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Is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school right for your child?

Exploring the potential fit of an IB school for several different types of kids


In finding the right school, you’ll need to look at both the school and your child. Here, we look at the fit of several different child types in International Baccalaureate (IB) schools. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether an IB school is right or wrong for any type of child, but to highlight some vital child-specific factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids step-by-step advice guide and questions to ask private schools. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account


How several different types of kids fit in IB schools

On this page:

Extroverted

Throughout the continuum—from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) to the Diploma Programme (DP)—the IB offers plenty of group work, projects, and activities, which can be great for extroverts who often enjoy social and collaborative learning. Also, “Since IB schools have a strong emphasis on community service and activism, your child will have great opportunities to harness their outgoing and collaborative personality,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. These schools will also give your child the chance to interact and spend time with a bright, motivated, and ambitious group of kids who may have interests similar to them. 

However, given the challenging curriculum and heavy workload of the IB, it can sometimes leave less time for socializing. This makes it especially important to ask about social opportunities at the school, including the ability to interact with different peer groups, both in class and out.

To access our report on the fit of extroverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Introverted

IB schools give your child the opportunity to interact and spend time with a bright, motivated, and ambitious group of kids who may have interests similar to them. Due to the IB’s heavy focus on group work, the programme offers a social and collaborative learning environment, which can help your introverted child overcome their shyness and get to know their peers well. This can relieve some of the pressure associated with having to take the initiative outside of class to make friends.

Just make sure any school you're considering offers enough independent work time for your introverted child—something which can vary widely between IB schools.

To access our report on the fit of introverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Mentally focused

IB schools focus heavily on group work, and provide plenty of collaborative and social learning, which many mentally focused kids find stimulating. Just make sure this is the right environment for your particular child, since different kids learn in different ways. For instance, if your child prefers individual to group learning, make sure the school provides plenty of opportunities for your child to work on their own. Or, if they’re likely to benefit from personalized teaching and enrichment, make sure these options are available.

To access our report on the fit of mentally focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Distractible

The IB’s heavy focus on group work, and its highly social and collaborative learning environment, can help your child sustain their focus. That said, some distractible kids may need more individualized learning and one-on-one support than some IB schools offer. “Since different IB schools have different teaching and learning approaches,” says Dona Matthews, Toronto-based education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence, “talk to IB school directors and staff to determine whether your child is a good fit.”

To access our report on the fit of distractible kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Very physically active

Throughout the continuum—from the Primary Years Programme to the Diploma Programme—the IB offers plenty of group work, projects, and activities, which can be great for physically active kids, who tend to dislike sitting down at desks all day and often enjoy social and collaborative learning. Given the demanding curriculum and heavy workload of the IB, ensure any prospective school has ample unstructured social time, so your child can get out, stretch their legs, and use their energy in productive ways. Also, ensure there are a wide range of social and physical opportunities at the school, including the ability to interact with different peer groups, both inside of class and out.

To access our report on the fit of very physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less physically active

If your child is looking to get more physically active, IB schools offer plenty of opportunities to do this. From PYP (Primary Years Programme) to DP (Diploma Programme), the IB offers a robust physical and health education program that promotes physical activity and holistic health, through sports, exploration, interaction, skills, and knowledge. 

IB schools also give your less active child the opportunity to learn and interact with a bright, motivated, and ambitious group of kids who may have interests similar to them. Due to the IB’s heavy focus on group work, the programme offers a highly social and collaborative learning environment, which can help your child get to know their peers well, interact more, and hone their social skills. Given the IB’s focus on social learning, just make sure your child will get enough time on their own, in and out of class, to replenish their energy.

To access our report on the fit of less physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Intensively academically-focused

The IB is a demanding programme with advanced learning and rigorous coursework, which provides the right kind of challenge for many intensively academically-focused kids. Students who enjoy subject-specific enrichment will relish the opportunity to take Higher-Level (rather than Standard-Level) courses, which provide more in-depth learning. Ask a school whether it offers these courses.

That said, since their curriculum is restricted to eight prescribed subject groups, IB schools will offer your academically-focused child fewer specialist courses to choose from than most traditional schools. This can be less than ideal for independent and curious learners, who enjoy carving out their own educational paths and pursuing their own interests in school.

