Why not gifted children successful adults

Cognitive Giftedness - A Case for Inclusion?

The basic idea of ​​inclusion can be summed up in one sentence: It is normal to be different. But what does that mean in concrete terms and why is it so important to point out the normality of differences? Despite individual differences, most people hardly experience themselves as fundamentally different, deviations are within the usual tolerance range. Understanding difference as normal is always a challenge when it comes to people who are outside of such a normal range. In a simple case this can be an extreme height, it may be more challenging if you belong to an ethnic group that is less represented in this society, but it can also refer to an extraordinary intelligence that deviates strongly from the mean value. Most people have an IQ around the mean of 100. Far fewer people have a significantly lower IQ, so that one speaks of a learning or intellectual disability. On the other hand, a comparable number of people have an IQ that is well above the mean. From an IQ of 130 one speaks of a cognitive giftedness.

This article is about pre-school children who are smarter and smarter than their peers. Children with a high level of cognitive ability do not have fundamentally different cognitive abilities, but they have a developmental advantage compared to their age group. Your developmental age is to be set higher than your actual age.

Diagnostics: How giftedness can be recognized

First of all, about diagnostics: An obvious possibility, but at this early age still prone to error in terms of development prognosis, would be intelligence tests. The personality trait of intelligence is not yet stable at kindergarten age, so that test results obtained later can vary considerably - both downwards and upwards! It therefore only makes sense in justified exceptional cases to carry out an intelligence diagnosis using test procedures as early as kindergarten age.

Nonetheless, it is essential for appropriate educational support to recognize children with special cognitive potential.1 Targeted observations are therefore the method of choice. There are some traits that are found in many gifted children.


Acquire new knowledge quicklyMemorize things wellAnalyze the environment, introduce a system and link things
  • The child learns quickly and easily.
  • The child learns to use numbers / arithmetic at an early age.
  • The child learns to read and write independently (long) before school starts.
  • The child has a very high level of detailed knowledge in individual areas.
  • His vocabulary is exceptionally large for his age.
  • The command of the language (e.g. grammar, fluency) is exceptional.
  • The child can remember facts very quickly.
  • The child can remember a great deal of information.
  • The child quickly learns songs / rhymes by heart.
  • The child can also remember complex things, e.g. storylines in stories and, for example, reproduce them separately from one another.
  • The child can observe exceptionally well.
  • The child searches independently for similarities and differences between objects.
  • The child forms categories.
  • The child quickly sees through which cause leads to which effect.
  • The child connects ideas or things that are not obvious.

Table 1: Characteristics of gifted children (see Dreger, B./Thurmann, B. 2017, p. 24).

It is by no means the case that all areas have to develop synchronously. In this respect, it is entirely possible that children may have a well-developed cognitive potential, but are developed according to their age or even slightly below average in other areas of development. For example, they are able to provide very differentiated information about dinosaurs, but fail to put on the jacket the right way round or to run over the soft floor mat for psychomotor skills. This asynchrony can lead to considerable irritation for educators and parents, but possibly also for the child himself. How should a child understand, for example, that on the one hand it can develop very sophisticated and differentiated ideas about what exactly should be seen in its picture , but is not able to do this with motor skills. Are the resulting anger or the attempt to harness adults for one's own purposes not understandable reactions from a child's point of view?

Perceiving and promoting gifted children

In the context of inclusion, it must be increasingly expected that the developmental ages of the children in a children's group are very far apart. With regard to the educational support of all children, this poses great challenges for the educators. Children with disabilities depend on the environment to adapt to their possibilities. In order for their participation to succeed, they depend on diverse support in everyday life.

Children with high cognitive potential, on the other hand, are more able to adapt to their surroundings; they are very independent in many areas. In the worst case, however, their adaptability can lead to their special potential being barely noticed. Their needs may be neglected next to the daily necessary and urgent demands that are placed on educators.

Receiving too little recognition and / or not having sufficient developmental incentives can (as with all children) lead to behavior peculiarities. In spite of the diverse tasks that educators have to cope with in everyday life, it should be noted that, purely statistically, there are 2 children with a high cognitive gift for every 100 children. Such a talent must therefore be included in the pedagogical considerations and planning. Inclusion must not end with an IQ near the mean.

Special methods of promoting the development goals

The development goals for children with giftedness do not differ in any way from the goals for other children. In educational work with cognitively gifted children, the most important principle is that they are first and foremost children! They have the same needs as all other children: They need reliable caregivers, developmental incentives that are appropriate to their developmental age, and recognition and the secure feeling that they are an important member of the social reference group. While development goals are the same for all children, the ways to achieve them may differ significantly. When choosing the methods, for example, quick comprehension, a possibly existing tendency to perfection, a special creativity or a specially developed, perhaps non-child-like interest must be taken into account.

