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Gifted curriculum alternatives

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

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).

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

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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List of gifted schools and programs

 
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Type
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  • Vaughan, Ontario
    407/Dufferin
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $15,995 to $19,995

D.A. is a K-12 university prep, coed IB candidate 21st Century school. Enriched and rigorous curriculum. Balanced academics, arts, athletics & character development. We value best practices & evidenced based approaches.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
Delano Academy 15995 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Dufferin Street/Lawrence Avenue
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $17,750 to $24,755

Fieldstone prepares students to be future global leaders. As Canada's first Cambridge School, we offer a stimulating curriculum in the context of a small and nurturing environment.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Fieldstone School 17750 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Avenue Road/Bloor Street
  • 4 to 12 Coed
  • $22,000 to $27,000

Dragon Academy is the right fit for gifted students, grades 6 to 12. Dragon's small, discussion-based classes go beyond the classroom into our world-class city . An inclusive, exciting, can't wait to get there school.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • Reggio Emilia
The Dragon Academy 22000 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Richmond Hill, Ontario
    Yonge Street/King Road
  • 1 to 12 Coed
  • $14,000

Academy for Gifted Children - P.A.C.E. is a private school for intellectually gifted students in Richmond Hill, Ontario, from grades 1 to 12. Tuition is $13,500.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Academy for Gifted Children - P.A.C.E. 14000 Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Oakville, Ontario
  • PS to 12 Girls
  • $18,000 to $28,430

Oakville's SMLS continues to be a premier independent school for girls Preschool to Graduating Year 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 18000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Girls
  • Sherbrooke, Quebec
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $25,000 to $66,100

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 25000 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Highway 417/Greenbank
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $13,340 to $19,510

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 13340 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge St./Sheppard Ave.
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $11,250 to $15,500

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

  • Day
  • Traditional
Prestige School - Toronto Campus 11250 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Dundas Ave. West/High Park Ave.
  • PS to 1 Coed
  • $10,000 to $15,000

Oxford Learning Academy offers a bilingual academic program complemented by a personalized school experience. We grow lifelong learners by focusing on early primary education.

  • Day
  • Progressive
High Park Oxford Learning Academy 10000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed
  • Mississauga, Ontario
    Eglinton Ave W/Ninth Line
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $11,700 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
  • Traditional
Sherwood Heights School 11700 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Ottawa, Ontario
    Iris St/Woodroffe Ave
  • JK to 8 Girls
  • $15,750

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 15750 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Girls
  • Bracebridge, Ontario
  • 7 to 12 Coed
  • $18,000 to $36,950

We uphold and pursue a pragmatic, balanced education with an emphasis on art, sports and music to cultivate talents to lead the new century.

  • Boarding
  • Traditional
  • Waldorf
Dewey Institute 18000 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Coed
  • Rindge, New Hampshire(USA)
    Deer Run Ln/Hampshire Rd
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • US $61,500

A friendly, active boarding school for bright boys who have good intentions but who may be too impulsive, intense, or bothersome for other schools and whose intellectual interests may separate them from their peers.

  • Boarding
  • Liberal Arts
Hampshire Country School 61500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Boys
  • Oakville, Ontario
    Lakeshore Road East/Bel Air Drive
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $8,800 to $21,250

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

  • Day
  • Montessori
Dearcroft Montessori School 8800 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Kanata, Ontario
  • 1 to 6 Coed
  • $16,000

March Academy offers an alternative program for students in grades 1 through 6. 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 Day Coed
  • St. Catharines, Ontario
    Edinburgh Dr/Scott Street
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $5,900 to $13,500

Wheatley School offers programs from nursery to grade eight in St. Catharines. Its average class size is 15 students.

  • Day
  • Montessori
  • International Baccalaureate
Wheatley School 5900 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • Aurora, Ontario
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $10,500 to $16,200

Aurora Montessori School offers a comprehensive, nurturing and enriched program for Toddler to Grade 8. Our enrolment of 375 day students has an average class size of 15 to 24.

  • Day
  • Montessori
  • Reggio Emilia
Aurora Montessori School 10500 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • North York, Ontario
    Avenue Road/Lawrence Avenue
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $15,175 to $19,175

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 15175 HighSchools Day Coed
  • Calgary, Alberta
    Crowchild Trail/Flanders Ave
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $8,000 to $10,000

Since 1979, Banbury's student-paced approach with tutorial instruction is in small, multi-aged groups of 10:1. Meainingful relationships enhance learning. Member of Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning--CCSDL.

  • Day
  • Progressive
Banbury Crossroads School 8000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools 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
  • Unionville, Ontario
    Kennedy Road/16th Avenue
  • PS to 8 Coed
  • $7,750 to $14,750

Unionville Montessori School offers programs from pre-school to grade eight. Its average class size is 18 to 22 students.

  • Day
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
Unionville Montessori Private Schools 7750 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Coed
  • London, Ontario
    Richmond Street/King Street
  • 9 to 12 Girls/Boys/Coed
  • $11,000 to $41,900

A Canadian Private Secondary Co-ed Boarding school, located in downtown London, Ontario. LIA offers academic courses from Grades 9-12 and is authorized to grant the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

  • Boarding/Day
  • Traditional
  • International Baccalaureate
London International Academy 11000 HighSchools Boarding Boarding Day Girls Boys 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
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Yonge/Eglinton
  • 9 to 12 Coed
  • $12,000 to $14,000

OAT is a high school in Toronto specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Full credit courses, Booster programs and Reach Ahead programs designed to give students the support they need to excel.

  • Day/Homestay
  • Progressive
OAT - Ontario Academy of Technology 12000 HighSchools Day Homestay Coed
  • Markham, Ontario
    Warden/Steeles
  • JK to 12 Coed
  • $10,000 to $25,000

AIS Montessori & Elementary School offers authentic Chinese Immersion program in GTA area.Its average class is 15 students.

  • Day/Boarding/Homestay
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
A.I.S. School 10000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Homestay 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
    Yonge St/Sheppard Ave
  • 8 to 12 Coed
  • $399 to $499 /course

Ontario Virtual School is an Ontario Government approved credit-granting institution offering high school level courses for Grades 9-12 in an interactive online format. Students can start anytime with 24/7 access.

  • eSchool/Day
  • Traditional
Ontario Virtual School 399 HighSchools eSchool Day Coed
  • Richmond Hill, Ontario
    Major MacKenzie Dr. W/Bathurst St.
  • PS to 12 Coed
  • $10,000 to $15,500

The Prestige School offers programs from pre-school to grade eight in Richmond Hill. Its average class size is ten students.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Prestige School - Richmond Hill Campus 10000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Coed
  • Markham, Ontario
    Woodbine/HWY 7
  • NS to 8 Coed
  • $13,600 to $13,800

Wishing Well Schools has an academically advanced program from 18 months to Grade 8. Montessori program from 18 months to 6 years old, accelerated academic program from Grade 1 to 8 with 21st c. teaching and learning.

  • Day
  • Progressive
  • Montessori
Wishing Well Schools 13600 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Day Coed
  • Etobicoke, Ontario
  • JK to 6 Coed
  • $3,600 to $18,900

Oak Learners offers a creative learning atmosphere, working with your child’s unique learning style to inspire their strengths and interests.

  • Day
  • Reggio Emilia
Oak Learners 3600 Kindergarten Elementary Day Coed

Series: Gifted Programs

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