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Gifted curriculum alternatives

How language immersion, IB, AP, and Montessori programs work for gifted kids

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Some students with advanced learning abilities are best suited to a gifted school or program. Others are better off in a regularclassroom, one where the gifted curriculum is tailored to their unique learning needs.


These aren't the only options, though. Sometimes gifted students are best served in alternative learning environments. Certain alternative curricula are associated with gifted education, including language immersion, the IB Programme, AP courses, and Montessori schools (which are unique in that they have mixed-age classrooms).

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It’s a good idea to look into these alternative options for your gifted child. While each of them has benefits for gifted children, they also have some potential drawbacks.
 

Read our advice guide on choosing a school for a gifted child and for kids with other traits. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account.

Language immersion programs

A language immersion program offers a dual-track curriculum where students learn to speak two or more languages. In language immersion programs, most or all subjects are taught in the second language, beginning as early as preschool and continuing to the end of high school. For example, in Toronto, children can enrol in a French immersion program beginning in kindergarten.

Language immersion programs can enrich a student’s education. Learning some or all one’s subjects in a second language provides the right kind of challenge for many students, including some gifted students. It can keep gifted students interested in school, while also enabling them to develop another skill: fluency in a second language.

On the other hand, language immersion programs aren’t always the right choice for gifted students. As Matthews and Foster point out, for children whose main strengths are reasoning and the ability to master complex concepts, it can be years before their competency in a second language is strong enough to support their advanced learning abilities. Until students achieve enough competency in the second language, they’ll struggle to have high-level, meaningful discussions with teachers and peers. For the first few years, then, these programs can be frustrating for some gifted learners.

Gifted students typically prefer high-level instruction. But when most or all one’s subjects are taught in a foreign language, the level of sophistication is usually much lower for core subjects than would otherwise be the case (in the early years, especially). For many gifted students, Matthews and Foster claim, the best option is to separate second-language instruction from core instruction, at least until second-language proficiency improves. This is particularly true for students who lack a strong interest in second languages.

International Baccalaureate programs

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a program offered in many elementary, middle, and high schools. In high school, it offers a wide-ranging curriculum, where students enrol in six subject areas and fulfill a variety of community service and extracurricular requirements. Students also write an extended essay or dissertation at this level.

IB curricula tend to be more challenging than regular high school curricula. Upon successful completion of the program, students are awarded credits which can be transferred to first-year university. Because the curriculum is so rigorous, IB programs often attract highly motivated and intelligent students with strong academic track records. Thus the IB diploma is highly regarded by universities around the world.

The IB program can be a good option for gifted students: it offers them a demanding education.

Many gifted students enrol in IB programs, and some do so at an earlier age than their peers to accelerate their studies even further. The IB can indeed be a good option for some gifted students: it offers them a more demanding education.

On the other hand, IB programs are likely not a good option for students who resist a traditional curriculum. Since most IB programs follow standard course syllabi and use standard evaluation schemes, they leave little room for the level of flexibility some gifted students want. Students who tend to “march to the beat of their own drums” are thus usually not a good fit.

For similar reasons, many gifted students who want to explore non-core subjects that interest them, pursue independent projects, or follow their passions, find that the strict curriculum of IB programs is not for them. Moreover, research indicates that some IB courses, especially in math and science, aim more for breadth than depth, and may not be rigorous enough for some gifted students.

That said, this is mostly only true of the high school IB program. In the primary and elementary programs, there tends to be far more curricular flexibility. While certain topics do need to be covered in these programs, there’s lots of variation in how they’re covered. Even gifted students who resist a traditional curriculum, then, may be a good fit for primary and middle school IB Programmes.

Advanced Placement courses

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are university-level courses offered by some high schools in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. By taking an AP course, students can both earn a university credit and help prepare for the advanced level of university. Many gifted students enrol in AP courses late in high school, and some enrol in them earlier to accelerate their studies.

AP courses are more challenging than typical high school courses. Moreover, since AP courses mainly contain highly motivated and intelligent students, they can be very stimulating. Often, they provide the right kind of challenge for gifted students, one that meets a wide range of their learning needs.

On the other hand, AP courses likely aren’t a good option for those who lack a strong work ethic, self-confidence, or intrinsic motivation. They’re also not a great option for those who aren’t high achievers. Finally, they tend to be a poor fit for “unconventional” students who resist a traditional curriculum, whether these students are gifted or not. AP courses follow a standard curriculum, taught at a prescribed pace, with strict standards of evaluation. They thus leave little room for flexibility on the part of teachers.

