I’m going to take a leap and guess that most parents of gifted children feel the need to get them into a program sooner than later. At three, I welcomed the break of constantly feeding him information and started hunting for a pre-school. Do you know how many pre-school programs there are? It’s pretty much an overwhelming chore to sort through the many types. You can choose from: a structured curriculum, focus on the arts, Montessori, free range, you name it, it's out there. It was safe to say that B had down the skills needed to test out of pre-school, if there was such a thing. There were other needs to consider. At the time he was an only child and had some social issues. I was also sure that he had ADHD because the boy couldn’t even sit to eat a hot dog. We decided on a more structured program with services available, if needed. Our local school district met our needs and he enjoyed two years there.
Let me share with you some of the things I have learned about choosing a school for your gifted child.
1) Don’t bother looking at the curriculum. Your head might explode. Depending on how gifted your child is, chances are they completed the “basics” in the curriculum 1-2 years prior. Instead focus on special units they will explore. Most programs will have special units on nature, science, or arts.
2) Don’t assume that your child will NOT learn even if they are going over the alphabet. Find out how the basics are taught. Some teachers do a better job of manipulating information into interesting ways. Though my son could do math pretty well, he often enjoyed some of the manipulative math and number games introduced in class.
3) Do find out if a program “clusters” groups of kids based on ability. I have noticed that if there is at least one or two other kids in the class with similar abilities it allows the teacher to spend some energy at their level. If your child is the only one, then they might not be given as much attention because their needs are not as urgent as a child who is struggling (not true, but that’s another post).
4) Find out if the school has gifted or advanced programs set up. If so, ask for an overview of them. You may be surprised that some states have a gifted education mandated. How the program works is also important. Some programs might be integrated into the classroom. Sometimes the kids are pulled out during certain subjects. Other times your child will be placed in a class with gifted children.
5) Find out how your child qualifies to take advantage of services available. Parents have gone to get private testing done just to find out that the findings will not be accepted by the school. Some schools will do their own upon request. Sometimes a school will give you a list of professionals they will accept testing from. It’s great to hear that a school has a gifted program, but if you don’t know how your kid can qualify, it doesn’t mean a hill of beans. Just because your child is gifted does not mean they will test into a particular program.
6) Does the school allow teachers to stray from or expand on curriculum? This is often referred as “differentiation.” Some schools are rigid on keeping to the standard curriculum. Some teachers are better staying to the curriculum. For a gifted child you need to find the right balance of what a school will allow a teacher to do and a teacher that easily and readily manipulates and expands subjects.
This is just a few things to consider. Do we want our gifted children to learn, expand, and live life fully enriched? Well, of course. Is every school year going to do this for your child? Maybe not. One thing that is important to me is the opportunity for B to help others. It’s going to be a given that in any particular school year he will be one of the brightest. I always encourage him to help others and to be a leader in learning and teaching. I want him to contribute to society even at this age. What good is being in the top 2% if he never reaches out to the other 98%?