Expressions and behaviors by children with special cognitive potential are not necessarily simply impressive, they can just as easily cause irritation and incomprehension in the other person, as the following two examples should demonstrate:

  • Example 1: Martin (2 years, 9 months) says to his mother: "Anna said that Birte would have said that when I was three years old I could go to kindergarten" (cf. Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Science and Equality of the State of Schleswig Holstein). Being able to deal with the grammatically complex structures of language with such confidence at the age of 2 already fulfills a diagnostic criterion for giftedness. At the same time, this form of expression can be problematic in everyday situations, the child may appear precocious, children of the same age may not be able to follow him at all, perhaps the child even tends to improve other children and adults in the case of grammatical inaccuracies. BUT: Choosing a language level that is adapted to the situation is still clearly overwhelming for a 2-year-old child. Like all other children, it proudly uses its newly acquired skills - always!
  • Example 2: Luke, 4.7 years old, is asked to paint a Christmas picture for his parents. He withdraws in order to be able to work on it in peace. After some time he proudly comes back with the product shown in Fig. 1 (here only a small section of the overall picture, a total of four different Christmas carols were processed in the same way). The product in no way corresponds to the usual expectations of a Christmas picture, but how should Lukas know what is meant by a Christmas picture? He did the best that he could think of, he "painted" a Christmas carol with a notation that he had designed himself and that was completely correct. How would you react if a child suddenly appeared next to you with this "painting"? Could Lukas notice your irritation? Could you spontaneously look at the picture with appreciation? Children with high cognitive potential often have a very precise power of observation and Lukas may have deduced from an initially slightly irritated reaction of the teacher that "something is wrong" with his picture. As a result, he could decide to adapt in order not to fall further “out of the ordinary”. »The child is exposed to social forces that cause behavior to change towards the group average. The change is not limited to social behavior, but can also be observed in relation to creative and intellectual behavior «(Fatouros 1986 quoted from Urban 1990). It is obvious that this adjustment is unfavorable for the overall development of a child. In this respect, it is necessary to recognize the children at an early stage and regularly offer them the opportunity to show their potential. Like all children, they are proud of what they have learned, what they can do and would like to share it with adults and other children!

Fig. 1: Lukas painted this Christmas picture. The teachers were amazed.

Educational support for cognitively gifted children - tips for practice

In the educational support of particularly cognitively gifted children, some basic aspects have proven to be helpful:

  • The children need stimulating and challenging materials (books, games, handicraft material ...) (cf. Thurmann / Dreger 2018), which correspond to their respective (special) interests and which may have to be purchased specifically for individual children.
  • The children need recognition for their potentially extraordinary abilities. For example, a 5-year-old child who can already read well can be given the opportunity to read something to a group or individual.
  • The children need free space in which they can pursue their inclinations and interests undisturbed, general rules may have to be relaxed so that the child can, for example, stay alone in the group room and does not have to go outside with them.
  • In the context of projects, challenging special tasks can enable differentiation “upwards”.
  • "Driving licenses" that legitimize special rights have proven particularly useful. For example, a driver's license for using a PC could be introduced so that the children can acquire knowledge on their own. Every child should get such a driver's license, but not all children are interested in it at all.
  • All children have to learn that interests and skills are distributed differently and that no one is devalued. Neither for something he can nor for something he cannot.
  • In some games, the rules of the game can be changed so that they can be played at the same time with different degrees of difficulty (there is a similar situation when playing golf with so-called "handicaps").

School preparation: Educators can stimulate important learning processes

Due to their developmental lead, cognitively gifted children often orientate themselves towards older children. In the last year of kindergarten it becomes difficult to find play partners who are interested in the challenging play structures. As a result, it can happen that the children go to kindergarten only under protest or are even de-registered by their parents. No good solution! But what else can children with special cognitive potential learn in terms of a successful start to school in kindergarten? The children have already mastered many of the skills that are taught in the first year of school. Many can read fluently, they may calculate with large numbers and are able to quickly grasp complex relationships. Which preparatory learning steps can take place in kindergarten?

  • They should develop strategies on how to deal with their talent, when, for example, they can use their potential unchecked, but in which situations it is also necessary to withdraw.
  • They can learn to perceive their need for more stimulation and challenge and then to formulate this appropriately.
  • You can learn to look for challenges independently.
  • You can learn in which situations it is necessary to still perform tasks that seem pointless to you.
  • You can learn to develop strategies for dealing with boredom.
  • You can learn not to devalue other children who take longer to understand or who need more practice and repetition.

Well-trained educators are available to the children in kindergarten for these learning processes; the pedagogical supervision key is significantly more favorable than it will be later in school. In this respect, the school preparation of gifted children will differ from that of the other children.

At the same time, for many children with special cognitive skills, the question arises whether early school enrollment is advisable. No general answer can be given here, but rather the individual situation of the child must be looked at, perhaps in cooperation with the appropriate experts.


The accompaniment of gifted children and their preparation for school and life is an educational challenge that repeatedly requires individual solutions, which are rarely boring and which, due to the special creativity of the children, are sometimes exhausting, but just as inspiring and is experienced enriching. Recognizing the normality of diversity, also with regard to cognitive potential, is an enrichment from which everyone can benefit.


Dreger, B./Thurmann, B. (2017): What it's like to be gifted. In: Kindergarten heute 11 / 12–2017, p. 24.

Dreger, B./Thurmann, B. (2018): Working aids for the promotion of gifted children. In: kindergarten today 01/2018. Pp. 14-15.

Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Science and Equality of the State of Schleswig Holstein (Ed.): Recognize, Understand and Accompany. Cognitively gifted children in daycare.

Rohrmann, S./Rohrmann, T. (2017): Gifted children in daycare. Stuttgart, Kohlhammer.

Urban, K. (1990): Particularly Gifted Pre-School Children. Heidelberg.