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November 1, 2001
Vol. 59
No. 3

An Early Childhood Accelerated Program

An innovative program for young learners who show signs of giftedness meets their need for acceleration and the excitement of learning.

On a blustery March morning in Wichita, Kansas, 22 4-year-olds of varied ethnic and social backgrounds sit on the floor of a classroom at Rainbows United. Their knees are crossed, their hands are in their laps, and their eyes are riveted on their teacher. It is 9:00 a.m., and they are eager to participate in morning circle time. They recite poems and sayings, count by 2s and 5s, practice telling time, and share important events. Last night, one student had finally learned to put her hair in a ponytail; another had gone with Dad to purchase new white tennis shoes; and a third had learned about death when a beloved grandparent passed away.
Soon the class begins discussing the meaning of today's vocabulary words, ventilate and metamorphosis. The teacher shows them movements that help demonstrate the meanings of the words, and soon 44 arms are waving wildly around. As circle time finishes, the teacher asks, "Who is smart?" The students reply in unison, "I am!"
It's time for math. Each student rushes to an assigned area to begin individualized work on arithmetic skills. The math program emphasizes understanding concepts. Some students are multiplying, some are dividing, and others are working with basic fractions. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Only two of these 4-year-olds were reading at the beginning of the year, but now, at midyear, all but one student can read, and that student is on the verge of knowing how. He will try his first book any day now, and he is eagerly anticipating this event.
Beginning a student's education in delight is one goal of the Early Childhood Accelerated Program. Begun in the Wichita Public Schools in 1998– 1999, this innovative program identifies and serves high-ability children ages 3–5. The program's authors had three goals: to identify significant numbers of gifted children at an early stage of learning; to place them in an accelerated program that provides appropriate experiences to match their ability levels; and to focus on an underserved target population—culturally diverse children of high ability.
Meeting these goals is not a simple task. In some cases, traits associated with potential giftedness are obvious to anyone. A preschooler who learns to read labels on soup cans or understands simple mathematical concepts provides strong signals that almost anyone can detect. Knowing what to do about this giftedness is another problem. To one mother of a student in the program, the signs were obvious.When he was 3, my son was reading, counting, and telling time. He even understood money. His preschool teacher told me that there wasn't anything he wasn't ready to do. I hoped that something was out there for him. But until this program began, there really wasn't.
Other traits of potential giftedness, however, are subtle. Children with potential giftedness often talk early, have a sophisticated sense of humor, and can read body language. Even impatience may be another indicator of giftedness in a child in the early learning stages.
As the mother of another student stated,I just thought she was exceptionally mature for her age. I knew she was outgoing and opinionated—boy, is she opinionated! But until someone pointed these signs out to me, I didn't know what her traits might mean.What this mother didn't realize initially was that these characteristics might indicate potential giftedness in her 4-year-old.
In identifying students for participation in gifted programs, public schools often fail to recommend children from culturally diverse groups in numbers that represent their increasing populations (Smith, 1998). By identifying significant numbers of children early in the learning process, this program hopes to improve this situation in the Wichita area.

Identification Procedures

Children who are 3 or 4 years old can participate in the screening, which includes nomination by a parent, an interview with the child, an informal assessment of skills, and administration of the revised Bracken Basic Concept Scale (Bracken, 1998). Because the children are young, the student interview is an important part of the identification process. Using an informal but structured format, the evaluator observes the child in multiple problem-solving situations, including solving analogies, completing mental math problems, demonstrating fingers-to-faces math, solving mazes, and using building blocks. The screening identifies children who demonstrate multiple indicators of advanced thinking and would benefit from an accelerated, enriched curriculum.

Characteristics of Giftedness

  • Abstract thinking

  • Advanced vocabulary

  • Concern with social and moral issues

  • Intellectual curiosity

  • Knowledge about things of which peers are unaware

  • Leadership skills

  • Problem identification and solving

  • Productive thinking/Original thought or expression

  • Quality of ideas (oral or written)

  • Learning and recall of information

  • Unusual sense of humor

Social and Behavioral Expectations

The program begins by emphasizing the development of each student's ability to pay attention and concentrate. Students learn to sit with their legs crossed and their hands in their laps for a stretch of 20–30 minutes. For some students, paying attention is the most difficult skill to learn. By the middle of the year, every student has mastered the ability to behave appropriately. By the end of the year, almost every student uses these skills to become an independent learner. This focus on appropriate behavior is crucial because as students get older, gifted programs often require them to demonstrate task commitment and independent learning behaviors (Davis & Rimm, 1998). This early focus on paying attention is particularly important for culturally diverse students who may not have developed these skills through other preschool programs.

