifted and talented children.

    Chapter 3 considers four curriculum areas – physical movement/motor development, music, language and mathematics – and offers some suggestions as to what may be advanced responses to common early years activities and resources in these areas.

    The next four chapters, Chapters 47, consider each individual curricular area and contain ideas for challenging activities. The activity sheets can be used as they appear or can be adapted and developed to suit individual settings. These chapters may be ‘dipped in and out of’ as a particular need in a particular curricular area arises.

    The final chapter pulls together the thoughts and ideas from throughout the book and links these to common practice found in early years settings. It highlights the need to challenge our gifted and talented children and to ensure that we offer challenging learning opportunities for all.

    You will see six icons appearing throughout the book:

    This icon indicates that there are some key points that early educators should bear in mind when working with young gifted and talented learners.
    This icon suggests some points for staff to reflect on when there are things that practitioners and settings need to think about when providing for gifted and talented children.
    This icon shows where there are useful activities for practitioners to try.
    This icon means you can photocopy these pages.
    These icons indicate some further sources of information and offer some suggestions to get you started.
    This icon appears at the end of chapters to provide an overview of the key points.
  • Glossary

    • Active learning – learning which engages and challenges children and young people's thinking using real-life and imaginary situations
    • Alternative model of assessment – understanding is arrived at by collaboration between the adult and the learner
    • Contextualised learning – learning within a real-life situation or context
    • Discrete approaches to thinking – using techniques, programmes and resources to encourage thinking
    • Double exceptionality – a child who has more than one label, e.g. ‘dyslexia’ and ‘gifted and talented’
    • Entity theory of intelligence – believing a person possesses a specific amount of intelligence and nothing you or they can do will change that amount
    • Folk model of assessment – a set of beliefs about assessment that have grown and developed over the years
    • Forest Schools – outdoor learning, usually in a woodland, that encourages hands on, practical experiences
    • Goal achievement – performance goals are important; you have to show how clever you are
    • Holistic picture – gathering data from a variety of sources that allows the educator to build up a complete picture of the child and their learning
    • Hot-housing – pushing children on quickly through the stages of the formal curriculum
    • Inclusive education – children learning together: learning from each other, from adults around them and from their communities and families
    • Incremental theory of intelligence – believing that intelligence is not an ‘entity’ that resides within a person but is something that can be developed through learning
    • Infusion model of thinking – opportunities for thinking are built into the curriculum
    • Learning goals – becoming smarter is important to you and therefore learning is important
    • Mindset – a set of beliefs a person holds
    • Moving Image Education – using images as text children can discuss and analyse
    • Multiple exceptionality – a child who has more than one label
    • Multiple intelligences – A range of intelligences, as noted by Howard Gardner. They include musical, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, etc.
    • Participative learners – children who like to learn by copying a more knowledgeable other
    • Responsive planning – plans are developed with the child and respond to their interests
    • Standardised test – a test given to a group of pupils to gauge performance against either a national average (norm-referenced) or a breadth of subject material (criterion-referenced)
    • Tall poppies – children who are demonstrating abilities beyond what might be expected for their age


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