That said, there’s much variance among and within schools in the way AP courses are taught. Some teachers have the ability to modify teaching to meet the learning needs of gifted students. Other teachers lack the expertise to make the necessary adjustments to enable some gifted students to realize their full potential in an AP classroom.

Montessori schools

There’s lots of variation among Montessori schools in terms of specific policies and practices. While many of these schools provide an ideal learning environment for gifted students, some don’t. Below, we outline the main benefits and drawbacks of a Montessori education for gifted students.

Benefits

Drawbacks

  • Most Montessori schools offer mixed-age classrooms, with toddler classes from birth to age 3, primary classes for ages 3–6, elementary classes for ages 6–9 and 10–12, as well as middle and high schools. This environment offers gifted students the opportunity to work with and learn from older classmates, which research has shown to be highly beneficial.
     
  • Montessori schools provide a good environment for gifted children to accelerate their studies. They give kids lots of leeway to determine the focus and pace of their learning. They can often move quickly through their work in this setting, allowing them to stay engaged and stave off boredom.
     
  • Montessori preschools (from birth to age six) can be an especially good option for many young gifted children. They tend to be more academic oriented than traditional preschools. Also, their focus on concrete learning over imaginative play helps to hone the reasoning and problem-solving abilities of young kids. In fact, they have a reputation for churning out “little engineers.”
  • Gifted children who need external standards of evaluation often aren’t a good fit, since most Montessori schools don’t have tests or assignments that are graded. On the other hand, Montessori schools can be a great fit for gifted children who are intrinsically motivated and enjoy learning for its own sake.
     
  • Some Montessori schools are reluctant to move kids too quickly through the curriculum, or to move them to a higher age-level class. These particular schools may be a poor fit for some gifted students—especially those who are highly gifted (who are higher than the 98th percentile in terms of learning abilities).
     
  • Most Montessori schools restrict pretend play (though they nurture creativity in other ways), in favour of concrete learning. If your child is mostly gifted in the creative arts, they may find these schools less engaging than progressive, arts-focused schools.

In some ways, Montessori schools are similar to other schooling options for gifted children. If they’re willing and able to meet the learning needs of gifted kids, through special programs or adaptations, they can be a great fit. If they’re not able to do this, they’re unlikely to be a good fit. It’s thus very important to look at the specific policies and practices of any Montessori school, to see whether it’s able to meet the special learning needs of your gifted child.

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Toronto, Ontario — Prestige School offers programs from junior kindergarten to grade 12 in Toronto. Its average class size is 10 to 18 students. View School Profile.


  • Before and after-school care
  • Hot lunch program
  • 100% university placement rate
  • French instruction beginning in Junior Kindergarten
  • Dedicated faculty that draw upon best practices
Grades:
PS to 12 (Coed)
Type:
Traditional
Tuition:
$12,000 to $16,500
Living:
Day
Enrollment:
290
Avg. Class:
10 to 18
Prestige School - Toronto Campus 12000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Richmond Hill, Ontario
    Yonge Street/King Road
  • 1 to 12 Coed
  • $15,500

Academy for Gifted Children - P.A.C.E. is a private school for intellectually gifted students in Richmond Hill, Ontario, from grades 1 through 12. Tuition is $15,500.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Academy for Gifted Children - P.A.C.E. 15500 Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Vaughan, Ontario
    407/Dufferin
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $18,500 to $19,500

Balanced Academics, Arts, Athletics & Character Development. We value best practices & evidenced based approaches. University preparatory & 21st Century Tech Rich & Future Proof school. Enriched and rigorous curriculum.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
Delano Academy 18500 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Mississauga Road/Eglinton Avenue
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $12,000 to $16,000

Kendellhurst offers students an enriched curriculum with a mix of project based, traditional and arts infused curriculum, with digital displays, Macs and PC's in every room and Edwin personal devices for grades 5 to 8.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Kendellhurst Academy 12000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Oakville, Ontario
  • PS to 12 Girls
  • $19,000 to $29,280

Oakville's SMLS continues to be a premier independent school for girls Preschool to Grade 12 since 1891. "Millie" graduates take on the world with confidence and the knowledge that they can do anything.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • Reggio Emilia
St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School 19000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls
  • Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $68,900

The Gordonstoun’s broad curriculum dedicates itself to delivering to each student a world class education and personal development experiences in a caring and safe environment that instills in each student the knowledge that there is “More in you than you think.”

