by Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Coordinator, Center for Talent Development
Monday Night Games were big at CTD this winter. 6pm found a group of energized CTD staffers gathered around the conference table, immersed in games of strategy. The goal was to figure out how and why such games might impact exceptionally bright third grade students.
CTD staff combine work with play as they experience the challenge of strategy games during one of several Game Nights.
Strategy games will be introduced this summer through the CTD Leapfrog program. Leapfrog is for children age 4 though grade 3 who demonstrate strong math or verbal ability.
Talent Talk recently sat down with Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Coordinator at CTD. She described the approach to developing the strategy games course and offered some overall guidelines on selecting summer learning activities for young gifted students.
Explain the approach to Leapfrog course development, using the new strategy games offering as an example.
ANN: There are differences between the traditional American board games many of us grew up playing, such as Monopoly, and what’s known as “Euro-style” games, such as Settlers of Catan. The latter tend to be more complex, with more variables.
For example, in Euro-style games players usually earn victory points based on different measures of success, such as the ability to compile resources or build a long road. We recognize that these complex game structures work well for gifted learners because the children are challenged to develop sophisticated strategies without the pressure of a “winner-take-all” type outcome.
Part of the course development process involved CTD staff members sampling the Euro-style games. Throughout the winter, on the first Monday of the month, CTD staff members were invited to a participate in “Game Night.” We ordered pizza and snacks and enjoyed playing the games together.
For me, one of the most interesting things that came out of Game Night was that we, as adults, got to experience what it feels like to learn something completely new. None of us had previous experience with the games. We had to read the instructions, experiment, ask each other questions, and go back to the rules for further clarification.
Here we were, a bunch of smart professionals, having to start from scratch to understand and remember the rules and strategies of these games. I often thought, “This must be what our Leapfrog students feel when they are truly challenged by new and difficult concepts.” Our Game Night experiences helped us think carefully and intentionally about the pace of our courses and our instructional practices.
Given your findings, what did the games course emerge as?
ANN: The course is called “Rule Your World: Playing and Analyzing Strategy Games.” It is an all-day course for students who have completed third grade and it will require students to use a variety of high-level math skills as they develop and test their game strategies. The games played in class will include many Euro-style games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Dominion.
The benefit to students who learn and play the games in a class, rather than on their own at home, is that the instructor will guide the students to develop, articulate, and test their game strategies in organized and reflective ways. Students will document their strategies using both words and images and this documentation will allow them to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the strategies over time, and then refine and improve their strategies.
This time of year parents of gifted students are searching for meaningful learning experiences their child can enjoy during the summer months. What should a parent look for when it comes to younger children?
ANN: One of the first considerations should be, “What subject areas or topics really interest my child?” You can often figure out what topics children find exciting by observing their play or noticing what books, games or movies are their favorites.
A child who uses her stuffed toys to set up a pretend animal hospital may be interested in learning more about veterinary medicine. A child who is eager to help you count the coins in your pocket might be interested in learning more about economics.
When parents know what topics really interest their children, they can plan for summer activities, both formal and informal, that are related to those topics.
CTD’s Leapfrog program allows young children to explore their interests in ways that are challenging, fast-paced and engaging.
Is there a prevailing philosophy for early childhood programs that serve high-ability kids?
ANN: CTD’s goal with the Leapfrog program is to develop each child’s academic strengths and talents through hands-on courses that are challenging, fast-paced, and engaging. Content is generally one or two grade levels above the standardized curriculum. Although courses are academically rigorous, it is important to incorporate some aspect of play, such as constructing architectural models out of wooden unit blocks or pretending to establish a space colony on Mars.
To challenge advanced learners we need to do more than just quicken the pace, we need to go deep, study the details, make connections, and create engaging projects together. In Leapfrog, we focus on a single topic for an entire week.
Even a PreK/Kindergarten course such as Smelly Science involves in-depth research and experimentation with real materials. We are not just flipping through a textbook! For example, the children explore the causes of smells by conducting experiments with contrasting smells and they research and discuss big questions such as, “How do smells affect the way we think and feel?”
It’s also important that the students have opportunities to collaborate with other really bright children. They work on projects with kids who are just as excited about learning as they are.
CTD’s Leapfrog summer program will be offered at 6 different locations in the Chicago area this summer. Week-long sessions are available from late June through July. Visit the CTD website for complete information.
Do you have suggestions on the types of activities that can help young, gifted learners continue to develop their cognitive, emotional and social abilities during the summer months?
Ann Gadzikowski has a MA degree from the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study of Child Development in Chicago. She has worked as a teacher and director of preschool programs. Ann is an accomplished author. Her latest book “Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children In Early Childhood Classrooms” has just been released and is currently available through RedLeaf Press.