Gifted and Talented in the Early Years: Practical Activities for Children Aged 3 to 5

Author(s) Margaret Sutherland
Publisher Paul Chapman Educational Publishing
Published 2005
Pages 136
Price £17.99
ISBN 9781412903684
Reviewed by Keith Savage
Stockport College
Review published 8 September 2008

This book is likely to divide opinion. Some of us (well, me for one) will be a bit nervous of anything which seems to sort, classify and label children at 3 (whether the label is ‘slow learner’ or ‘gifted and talented’).

That said Margaret Sutherland is at pains – in her first chapter Intelligence – what is it? – to get behind the sorts of labels likely to be encountered in describing ‘tall poppies’. In a book that is a guide for practice rather than an academic text she introduces in a fairly gentle way the ideas of Bruner (learning and culture), Gardner (multiple intelligences) and Dweck (incremental approaches to intelligence).

Margaret is properly cautious about any stereotypes that might abound that describe the talented and gifted in a way that includes white, middle-class, smartly-dressed, musical children but excludes the scruffy, snotty, boisterous or those with English as an additional language. The risk with practical books such as this, however, is that users go straight to the practice and skim or ignore the contextual theory – which is seen as redundant.

Margaret clearly is of the view that our ‘intelligence’ can be stretched given the right sort of challenges and most of the rest of the book is given over to describing how suitably interesting challenges can be devised and presented, linked to the sort of experiences children encounter in nurseries, playgroups and the home. For my part I’d have been happier if the emphasis was on stretching all children rather than just those for whom claims of giftedness are made (all too often by parents pushing for their child to get ahead of the pack regardless of the social and emotional wellbeing of the child).

Margaret’s insistence on assessment and planning which start from what the children know, understand and can do, does – to some extent - anticipate the change of emphasis in the English Early Years Foundation Stage (she works in Glasgow).

There are four chapters – physical movement, music, language and mathematics – outlining examples of activities that children may engage with and identifying ‘advanced responses’ and ways in which talented children might be further challenged. These practical ideas will no doubt be valued.

The book has many lists, bullet points, tables, assessment sheets and recording forms – which some practitioners will happily ‘borrow’ for their own workplace. As a reader I found that this broke the text up rather too much and made it more difficult to follow the argument. That may say as much about me and my way of working as it does about this book.

Gifted and talented in the early years is in its third reprint so clearly there is an audience for it. Let’s hope this resource is handled with due care and sensitivity - as the author plainly intends.