  • Boarding
  • Liberal Arts
  • International Baccalaureate
Gordonstoun Nova Scotia 68900 HighSchools Boarding Boarding Coed
  • Langley, British Columbia
    Glover/Logan
  • 8 to 12 Coed
  • $4,900

Whytecliff is a warm & welcoming place for teens with a diverse range of learning/personal challenges. Youth experience a high-growth environment and positive community that pulls each child up to be their very best.

  • Day/Homestay
  • Progressive
Whytecliff Agile Learning Centres 4900 HighSchools Day Homestay Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge/Eglinton
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $12,500 to $14,000

We go beyond curriculum expectations to provide opportunities for students to earn admission into their choice of university using our AP accreditation, staff expertise and individual goal setting in small classes.

  • Day/Homestay
  • Progressive
OAT - Ontario Academy of Technology 12500 HighSchools Day Homestay Coed
  • Sherbrooke, Quebec
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $26,500 to $69,000

Bishop's College School is an English boarding and day school for students in grades 7 through 12. Small in size and culturally diverse, BCS is an IB World School offering the IB DP and course certificates.

  • Day/Boarding
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
Bishop's College School 26500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Highway 417/Greenbank
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $16,628 to $18,128

Acadecap International School ( Académie de la Capitale), an IB school, offers bilingual and/or English programmes from Pre-K to Grade 12. Students thrive in a culture of academic excellence and real-life learning.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • International Baccalaureate
Académie de la Capitale 16628 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
    W 8th Ave/Laurel Street
  • 8 to 12 Coed
  • $7,800 to $19,200

We are an arts-based, hands-on, creative high school in Vancouver (grades 08 to 12) that has already established a record of excellence in getting students admitted to some of the best arts universities in North America.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Canada Royal Arts High School 7800 HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Dufferin Street/Lawrence Avenue
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $18,830 to $26,265

As a Cambridge School, we teach a curriculum that sets the global standard for education designed to help students develop an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Fieldstone School 18830 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Bracebridge, Ontario
  • 1 to 12 Coed
  • $6,400 to $35,000

Dewey’s educational goals follow the philosophies of John Dewey, preparing students through “student-centred learning" and "learning by doing", while emphasizing the cultivation of the "three New Liberal Arts".

  • Boarding/Day/eSchool
  • Traditional
Dewey Institute 6400 Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day eSchool Coed
  • Oakville, Ontario
    Lakeshore Road East/Bel Air Drive
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $9,600 to $23,000

Offering Montessori programs from Toddler to Grade 8, Dearcroft is accredited by CCMA and staffed by dedicated teachers.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Dearcroft Montessori School 9600 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Edmonton, Alberta
    Groat Road/107 Avenue
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $8,950 to $10,150

Progressive Academy's programs inspire students from preschool to grade 12 in Edmonton, Alberta. Wonderful faculty, wide range of experiential opportunities and high expectations ignite a desire to learn.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Progressive Academy 8950 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Calgary, Alberta
    Crowchild Trail/Flanders Ave
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $9,000 to $15,600

At Banbury, we teach and mentor each child individually. Students are happy and engaged in learning. We believe in small class sizes with multi-aged groups. 98% of our grads continue with post-secondary education.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Banbury Crossroads School 9000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • London, Ontario
    Richmond Street/King Street
  • 9 to 12 Girls/Coed
  • $21,200 to $26,000

A Canadian Private Secondary Boarding school, located in the heart of London, Ontario. LIA is authorized to grant the Ontario Secondary School Diploma, and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

  • Boarding
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
London International Academy 21200 HighSchools Boarding Boarding Girls Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge/Sheppard
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $15,850

Little Owl Preschool, Elementary and Middle School develops motivated, confident, and happy problem-solving individuals. We invite your child to become a Little Owl student.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Little Owl Private School 15850 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • St. Catharines, Ontario
    Edinburgh Dr/Scott Street
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $6,550 to $14,050

We provide students with opportunities to explore real-world concepts and issues, broadening their sense of responsibility, develop their critical thinking skills, and empower them to take action in a global community.

