How Educational Toys Can Stimulate the Minds of Gifted Children

Educational theorists often define intelligence as the capacity to learn new knowledge and then the ability to apply this knowledge to create new things or to deal with new situations. As Trudee Romanek puts it in Aha!: The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read about Intelligence, “intelligence is really about how well you cope in the world.” Parents definitely want their children to do well in the world, so what can they do to ensure that their children become as intelligent as possible?

Children are born with a certain potential to become intelligent. Then, as Romanek notes, “how intelligent a child actually becomes depends on how hard he or she works his or her brain!” It is in a child’s best interest, then, to challenge him or her constantly and always be exposing him or her to new learning experiences. As Romanek points out to children, “the more you do and learn, the more intelligent you’ll be.”

Some children are naturally gifted, with a potential for intelligence beyond the norm. It is especially crucial for these children to have their brains stimulated by exposure to new knowledge, challenges, and activities. Otherwise, they can become bored and unmotivated and eventually start underachieving in spite of their enormous potential to succeed.

Of course, parents of gifted children want what’s best for their children. But, as Nancy M. Robinson, Ph.D., Sally M. Reis, Ph.D., Maureen Neihart, Psy.D., and Sidney M. Moon, Ph.D. note in their article “Social and Emotional Issues Facing Gifted and Talented Students” in The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, these well-meaning parents “often feel at a loss to know how to best support their child’s development. They want help…in widening and deepening their children’s learning through family activities, outside tutors, or coaches.” Basically, they could use some suggestions for how to help their children learn outside a school environment.

How, then, can a parent help a gifted child in a practical way? Kenneth R. Chuska, Ph.D., suggests in Gifted Learners K-12: A Practical Guide to Effective Curriculum and Teaching that parents ask themselves, “Does our home provide a stimulating environment? Does our home provide supplemental or extended offerings that aid in the offerings of our child’s school?” After all, an environment full of appropriate and stimulating opportunities for learning is one of the most valuable things a parent can provide for any child, gifted or not. And one way this environment can be created is through the thoughtful selection and use of educational toys.

How to know which toys are best suited to develop the intelligence of a gifted child? Chuska explains that all gifted learners share some qualities, such as being self-motivated, delving more deeply into school topics than their teachers require, and wanting to apply new knowledge to concrete projects. In a nutshell, they are students who don’t just learn new knowledge, but who want to do things with this new information.

Beyond these common characteristics, however, gifted learners are usually gifted in specific areas. Chuska cites a federal government study that splits gifted learners into the:
Academically Gifted: children who do well learning new knowledge in specific content areas.
Intellectually Gifted: children who exhibit great general thinking skills, such as the abilities to observe, hypothesize, and think about things in new ways.

Creative Thinking Giftedness: children who like to come up with original and independent solutions to creative problems.

Visual and Performing Arts Giftedness: children who have good control of their motor skills, can express themselves though art, are good at perceiving spatial relationships, and who like to produce their own creations instead of copying what others do.

Psychomotor Gifted: children who possess stellar physical coordination and excel at athletic endeavors.

Parents of gifted children, therefore, will want to pick toys geared toward stimulating and challenging their children in the areas in which these children are gifted:

An academically gifted child would enjoy games that help him or her practice memory skills, learn new facts and information about the world, or use his or her specific knowledge in the area in which he or she is gifted. For example, a child who is academically gifted in language will enjoy games that allow him or her to play with letters and words, such as the Word Spin games.
An intellectually gifted child might enjoy using thinking skills to figure out ways to assemble geometric shapes like Foxmind’s Cliko, or using science kits and science process skills to study and draw conclusions about things in nature.

A child exhibiting creative thinking giftedness will love the open-endedness of a set of building blocks, playing word games like Apples to Apples, and logic games that require players to solve problems.
A child exhibiting visual and performing arts giftedness should be provided with toys according to his or her particular area of interest. For example, if his or her interest is in visual arts, he or she should be given clay, origami paper, paint, and other art supplies. If it is performing arts, he or she should be provided with role-play toys like figurines, play sets, costumes, and other props for imaginative play.

A psychomotor gifted child should be given athletic equipment and other toys for physically active play.

Along with keeping the above in mind, parents should take some general issues into account. Even though a child is mentally gifted beyond his or her years, he or she is still a child and any toys given him or her should contain only age-appropriate content and be safe for a child of his or her age to handle.

Parents should also take into account a child’s learning style. Kinesthetic learners learn new things best by doing them in a “hands-on” approach. Auditory learners master new information best by hearing or reading it. Visual learners do well by being presented new information in visual form, through pictures or actions.

With a little knowledge and care, parents can help any child, gifted or not, develop his or her intelligence to the best it can be. What will ultimately help any child the most is knowing that his or her parents care enough to create an interesting and stimulating play environment that is tailored to his or her growing and changing intellectual needs.