Creating Challenging Learning Opportunities
A challenging and developmentally appropriate learning environment is essential to promote growth and learning in all children. Teachers must create an environment that allows for extension of play and exploration of subjects in depth. Most highly-abled children are advanced in their language and literacy skills. A literacy rich environment includes opportunities for children to speak, listen, read, and write during active play. Journaling, making grocery lists, and writing letters to friends are all ways to incorporate open-ended literacy challenges in authentic ways.
Best practice in literacy development would allow children to naturally differentiate their reading by choosing their own reading material, writing at their own pace, and communicating with peers at their level. Literacy should be a continuous part of the daily routine and teachers must intentionally plan and scaffold instruction to challenge all children.
Authentic learning experiences are meaningful and purposeful. For example, one child brought a picture of his new puppy to school to share with his peers. This led to a discussion on which children have pets at home. This topic was personal to the children and it was exciting for them to carry it over into the other centers around the room. Concrete manipulatives were used to represent animals to count how many pets each child had.
Young gifted children will intrinsically extend an idea like this into more learning opportunities. They may write about pets, ask peers about their pets, want to learn about specific animals in more detail, create a project, read about dogs in books, etc. Providing opportunities and allowing children to extend their learning through further discussion and active play differentiates the content in a natural and purposeful manner.
Activities that encourage open-ended play such as blocks, manipulatives, authentic art experiences, dramatic play are ideal to allow children to extend their learning. Games such as traditional board games or teacher mad games can allow a student proficient in early math skills opportunities to begin playing with addition and subtraction concepts. Best practice supports a curriculum that allows children to make choices about their learning and to pursue answers to their own questions. Centers around the classroom should allow for cross-over play of materials and incorporate embedded opportunities for literacy as well.
In summary, the teachers of young children have a responsibility to cultivate children’s curiosity and design environments that challenge and extend learning for even the highest-abled children. Allowing and providing support for self-directed exploration and creating opportunities for in-depth knowledge help the young gifted child to continue to grow in their learning and concept development.