To access our report on the fit of intensively academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less academically-focused

The IB programme’s high-level academics and heavy workload can be a tall test for less academically-focused kids. Some of these kids may also need more individualized learning and one-on-one support than some IB schools offer. Of course, “Since different IB schools have different teaching and learning approaches,” says Dona Matthews, Toronto-based education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence, “talk to IB school directors and staff to determine whether a particular school offers the right academic setting for your child.”

That said, many kids, including less academically-focused ones, find the IB’s heavy focus on social and collaborative learning engaging. This can inspire a love of learning and sometimes begin to unleash a child's academic potential. 

To access our report on the fit of less academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Arts-oriented

Throughout the continuum, the IB programme provides plenty of opportunities for your child to pursue their interests in the arts, explore their creative passions, and develop their skills and knowledge. In fact, how we express ourselves is one of the central themes running through the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP). And, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) provides a rigorous education in myriad artistic spheres, including visual art, music, dance, and drama.

That said, “There’s some variation in the way IB programmes are run and what resources they have,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “If you have a child who’s passionate about the arts, make sure, then, to tour the school, and ask about its arts programs (music, visual, and drama) and the resources and time dedicated to them.”

To access our report on the fit of arts-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


STEM-oriented

Throughout the continuum, the IB programme provides plenty of opportunities for your child to pursue their interests in STEM and develop their skills and knowledge. In fact, how we explore and understand the world is one of the central themes running through the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP). And, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) provides a rigorous education in myriad scientific spheres, including physics, biology, and chemistry. Since many students also relish the opportunity to study these subjects in more depth by taking Higher-Level (rather than Standard-Level) IB courses, ask whether a school offers them.

That said, “Many IB schools are highly academic and can generate significant pressure to excel,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Some students may find their passion for STEM recede in this setting.”

To access our report on the fit of stem-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Gifted

The IB programme is designed to be demanding, well-rounded, and rigorous, and it can provide a great challenge for many high-ability students. Gifted students may also relish the opportunity to take Higher-Level (rather than Standard-Level) courses, which provide more in-depth learning. Ask whether an IB school offers these.

That said, if your gifted child is an unconventional and independent learner, they may find some IB schools don’t give them enough flexibility to pursue their own interests. “Of course, different IB schools have different teaching and learning approaches,” says Dona Matthews, gifted education expert and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Being Smart about Gifted Education, “meaning you should talk to their directors and staff to determine whether your child is a good fit.”

To access our report on the fit of gifted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Special needs (general)

The heavy workload of IB schools can be difficult to manage for some students with special needs. Also, due to their unified curriculum and focus on collaborative learning and group projects, not all IB schools can provide the kind of structure, individualized learning, and one-on-one support many of these kids need.

That said, the IB organization requires authorized schools to have specially trained staff in both IB education and in meeting the needs of different learners. But, “What this looks like and how students are supported varies between schools,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Ask what specific programs and policies they have in place to support your child’s learning.”

To access our report on the fit of special needs (general) kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Learning disabilities

The heavy workload of IB schools can be difficult to manage for some students with learning disabilities (LDs). Also, due to their standardized curriculum and their focus on collaborative learning and group projects, not all IB schools will provide enough one-on-one support for kids with LDs. 

That said, the IB organization requires authorized schools to have specially trained staff in both IB education and in meeting the needs of different learners. But, “What this looks like and how students are supported varies between schools,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Ask what specific programs and policies they have in place to support your child’s learning.”

To access our report on the fit of learning disabilities kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Social/emotional issues

Due to their standardized curriculum and their focus on group learning, not all IB schools can provide the structure, individualized learning, and one-on-one support that many kids with social issues need. Also, the highly academic environment of the IB can add extra pressure, which can be difficult for kids with special needs to manage.

Of course, “Since IB schools vary in their teaching and learning approaches,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence, “make sure you talk to their directors and staff to assess whether your child is a good fit.” For instance, if your child is a hard worker who enjoys high-level academics and group learning (and doesn’t have a severe social or behavioural issue), an IB school may work well.

To access our report on the fit of social/emotional issues kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Conventional learner

IB schools offer a standardized, prescribed curriculum, with clear criteria for assessment, which can be ideal for conventional learners. They also provide a nice balance of group and independent learning, delivered through rigorous courses, which can help conventional (and unconventional) learners really engage with their studies. 

