Your Child Has Been Identified as Gifted

8 questions to consider when thinking about a self-contained gifted program

Posted Jun 06, 2020

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Every child has a distinct profile of personality, strengths, and challenges, and these change over time. The more exceptional your child’s learning needs, the more difficult it can be to find a good educational fit, and that is as true for giftedness as it is for other exceptionalities. If your child has been identified as gifted, here are some questions to ask before deciding whether to enroll them in a segregated gifted program.

1.  How is your child doing in the regular program? Are they intellectually challenged and learning? Do they have friends they enjoy spending time with? If they’re thriving now—and if, to the best of your knowledge, you anticipate that will probably continue—then that’s a strong reason to keep them where they are. If you’re concerned about any of these things, you might find the gifted program a better match for their abilities, as well as classmates whose interests they’re more likely to share.

2.  How does your child respond to challenge? A gifted program usually means moving from top of the class to the middle or below in at least some subject areas. Every gifted program has kids at the bottom who were top of the class before. Some kids thrive on a ramped-up challenge, and others wilt.

3.  What is the nature of the gifted program? Some gifted programs provide the regular curriculum, with extra critical or creative thinking. Some provide the regular program, with extra field trips or other enrichments. Some work to provide the best learning match for each participant, giving advanced and enriched math instruction, for example, to the kids who need that, and advanced and enriched language experiences for the students who need that. In some jurisdictions, the gifted program is offered only to those kids who are identified as gifted, but also have other learning needs. Finally, some programs offer little by way of educational enrichment other than a more intellectually capable peer group. Unless you see a good match between your child and the gifted program on offer, that’s a strong point in favor of keeping them where they are.

4.  Are there other options that might be a better fit for your child than a full-time gifted program? Is the principal at your child’s home school willing to consider other learning options? For example, if your child has an area of exceptional strength and interest—science, a second language, math, whatever—an online or extracurricular program or activity could provide them with the challenge they need, and allow them to stay in their home school. Would your child be a good candidate for acceleration, either in one or more subjects, or skipping one or more grades? Gifted programs can work well for some kids, but they don’t always provide the best learning match for an individual child.

5.  Where is the gifted program? Will your child have to change schools? Will the commute be cumbersome in your daily schedule or theirs? Will it complicate family life to have your kids at different schools? Practical details like this can make a big difference in people’s lives, and should be considered carefully. Sometimes kids change schools to get the program their parents or teachers want for them, but then discover they have no time for the extracurricular activities they enjoy, or have to wake up painfully early in order to catch a bus.

6.  Do you think the gifted program would suit your child socially? This isn’t always easy to assess, but is also worth thinking about. Some school districts identify for gifted programming mostly kids who don’t fit in well to the regular classroom, which can be great if there’s a good fit between a given child and that situation. It could be problematic for your child, though, if they’re socially adept and most of the other kids are awkward, difficult, or troubled.

7.  What does your child’s school recommend? Your child’s teacher and principal will have some ideas about your child’s learning strengths and challenges, as well as about the local gifted program. What do they think about the nature of the fit? Do they see your child as needing the program, or as likely to benefit from it? Or do they have ideas about how the current school might make changes to accommodate your child’s gifted learning needs?

8. What does your child think? Your child's perspective on this may be colored by a fear of change, or a desire to stay with friends at their current school, but they may have some good perspectives to add to your consideration. They shouldn't make the final decision, but it's important to consider their opinion.

It’s a tough decision you’re facing, and there’s no one answer that works for all kids in all situations. Some gifted programs provide the best learning match—the intellectual challenge and peer group that re-energize kids’ flagging enthusiasm for learning. Many smart kids do best, however, when they stay in their neighborhood school, and the teacher or principal or parent finds ways to adapt the curriculum and other learning avenues to match the child’s individual learning needs.

For more on this topic, see Being Smart about Gifted Education, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster