Helping Your Highly Gifted Child (page 3)

— Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010


Because highly gifted children may begin school already knowing much of the material covered in early grades and because they learn quickly, some type of acceleration is necessary. For some children and in some situations, grade skipping is the best choice. Placing a child with older children who share interests may be socially and intellectually beneficial and result in a more appropriate curriculum. It is also a simple and economical solution for the school. Some children begin school early; others skip several early grades; others skip whole educational levels, such as junior high or even high school. Skipping a single year is seldom helpful, because the difference between one grade level and the next is too small. Grade skipping is not without problems, but allowing highly gifted children to stay in a class that meets few if any of their needs may do serious and long-term damage.

Another type of acceleration is subject matter acceleration. A child may take math with a class four grades ahead, reading with a class two grades ahead, physical education with age peers. This type of acceleration considers the varying developmental ages of the highly gifted child. For further flexibility, you might consider evening classes or weekend classes at a high school or college and ask the school to excuse coverage of those subjects in regular classes. A child might go to school with age mates only in the morning or only in the afternoon. This method calls for school and parental flexibility and may lead to logistical problems such as scheduling and transportation, but is often more satisfactory than grade skipping because the child associates at least part of the time with age peers.

When the School Will Not Change

When parents approach teachers and administrators with information and documentation, in a spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation, offering suggestions and help instead of attacking, some positive changes in normal methods usually result. Sometimes, however, schools refuse to make changes for one child. When this happens, parents have few choices. One is to move to a school system that will make changes. Another is home schooling.

For many highly gifted children home schooling is a nearly ideal solution to the problem of fit. Instead of laboriously altering ready-made programs, parents can tailor an education precisely to the child's needs. Clubs, sports, scouting, and other activities supply social interaction with other children while parents serve as teachers or facilitators or engage tutors or mentors in various subject areas.

Home schooling is seldom an easy choice. In some districts it is either illegal or beset with regulations that make it almost as rigid as classroom schooling. When both parents or the single resident parent must work, it may be impossible. Some parents and children find the level of togetherness stifling, while others cannot avoid pushing and demanding too much. However, home schooling may be a positive choice for many families. Many children move surprisingly smoothly from home schooling in the early years into high school or college when their intellectual needs outgrow the home environment. One of the major benefits to education at home is the maintenance of self- esteem, which is highly problematic in a school environment.

Social/Emotional Needs

In the movie E.T. there was something heartrending in the small alien's attempts to "phone home," in his constant longing for others of his kind despite the loving concern of the family who cared for him. Highly gifted children endure some of that same pain. It is hard for them to find kindred spirits, hard for them to feel they fit into the only world they know.

Highly gifted children may have trouble establishing fulfilling friendships with people of their own age when there are few or no other highly gifted children with whom to interact. As a high school student told his mother, "I can be that part of myself that is like my classmates, and we get along fine. But, there's no one I can share the rest of me with, no one who understands what means the most to me." For most highly gifted children, social relationships with age peers necessitate a constant monitoring of thoughts, words, and behavior.

One of the greatest benefits of the talent searches proliferating in colleges across the country is the chance for highly gifted children to spend time with others like themselves. For 3 weeks in the summer, children who qualify (by scoring high enough on the SAT or ACT in the seventh grade or earlier) attend class on a college campus with other highly gifted children. Rather than feeling like oddballs, they suddenly feel normal. Lifelong friendships may form in a matter of days. Many summer program participants consider the social interaction as valuable as the classes.

What else can you do to help highly gifted children find friends? It helps children to understand that there are different types of friends. They may play baseball, ride bikes, and watch TV with one person, talk about books or movies with another, and play chess or discuss astronomy with another. Some of these friends may be their own age, some may be younger, or more often, older. Only in school is it suggested that people must be within a few months of each other in age to form meaningful relationships.


Raising a highly gifted child may be ecstasy, agony and everything between. Adults must perform almost impossible feats of balance - supporting a child's gifts without pushing, valuing without overinvesting, championing without taking over. It is costly, physically and emotionally draining, and intellectually demanding. In the first flush of pride, few parents realize that their task is in many ways similar to the task faced by parents of a child with severe handicaps. Our world does not accommodate differences easily, and it matters little whether the difference is perceived to be a deficit or an overabundance.

We have covered only a few issues in this space, but the most important help you can give your highly gifted child or children can be expressed in a single sentence: Give them a safe home, a refuge where they feel love and genuine acceptance, even of their differences. As adults with a safe home in their background, they can put together lives of productivity and fulfillment.

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