Educating the gifted child

We have worked with many families whose children have a high level of intelligence and are thus particularly gifted.  Hopefully, the guidance below will benefit you if you are seeking to educate your extremely bright child. 

Challenging Learning Experiences

Educating the gifted child often requires providing challenging learning experiences.  A gifted child may be defined as one who has particular academic abilities and who consistently understands academic subjects or topics more quickly than their peers. 

Gifted children develop academically faster than they do physically, emotionally, or socially and may find they simply don’t fit in with their peers.  This can be a challenge for the child, their parents, and teachers who may believe that conforming with their peers is the most important thing in a learning environment. 

Exhibiting Frustration and Boredom

The challenges faced by the gifted child can often lead to the child displaying their frustration and boredom through an array of seemingly undesirable behaviour.  It is crucial that reasons behind any perceived behavioural issues are fully investigated so that a gifted child’s academic abilities are not missed.

Schools’ policies on managing the education of gifted children

Some schools and parents will opt for defining a gifted child as ‘more able’ or ‘high ability’ in the hope this will seem more inclusive.  Regardless of the term used, all schools should have a written policy on how they manage the education of gifted children. This policy should have the involvement and support of everyone involved in creating the school’s academic policies.  The policy should be available on request and, importantly, have a section on identifying a gifted child, how to challenge and stretch their skills and how their overall education will be managed. 

Schools should have a dedicated member of staff whose job it is to ensure the policy is effectively in place. This co-ordinator will seek to encourage best practice within the school and may choose to introduce a special programme to enhance the education of the gifted child.

How will I know whether my child is gifted or talented?

They may have a photographic memory and will use this to apply what they have learnt in their studies.  The child will have begun to read and talk early; they will have an expansive vocabulary.  A gifted child will be curious and able to concentrate for a long time on things they are interested in.  Conversely, they will become bored when the subject is not stimulating them and may find it hard to sit still.  They may be a perfectionist with high standards.  The child will often enjoy problem-solving, reaching a conclusion before their peers, by making rapid jumps in their thinking. A talented child may show particular abilities in creative arts or sports, compared to a gifted child who will show their particular abilities academically.

The gifted child may have ‘big’ feelings or opinions and a sense of humour that not everyone around them will understand.  The child may have an unusual and vivid imagination.  Teachers, parents and peers should be acutely aware of their interactions with the gifted child as self-confidence is easily undermined and can lead to the child becoming withdrawn.  It is of the utmost importance that high-level abilities are recognised and encouraged early on. 

How should the education of younger gifted children be managed? 

At toddler groups or pre-school, staff may not have the skills to recognise the traits of younger gifted children.  Parents should request meetings with staff to discuss their child’s developing academic processes.  These meetings can be helpful to ensure additional stimulation can be introduced to stretch the child’s skills.

In all age groups, it is unusual for the identification of gifted children to uniquely take the form of IQ tests; there will also be other evidence from teachers and parents.  Parents are the best advocates for their children and may be the first to notice when academic skills are developing earlier than those of their child’s peers.  Parents may choose to arrange a private assessment, particularly if they are aware of behaviours that may also be indicators of a gifted child. After receiving the results of a private assessment, parents should liaise with the school and agree an educational plan for their child.  If a school is unwilling or unable to assist with a formal plan then parents may use the assessment to decide the best way forward in educating the gifted child.

Is there a difference between a gifted child and one with special educational needs?

Educating the gifted child differs to teaching special educational needs (SEN) as the two categories are not legally the same.  Additional resources are often available for a child who may have special educational needs, whereas meeting a gifted child’s needs will be dependent on parents working together with the school to provide support. It is possible that a gifted child may also have special educational needs.

What problems may a gifted child face?

They will have thought processes different to their peers and a slower development of social and emotional skills may make social relationships awkward – they may find it difficult to make friends.  Being successful academically is not the equivalent of being popular; bullying can occur.  Educating a gifted child will mean ensuring they are given a variety of tasks to keep them stimulated, rather than simply asking them to do more of the same.  The child will often work quickly and become bored when a task is completed – teachers must be aware of this and be on hand to provide additional extensions of tasks. 

As well as having policies and a dedicated member of staff, the teachers actually educating the gifted child must be trained and have an acute awareness of the required environment for them.  Without this, the child may revert to previous undesirable behaviour which may disrupt their class and their own learning. 

What other positive challenges can be provided when educating the gifted child? 

Parents may wish to consider additional activities such as after-school, weekend or holiday clubs. Providing this in a setting with other children of differing ages can aid a child’s development of social and emotional skills. 

Primary School teachers are often adept at planning additional extensions of a task and certain activities may be offered in conjunction with other staff or classes with older children.  This is not to say that educating a gifted child alongside older children is always the best solution, although this will depend on the child.  Older children may ostracise a younger child from peer groups as the child is unlikely to have the social skills to integrate fully.  Secondary schools, in particular, may be unwilling to offer a child a place in a higher year group, regardless of ability, although will be equally well-placed to offer extension tasks, depending on resources. 

In educating the gifted child, it is paramount that abilities are recognised and encouraged by parents and teachers alike, to ensure a challenging learning experience both in a formal education setting and at home.

Please contact us for recommendations on the best schools for your gifted child.