What kind of school is best for gifted kids? Public or private?

Question: What kind of school is best for gifted kids? Public or private?

From the time my son was a toddler, he showed signs of being gifted. He is now four years old and will be starting school next year. Will he be challenged in our public school or should I look for a private school?

Answer:

Whether a school is public or private really doesn't matter. What is important is whether the school and its teachers are willing to accommodate the needs of gifted children.

To determine if the school is a good fit for your gifted child, you will want to check it out, but you need to know what to look for in a good gifted program. For example, a good gifted program will have multiple options for the gifted, will be flexible in meeting students' needs, and will provide a challenging curriculum.

Some private schools do an excellent job of meeting the needs of gifted children, while others don't. Many public schools do not do a good job of meeting the needs of gifted children, but others do an excellent job. However, individual teachers also matter a great deal. An excellent school may have a teacher who does not work well with gifted children. On the other hand, a public school may have a teacher who both challenges gifted children and champions their cause. Consequently, you'll want to find out what you can about the various teachers at the schools you are considering and the likelihood that your child will get each one of them.

Why a Good Program is Important

Gifted children need a challenging curriculum. Without it, they can develop problems - even if they are getting straight A's. One of the problems they can develop is the inability to meet and overcome a challenge. When work is too easy, a gifted child does not need to put forth much effort.

And when he doesn't have to put forth effort to succeed, he doesn't learn the value of effort, and doesn't even know what to do when effort is required. He'll be more likely to just get frustrated and give up. When children give up, they can become underachievers, performing far below their ability. Giving up relieves them of the anxiety they feel when they are unable to meet a challenge.

Gifted children also need to be with other children who are like them and who share their interests. A good program provides some opportunities for gifted children to spend time together. Without those opportunities, gifted children can feel like misfits; they can feel isolated and alone, and can also begin to think there is something wrong with them.

A good gifted program will have counseling available for the children. Gifted children are frequently the victims of teasing and bullying. While they aren't the only children who can get teased and bullied, their emotional sensitivity can make it more difficult for them to cope.

Even if they are neither teased nor bullied, gifted children may need help coping with their feelings, particularly if they are highly emotionally sensitive.

Why Good Teachers Make a Difference

Teachers who are trained to work with gifted children and truly understand them can make a big difference to gifted children. Even teachers who don't have any training on meeting the needs of gifted children can make a difference if they accept that different children have different needs.

Some teachers see each child as an individual and seek to provide challenging experiences for every child in her classroom. This kind of teacher can be found in any school - private or public. This kind of teacher never tries to hold a gifted child back and is often the first one to notice that a child is advanced, sometimes even before the parents realize it.

Teachers who seek to provide challenging learning experiences for every one of the children in their classes are often better even that a teacher who has worked with gifted children, but still can't see individual differences. Children in classrooms taught by this kind of teacher will be challenged and supported. They will also often serve as an advocate for the children in their classroom who need more than they feel they can offer. For example, they may often recommend a grade skip and advocate, along with the parents, if the administration objects to the skip.

Closing Thoughts

When you are looking for the best school for your child, be sure to consider what each school has to offer. Don't start with the idea that a private school will be better for your gifted child. You may end up putting your child in a worse setting than what you'd find in the public school - and you'd be paying a lot more for it! Some private schools are, of course, excellent, but so are some public schools.

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