Parent Education and Involvement

Parents of a gifted child should be insightful advocates for their child's education (Smutny, Veenker, & Veenker, 1989). Sometimes parents know that their child is more advanced than siblings or peers, but they don't know how to nurture their child's special talents. Other parents, especially those from areas in which high school graduation is rare and college attendance is nonexistent, may not wish their child to be in a gifted program. One mother stated, "I don't want her to be gifted because then she won't be able to get herself a husband." At least in some cases, the old stereotypes about gifted individuals remain.
Before school begins, parents and school personnel have a special meeting that launches their important partnership. Parents learn about giftedness, the school's daily schedule and routine, social and behavioral expectations, and ways to support and extend their child's learning experience at home.
Students bring home newsletters every week. Readable and conversational, the newsletters describe activities in the classroom, inform parents of upcoming events, and indicate skills that parents can reinforce at home during the week.
The program's lending library provides parents with such printed information about giftedness as "Small Poppies: Highly Gifted Children in the Early Years" (Gross, 1999) and excerpts from the work of Joan Franklin Smutny and her colleagues (Smutny, Veenker, & Veenker, 1989; Smutny, Yahnke-Walker, & Meckstroth, 1997) on developing the talents of young gifted children.

The Curriculum

The curriculum focuses on the needs of potentially gifted children in the early learning stages. The program has high academic expectations and fosters conceptual learning and creativity through integrated activities.
Circle time. Each morning begins with a 20–30 minute circle time. Students share important events; review vocabulary words and math skills; receive recognition for their accomplishments; and practice their ability to pay attention. Even young children may realize that they are different from their peers and try to hide their abilities, so teachers often discuss being smart and encourage students to accept this trait in themselves.
Thematic units. The curriculum focuses on thematic units that integrate math, art, writing, reading, and science. For 100 Pennies Day, for example, each student brings in pennies and then exchanges them for pizza. Students write about what they might buy with their 100 pennies; use the pennies as manipulatives in math; and solve a scientific problem by calculating how much 100 pennies weigh.
A second thematic unit focuses on sunflowers. Students plant sunflower seeds, draw sunflowers, spell words related to sunflowers, and write creative responses to "How does your sunflower grow?"
Math. After circle time, students participate in daily math time. They use manipulatives, often cookies or small pieces of candy. Of course, 4-year-olds know how to dispose of these tools of learning after the math lesson. Students learn multiplication tables through song and solve story problems by applying mathematical concepts.
Reading. Students begin learning to read in groups, following a reading curriculum that combines phonics and language development. As each student demonstrates a need for acceleration, the student moves to one-on-one sessions with the teacher. The teacher models the rhythm and cadence of reading along with appropriate expression.
Art. Every day, students complete an art project that usually relates to the thematic unit. Students may illustrate a story that they have heard or written. Art projects often support and extend the math and science concepts that the students are learning.
Foreign language. Students learn French and Spanish through finger plays, stories, and song. Learning about the cultures of France and Spain often combines with the language study.
Computer time. Students use computers in the classroom for some activities, but they have a special computer time in a lab outside the classroom twice a week. Usually they spend this time playing computer games that reinforce reading, math, and phonics.

Results, Development, Prospects

Most of the students who have participated in this program have gone on to receive education services for gifted students in the public schools. During the two years of the pilot program, approximately 40 percent of the children in the program were from culturally diverse groups, a figure that is significantly higher than the percentages in most programs for gifted students.
Beginning in 2000–2001, the program successfully completed its pilot program in the public school system and joined Rainbows United, a not-for-profit organization that serves the needs of children ages 0–5. Rainbows United has provided resources that have allowed the program to continue developing enriching experiences for gifted children in the early learning stages.
During the past year, the program has added several new activities that connect students to the community. Students take photographs and develop their own photos at a local university; visit a bank and fill out personal bank deposit slips; collect and inspect pond water with a local university professor; and work with a chef to measure ingredients and cook food.
The public school system has chosen to continue the accelerated program for young gifted learners in a different format, developing it in six Wichita schools whose students are from high-mobility, culturally diverse, or low-income populations. Gifted specialists work with prekindergarten teachers to develop learning centers and other enrichment strategies for all learners. Using play-based assessment, the specialists identify and encourage high-ability learners to progress at their own paces through accelerated and enrichment activities that are available to all students who demonstrate an interest in them. In two of the schools, the program continues into kindergarten through a high-level reading class that allows students to read at their own levels.
The program that began only four years ago is meeting its goals. As one mother stated,My son has blossomed. He now believes in himself in ways that he didn't before. He thrives on encouragement. He loves school. What a wonderful beginning for him!

Bracken, B. A. (1998). Bracken Basic Concept Scale (Rev. ed.). San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Brace.

Davis, G. A., & Rimm, S. B. (1998). Education of the gifted and talented (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gross, M. U. M. (1997). Small poppies: Highly gifted children in the early years. Roeper Review, 21(3), 208–214.

Smith, D. D. (1998). Introduction to special education: Teaching in an age of challenge (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Smutny, J. F., Veenker, K., & Veenker, S. (1989). Your gifted child: How to recognize and develop the special talents in your child from birth to age seven. New York: Facts on File.

Smutny, J. F., Yahnke-Walker, S., & Meckstroth, E. A. (1997). Teaching young gifted children in the regular classroom. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.

Peggy Thorpe has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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