  • Day
  • Montessori
  • International Baccalaureate
Wheatley School 6550 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge Street/St. Clair Ave E
  • 1 to 8 Coed
  • $22,500

Esprit Academy is a community and environment that cultivates independence and lifelong learning through individualized experiences that integrates and connects knowledge and skills.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • Montessori
Esprit Academy 22500 Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Iris St/Woodroffe Ave
  • JK to 8 Girls
  • $16,175

In our all-girls environment, academic achievement in both official languages is the norm. A Joan of Arc Academy bilingual education prepares the women leaders for the challenges of tomorrow. Come and see the difference.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Joan of Arc Academy / Academie Jeanne d'Arc 16175 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Girls
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Eglinton Ave W/Ninth Line
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $12,740 to $15,000

Sherwood Heights School offers Enriched Academic Programmes from Kindergarten to Grade 12, in Mississauga. The Programmes are Enriched and Comprehensive, delivered with Extra Attention and Care.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Sherwood Heights School 12740 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Richmond Hill, Ontario
    Major MacKenzie Dr. W/Bathurst St.
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $12,750 to $15,750

The Prestige School offers indiviualized programs from pre-school to grade eight in Richmond Hill with an average class size of ten students. It will soon be expanding its facilities to include full-time high school.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Prestige School - Richmond Hill Campus 12750 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Queen St./Ossington Ave.
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $28,173

University of Toronto Schools (UTS) offers a transformative education to high-achieving students in Grades 7 to 12 from all backgrounds. UTS graduates take initiative and innovate as socially responsible global citizens.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
University of Toronto Schools 28173 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Stouffville, Ontario
    Ninth Line/Main Street
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $7,782 to $15,396

Toronto French Montessori offers French and English programs from pre-school to grade 8 in York Region. Its average class size is 15 students.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Toronto French Montessori 7782 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Day Coed
  • Aurora, Ontario
    St. John Sideroad/Yonge St.
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $10,900 to $18,350

Aurora Montessori offers an extensive, enriched program for day students to Grade 8 including an Outdoor Ed. Program, an option of an OSSD credit in Grade 9 Academic Math and a bridge to elite private high schools.

  • Day
  • Montessori
Aurora Montessori School 10900 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Church/Bloor
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $20,000 to $25,000

Founded in 1997, the Abelard School is a small independent school for grades 7 though 12, located in downtown Toronto. It offers small class sizes and an enriched, integrated curriculum to bright, motivated students.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
The Abelard School 20000 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • North York, Ontario
    Avenue Road/Lawrence Avenue
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $17,175 to $22,175

AVRO Academy is an alternative high school in Toronto for grades 9 to 12. Students earn credits while developing skills that best prepares them for post secondary education. We focus on student strength!

  • Day
  • Progressive
AVRO Academy 17175 HighSchools Day Coed
  • Etobicoke, Ontario
  • JK to 6 Coed
  • $12,600 to $18,900

Oak Learners offers a unique learning atmosphere, inspired by the strengths of our students. Our classrooms apply interdisciplinary and inquiry-based teaching to facilitate an enriched educational environment.

  • Day
  • Reggio Emilia
Oak Learners 12600 Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Unionville, Ontario
    Kennedy Road/16th Avenue
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $8,000 to $15,250

UMS offers year advanced programs from pre-school to grade eight. Our hallmark is a clear focus on high expectations blending academic success with the character development of the individual child.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
Unionville Montessori Private Schools 8000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Kanata, Ontario
    March Road/Sandhill Road
  • 1 to 8 Coed
  • $16,000

March Academy offers an alternative program for students in grades 1 through 8. Small classes with academic programming includes weekly lessons in the arts, the natural environment and daily physical education.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
March Academy 16000 Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Riverside Dr./Bank St
  • 1 to 12 Coed
  • $14,800 to $16,300

Astolot Educational Centre is a day school with grades 1 to 12 in Ottawa, Ontario. Classroom teacher-student ratios are 1 to 10. Students have the ability to reach their full potential with Astolot programming.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Astolot Educational Centre 14800 Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $795 /course

Building on Toronto Prep School's 12 year history of outstanding values-added education, we are pleased to launch Toronto Prep School Online, a premium online High School serving grades 9-12.

  • eSchool
  • Liberal Arts
TPS Online - Toronto Prep School 795 HighSchools eSchool Coed
  • Caledon, Ontario
    The Gore Road/Old Church
  • 3 to 12 Coed
  • $17,900 to $33,000

The King's College experience develops in students responsibility, accountability, and ownership of their own learning and a passion for making a difference. Students can attend in person, online, or a mix of both.

  • Day/eSchool/Homestay
  • Traditional
King's College School for Bright and Gifted Children 17900 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day eSchool Homestay Coed

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