Parents of gifted kids often struggle with how to make school work for their kids. This is doubly so for parents of twice-exceptional kids or kids who are highly or profoundly gifted. Support groups for parents of challenging gifted children are full of stories of changing schools to improve things for students after advocacy efforts have failed.
Most of us, and I count myself among this number, have two very simple goals:
- to make sure our kids continue to learn and develop
- to make sure our kids are not emotionally damaged by the school environment
These are not unusual goals for parents to have for their children, but they can be hard to meet with atypical children. Educational experiences designed for a group never meet the needs of all individuals. Good teachers teach in ways that reach most kids most of the time. If kids are atypical, less of the programming works for them. If the mismatch between the kids and the program are too great, the kids suffer. At the same time, atypical kids can suffer at the hands of their peers – not having enough in common with the kids at school can lead to isolation, self-doubt, and bullying.
Like many school districts that do have programming for gifted children, our local school district identifies gifted children in grade 3, for placement in a program that begins in grade 4. The school district interprets the provincial curriculum in a way that prevents acceleration even once students have been identified as gifted. Within those limitations, the gifted program is excellent: the teachers have learned how to extend the material in ways that make the school board happy and challenge the students, and the administration has excellent tools for working handling twice-exceptional students.
But, keeping bright kids engaged in school until they get to grade 4 isn’t always easy.
Many of my friends with gifted kids have kept them in private schools with more flexible curricula (mostly Montessori) until they were identified for the public gifted program or home-schooled for a few years of early elementary school.
Canada is a bilingual country. We have two national languages: French and English. Many school districts in English-speaking Canada offer French Immersion schools. In these schools, native-English speakers learn in French.
Parents send their children to French Immersion schools for many reasons. The extra challenge of doing school in a foreign language appeals to many parents of bright students.
Language immersion works best when it starts early. This is true for all children due to the way humans learn languages. However, it is especially true for bright kids. Young kids are learning how the world works, searching for knowledge, stretching their comprehension as fast as their language develops and they have new experiences to learn from. Learning a second language requires spending time using simple language, unable to express or read as much in the second language as one can in the first.
Where we are, French Immersion starts in grade 1. My eldest was in the program for just over a year. It was not a success. Spending the entire school day focused on basic vocabulary was intensely frustrating for him. His brain was craving complex content but he could not manage the language to support that. In his few hours after school, he read books written for children 4-5 years older than his mere 6 years, but it was not enough. His frustration grew as the year went on. Early in the second year, it was clear that a new solution was in order and he changed schools twice more before the end of that year.
In September, my triplets enter grade 1 and will all be starting in French Immersion. I have no idea how it will go. They all read between 1 and 4 years above grade-level. They all enjoy complex thinking. They have all enjoyed their experiences with French in the past. If they enjoy the language learning and make friends, this school could be fantastic. If they hate the language learning and don’t make friends, it will be a disaster. The daily reality will probably be somewhere in between.
I am not expecting any two of them to have the same reaction. I am prepared for one or more of them to return to the school they were at last year if things don’t work out.
I will be watching carefully.
I don’t expect any school environment to be perfect. As long as they are learning and reasonably happy, I will be satisfied.
Kate is the founder of ImprovLiving: Improve Your Life with the Power of Improv and writes about creativity and story-telling as tools for making sense of the world at www.katearmsroberts.com.