By Ellen Booth Church
Q: Our daughter is almost 3. She knows all the letters of the alphabet, all of her colors, can count to 10 and add and subtract numbers up to 10. Her vocabulary is pretty advanced. She is also starting to read. I've been told I should put her into gifted classes. I feel she is smart, but am leery of pushing her. What do you think? I sometimes find it hard to keep up with her — it seems she does require constant input. Is this typical?

A: Giftedness is a multidimensional definition of a child's ability to learn and interact with others. There are many aspects to consider when looking at your child's abilities and interests. The question to ask yourself might be: Is my child bright or gifted? It is not unusual for some 3-year-olds to be able to name colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. Some can count and even begin to read at the age of 3. Bright children tend to get all the right answers and learn content and skills easily but might be socially at the same level as others in the class. Gifted children have advanced intellectual skills as well as differences in their interactions with others. They usually prefer to spend time with adults or older children.

The goal is always to look at the whole child. In early childhood education we look at the child's social, physical, creative, emotional skills as well as her intellectual ones. This viewpoint allows us to see how a child will react in a particular setting not just based on her intellectual abilities. School is much more than intellectual learning.

A gifted preschooler (ages 2 to 5) may show the following characteristics:

• Advanced vocabulary for age; uses humor in general conversation.
• Makes interesting or unusual shapes or patterns with various media: blocks, modeling clay, crayons.
• Understanding of abstract concepts such as death and time.
• Mastery of new skills with little repetition.
• Advanced physical skills.
• Advanced reasoning skills.

I agree with your feeling of not wanting to push your child at this young age. There are so many years of school ahead for her. Why not enjoy them without pressure? She is clearly bright and she very well might be gifted, but this can be more easily defined as she gets older. She may enjoy being in a regular class and excelling, at least for another year or two. Later, she could move to a gifted class if necessary. One key issue to watch for is boredom. If she appears to be bored, not just intellectually but also socially, in her current class, then a new setting with similar children might be a good choice.