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«Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from The Forgotten Children ...»

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Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from


The Forgotten Children

Lynette Radue

Massey University


This article provides a description of the author’s learning journey as she makes the commitment

to provide for gifted children at the early childhood education service in which she works. The

author examines research which highlights the reasons for identifying young gifted children. She

includes issues that teachers may be experiencing which impact on the identification of gifted young children not being included in daily practice. Possible solutions are given as suggestions to overcome barriers that reduce the rate of formal identification occurring in early childhood education services. The author acknowledges that she is in the early stages of developing gifted education in the service for which she works. She encourages teachers to take the same steps as she has which is to initiate strategies to begin the identification process with the goal to provide appropriate learning opportunities for gifted children in their early childhood education services.

Introduction Four year old Tommy consistently produces interesting objects made from junk. He spends most of his time in this learning area. Maggie, a three year old girl, looks at the kindergarten’s garden and is able to discriminate between weeds and flowers. She has knowledge of plants that exceeds her teachers’ knowledge. Four year old Beth intricately designs patterns out of sparkly collage every day. Her attention is on detail and perfect execution. Jessica, a four year old girl, focuses on the well being of others, often stopping her involvement in an activity to help a peer or a teacher.

Who are these children? They appear to be different from most of their peers but at the same time tend to blend into the busy early learning environment.

These are potentially gifted children with whom I work in a kindergarten. I shudder to think that their potential almost went unnoticed because of lack of teacher knowledge in gifted education at our kindergarten. I refer to gifted children as “the forgotten children” because in the fourteen years of teaching in different early childhood settings I had not, until recently, experienced the practice of providing gifted education. This is my story of how I have initiated changes in the kindergarten by developing as a teacher to notice, appreciate and provide for children who have the potential to be gifted.

The opportunity arose for me to study a university paper on gifted education. As I reflected on the knowledge that I gained from my studies, I began to consider the reasons for teachers not providing for gifted children. It was obvious that these children were not being identified as having special needs resulting in gifted programmes not being implemented.

I investigated other teachers’ views, opinions and knowledge of gifted education by engaging in many informal discussions with local early childhood professionals. I soon discovered that identifying gifted children is generally not being carried out in most early childhood education services. I began to uncover the concerns and the feelings of teachers through these discussions.

Much of what was revealed was what I expected. Teachers’ comments included their lack of Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.

knowledge, uncertainty, and feelings of inadequacy. I felt the same way before I started my gifted education journey.

As a teacher, I understand the reasons behind gifted children being “forgotten.” My aim is to offer practical solutions to some of the issues that result in these children not being identified in early childhood settings. I would like to point out that my current working place is a private kindergarten and this is the learning environment in which I have worked during my gifted education journey. However, I have had teaching experiences in the other early childhood education services which have contributed to my reflections and growth as a teacher of gifted children.

Some of the issues from teachers’ comments and my personal experiences will be addressed as I recount my journey in gifted education. I appreciate that the comments from informal discussions included in this article are a small representative of teachers from early childhood settings in my area. However, I suspect that there are many teachers across New Zealand who share similar apprehensions and concerns. I believe there are many issues to address and overcome before it becomes common practice to identify gifted children in all services.

Is it Necessary for Teachers to Consider Gifted Education in the Early Years?

I have chosen to refer to the document Te Wh riki: Early Childhood Curriculum as this is the document used by teachers in their practice. Although Te Wh riki does not specifically mention children who are gifted, it does state that teachers should provide for children who require “resources alternative or additional to those usually provided within an early childhood education setting” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p 11). As I reflected on this I began to think of the children with special needs who have been identified while attending our kindergarten during the last few years. They were children with Autism, Down Syndrome and Muscular Dystrophy but never gifted children.

Informal discussions with teachers and my own experiences clearly show that children with special needs who require intervention to overcome barriers such as language and behaviour difficulties, are more likely to be identified by teachers as needing additional support than those children with gifted abilities. In my experience additional support from services is also less likely to be given to gifted children unless they are twice exceptional children, that is gifted and Autistic for example. Why are gifted children not given the same priority as other children with special needs?

I believe that to make a difference to the education of young gifted children, teachers have to be informed of the identification crisis in the early childhood sector. I believe that many teachers will then take the responsibility to become more knowledgeable in gifted education. The more informed teachers become, the more children will be identified (Allen, 2006; Reece; 2006). With more children being identified, added pressure will be placed on specialist services to support these children, their families and their teachers. I can only hope that in the future, support for gifted children will be given to a greater extent than is presently being experienced.

In my experience, many centre philosophies state that individuality and differences are celebrated. While this may be true to a certain extent, I do not believe that gifted abilities are being celebrated formally to the same degree as some differences, for example cultural differences. I urge teachers to examine inclusiveness in their services, and to implement strategies such as developing gifted policies, to ensure that young gifted children are no longer “forgotten.” Gifted education should be given the same attention as special needs such as learning disabilities.

This will ensure that giftedness is taken seriously and that all children with special needs are valued equally.

Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.

What are the Possible Outcomes of Unidentified Gifted Children?

Jacobson (1971) is cited as stating that as few as 10% of gifted children (in America) are identified in kindergarten (Clark, 2002). This is a strong enough reason to acknowledge that there is a crisis in early education if these figures remain the same today, and in our country. Judging from my informal discussions with teachers, I would expect that the identification crisis continues to be an issue. Moltzen (2004) states that it is a misconception that gifted and talented children reach their potential with or without positive and supportive education. Porter (2004) agrees by stating that it is necessary to support the learning of gifted children. She is of the opinion that despite their advanced abilities and knowledge, gifted children do not know everything and therefore as with any child, need assistance to extend their education (Porter, 2004). Yet it is obvious from informal discussions with teachers that many continue to view the misconception of gifted children not requiring support in their education. Teachers need to become more informed of the consequences of not identifying young gifted children.