That said, IB schools tend to have plenty of reflection, exploration, and diverse experiences. They encourage students to look at questions and issues from many viewpoints, and they have long projects and extended essays. Conventional learners who are type-A  students (i.e., who are intensively academically-focused) often prefer to move through the curriculum more quickly, rather than spend so much time reflecting about various sides of an issue.

To access our report on the fit of conventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Unconventional learner

IB programmes can sometimes be a struggle for students who resist a traditional curriculum. Since they follow standardized course syllabi and use prescribed evaluation schemes, IB schools leave less room for the kind of flexibility unconventional students normally crave. Also, since their curriculum is restricted to eight main subject groups, IB schools offer fewer specialist courses to choose from to explore individual interests. 

That said, IB schools tend to have plenty of reflection, exploration, and diverse experiences. They encourage students to look at questions and issues from many viewpoints and have long projects and extended essays. Some unconventional learners love this kind of collaborative, open-ended approach to learning.

To access our report on the fit of unconventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Independent learner

IB programmes, from the primary years (PYP) to the high school years (DP), offer lots of group work, projects, and activities. This can be challenging at times for kids who prefer to work independently, completing tasks by themselves or in their own way. On the other hand, “Collaborative endeavours can be valuable learning experiences for kids who might otherwise avoid such tasks,” says Joanne Foster, education consultant and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids. Since different IB schools are run in different ways, talk to school directors and staff to gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of independent learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Collaborative learner

Throughout the continuum—from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) to the Diploma Programme (DP)—the IB offers plenty of group work, projects, and activities, which collaborative learners tend to love. Also, “Since they have a strong emphasis on community service and activism, your child will have many opportunities to harness their collaborative learning style,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Education. Finally, IB schools give your child the unique opportunity to interact and spend time with a bright, motivated, and ambitious group of kids who may have interests similar to them.

That said, the IB programme’s high-level academics and heavy workload are demanding. If your child is less academically-focused or needs lots of one-on-one support, they may find it a tall order. Since IB schools are run in different ways, talk to directors and staff to determine whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of collaborative learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Anxious

Due to their standardized curriculum and focus on group learning, not all IB schools can provide the structure, individualized learning, and one-on-one support many anxious kids need. Also, the highly academic environment of the IB can be a source of intense pressure for kids with anxiety, especially those with severe anxiety.

Of course, if your child has milder anxiety and is a hard worker who enjoys high-level academics and group learning, the IB Programme can be a nice fit. Speak to school reps about what support systems they have in place before you make your final decision.

To access our report on the fit of anxious kids in several different school types, read our guide.


ADHD

Due to their standardized curriculum and focus on group learning, not all IB schools can provide the individualized learning and one-on-one support many kids with ADHD need. Also, the highly academic environment of the IB can add extra pressure, which can be daunting for some kids with ADHD.

Thus, “It’s important that a child in an IB school stay organized and engaged with the content, especially with independent work and homework,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. “With both the depth and breadth of IB-level coursework, it’s important that students have developed the self-regulation and self-monitoring skills necessary to focus in class to avoid falling behind.”

On the upside: “Many IB schools, especially at the primary and middle school level, offer a fair amount of experiential, inquiry-based learning, where students develop creative and critical thinking skills through real-life, hands-on experiences,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “This type of learning can sometimes be a great way to engage kids with ADHD.”

To access our report on the fit of adhd kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Autistic

Due to their standardized curriculum and focus on group learning, not all IB schools can provide the individualized learning and one-on-one support many kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need. Also, the highly academic nature of the IB Programme can be daunting for some kids with ASD, especially those with poor executive functioning skills.

That said, the IB organization requires authorized schools to have specially trained staff in both IB education and in meeting the needs of different learners. But, “What this looks like and how students are supported varies between schools,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Ask what specific programs and policies they have in place to support your child.”

To access our report on the fit of autistic kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Dyslexic

The heavy workload of IB schools can be difficult to manage for some students with dyslexia. Also, due to their standardized curriculum and their focus on collaborative learning and group projects, some IB schools may not provide enough one-on-one support for kids with dyslexia.

That said, the IB organization requires authorized schools to have specially trained staff in both IB education and in meeting the needs of different learners. But, “What this looks like and how students are supported varies between schools,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Ask what specific programs and policies a school has in place to support your child’s learning.”

To access our report on the fit of dyslexic kids in several different school types, read our guide.

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