Allen (2006) comments that unidentified gifted children are not likely to reach their potential and may lack incentive to learn. If this is the case then these children are unlikely to develop into “competent and confident learners,” this being part of the aspiration stated in Te Wh riki (Ministry of Education, 1996, p9).

In one of the latest publications by the Ministry of Education, Nurturing Gifted and Talented Children, “asynchronous development” is one of the issues discussed in relation to gifted children (2008). This term refers to the child being at various stages in intellectual, social, physical, and emotional development (Ministry of Education, 2008). Reflect on how this may impact on a child who does not have the understanding of the adults in his world. Teachers who have no knowledge of the issues in gifted education will not respond appropriately.

Also consider the social implications of a gifted child who has advanced abilities in a domain but has difficulty fitting in with her peers. This would certainly be more of a challenge for the child without identification of being gifted and without subsequent adult support. My experience with Beth was an example of this.

Beth is so intense in her work with sparkly collage that she does not interact with her peers. She does not appreciate her peers’ less complex designs and blobs of collage. She makes this very clear with her lack of interest in what they are doing as well as in her disapproving facial expressions. After assessing Beth’s abilities I realised that her intricate work was very advanced but her social skills needed support. Plans have been put into action to support some social interaction with her peers but at the same time the teachers allow plenty of time for her to satisfy her need to work on the next sparkly project alone. While the plans have achieved a certain amount of social interaction, she is usually in charge of her peers during these interactions. She is a perfectionist which results in her taking the leadership from her peers in order to satisfy her drive for perfection. Beth has difficutly taking another point of view and accepting leadership from her peers. Beth needs adult support with her social skills.

Te Wh riki states that one of the responsibilities of teachers is to meet the emotional needs of young children (Ministry of Education, 1996). Porter (1999) believes that gifted children as young as two years old know that they are different, and that they deserve an explanation for their differences to avoid issues such as low self-esteem. Children need to know that their differences are identified and celebrated. I challenge teachers to consider how successful inclusiveness is in their teaching practice without identifying and catering for these children’s different abilities and learning styles. Reflect on the feelings of gifted children whose differences are not valued in their learning communities.

Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.

In 2002, the Ministry of Education released The Initiatives for Gifted and Talented Learners, a document that seems to be familiar to only a few early childhood teachers. Included in the Core Principles of this document is the statement that the early childhood sector provides “powerful catalysts for the demonstration and development of talent” (Ministry of Education, 2002). Despite this important recognition from the Ministry several years ago, it is obvious that the message is not being directed strongly enough to those who can make a difference. Teachers need to become aware that as with all children, the early years lay the foundations to later learning and development. If children are not being identified, appropriate education will not be given. Reflect on the impact of this on a young gifted child. Later on there may be behaviour issues that impact on the child’s learning. Also the child may develop into an undervalued adult who develops emotional problems such as depression. Surely early childhood teachers cannot ignore their responsibility of making a positive difference to these children with special needs? I could not ignore the responsibility but the dilemma for me was finding a starting point.

Making a Start My research into gifted education convinced me that more active participation from early childhood teachers in gifted education is essential if progress is to be made. At the start of my journey, I felt a compelling desire to ensure that gifted children were included in our education programmes at our kindergarten. However, the difficulty was deciding on the first appropriate step. Allen (2006) states that the starting point in gifted education is identifying gifted children.

While identification may seem the first logical step to take, teachers with little or no experience in gifted identification will find this impossible. I believe that the starting point is teacher education.

My start was increasing my knowledge by reading and reflecting on many different views and research findings on gifted education. This helped my understanding of the meaning and depth of giftedness. By reflecting on different perceptions and models of giftedness, I was able to relate to one theory more than others. The theory is Joseph Renzulli’s Three-Ring Concept of Giftedness which includes the idea of “potential” (2003). This seemed to make sense to me when considering giftedness in very young children. I used Renzulli’s theory as the tool to persuade the teaching team, with whom I work, to join me on my journey to provide for gifted children in our kindergarten. This decision led to the teaching team believing that it is a possible to identify young gifted children. I am fortunate that the teachers trusted my judgement and agreed to join forces with me to implement strategies that would make positive changes.

The next strategy was to provide some form of teacher education or professional development so that all the teachers could understand the meaning of giftedness and the indicators that may potentially be giftedness. Reece’s (2006) research includes lack of knowledge, abilities, information, and resources as some of the reasons teachers are not implementing gifted education. These reasons certainly impacted on my initial confidence to take the step to formally identify gifted children. While many teachers may prefer not to take on formal gifted education study, it is encouraging to know that many teachers would be prepared to provide for gifted children (Reece, 2006). The solution is to provide professional development within early childhood education services.

How Do Teachers Increase Their Knowledge in Gifted Education?

Reece (2006) undertook research during which teachers were given professional development in gifted education. The research revealed a remarkable improvement in the identification of children as well as positive changes in attitudes and confidence in the approach to gifted education from the participating teachers (Reece, 2006). Reece (2006) researched early childhood teachers and their identification skills for gifted children. After the teachers attended workshops Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.

on gifted education, their abilities to identify gifted children increased. It became very obvious to me that as my knowledge increased, my skills for identification improved.

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