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Oct 3, 2020

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What's the right type of school for a gifted student?

Exploring your gifted child's potential fit in 10 different school types


Some students are gifted learners. Your child’s gifted learning abilities are an extremely important factor in school choice: they greatly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them.

Gifted students are very high-ability learners. They test higher than the 98th or 99th percentile in terms of learning abilities.

Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for your gifted child. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a school type is right or wrong for you, but to highlight some critical 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 our expert tips. To customize 350+ school profiles with insights unique to your child's traits, create a child profile through your user account


Gifted kids’ fit in 10 school types

On this page:

Small school (150 students or less)

Small schools are sometimes more flexible in meeting gifted learning needs. Make sure a school is willing and able to provide the right learning environment to directly address your child’s learning needs, whether it’s through a segregated gifted class, a part-time withdrawal class, or in-class adaptations such as acceleration or enrichment opportunities.

If your child enjoys learning and competing with other high-ability learners, confirm this opportunity is available. Also, find out whether a school has extracurricular programs your child will find challenging and stimulating.

Finally, “Smaller schools give kids opportunities to be the ‘big fish in a small pond,’ where their successes and abilities are truly highlighted,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Some kids enjoy this, and this can be a valuable opportunity to develop their confidence and self-esteem.”

Big school (151+ students)

Some big schools provide learning environments that explicitly address the needs of gifted students. These can include dedicated gifted classes, part-time withdrawal classes, enrichment opportunities, acceleration options, and in-class adaptations. Big schools also usually have a wider scope of curriculum options and extracurricular activities that can provide gifted learners with the challenge and stimulation they need across a range of topic areas. Finally, they tend to have more academic diversity in their student bodies, helping your child find like-minded peers as well as opportunities to challenge themselves with other intellectual, curious, and high-ability learners.

Coed school

In a coed school, your gifted child will have opportunities to work with and learn from the experiences of both boys and girls. This can widen their intellectual perspective and enhance their academic development. “Since boys and girls often approach problems differently, it can be beneficial to bounce ideas off and seek opinions from both genders,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting.

That said, a coed environment will require your child to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions, both in classrooms and during wide-ranging types of activities, clubs, and before- and after-school programs. Since this kind of dynamic can sometimes be a distraction, ask about the social culture at a coed school.

Girls' school

In a girls-only school, your daughter won’t have to negotiate the complexities and pressure of a boy-girl environment, which can help her focus on her studies. Also, in an environment often less shaped by gender stereotypes, such as “boys are more suited to math and science than girls,” your daughter may feel freer to pursue her learning interests. “She may also feel more comfortable taking academic risks, which can give her the confidence needed to shine in uncharted waters,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners.

Of course, since your daughter won’t be learning with boys, aim to give her opportunities to interact with them outside of school, so she can gain a wider scope of social experiences, where she’ll learn from the perspectives of girls and boys.

Boys' school

In a boys’ school, your gifted son won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions in the classroom, which can help him focus on his studies free from some potential distractions. Also, in an environment often less influenced by gender stereotypes and potentially false narratives, such as “girls are more suited to the arts than boys,” your son may feel freer to pursue his learning interests and take academic risks. "Sometimes you'll also find a special fraternal camaraderie in boys' schools that can help your son thrive socially,” says Joanne Foster, gifted education expert and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.

Just make sure any school you’re considering isn’t too focused on “high energy” boys. While your son may enjoy the group learning opportunities and physical activities offered in a boys-only environment, he may also sometimes prefer to sit quietly and focus on an independent project or read a book. Ensure he’ll have ample opportunity to do this. Also, since your son won’t be learning with girls, aim to give him opportunities to interact with them outside of school, so he can gain a wider scope of social experiences, where he’ll learn from the perspective of boys and girls.

Montessori school

Montessori schools vary greatly. Some allow gifted students to accelerate their studies. Since students are given leeway to determine the focus and pace of their learning, gifted learners may choose to move quickly through their academic activities and into areas they find challenging and engaging.

Other Montessori schools, however, 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 students—especially those who test higher than the 98th or 99th percentile in terms of their learning abilities. “Because Montessori schools are not all alike, it’s important to avoid making assumptions about them. It’s prudent to check out whether the educational environment will provide a suitable learner-learning match for your child, and to keep monitoring that if you choose to enrol your child in this form of schooling,” says Joanne Foster, gifted education expert and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.

Reggio Emilia school

Reggio Emilia schools’ individualized learning approach enables gifted students to move ahead in the curriculum or pursue more in-depth studies, to keep them challenged and engaged. Also, their classrooms are set up to promote lots of interaction and group learning, which some gifted learners find academically and socially stimulating.

If, however, your academically-gifted child prefers individual to group learning, ensure the school provides opportunities for independent activities and pursuits. And more generally, make sure the school offers the right overall learning environment for your child, e.g., whether that’s experiential or more traditionally academic.

International Baccalaureate school

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.”

Language immersion school

Gifted students often welcome the extra challenge provided by language immersion schools, where they’ll learn all or most of their subjects in a second language. However, these schools aren’t an ideal fit for all gifted learners. “Consider, for example, a child whose strengths are her reasoning skills and conceptual mastery and who thrives on high-level discourse,” say Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, gifted education experts and authors of Being Smart about Gifted Education. “In a French immersion program, it will take years before her knowledge of the French language is sufficiently developed to keep pace with her ideas and concept formation… This can make her school experience frustrating and boring, rather than stimulating and challenging, especially for the first few years of this kind of program.”

Or, “Consider curious and independent learners,” says Matthews. “They often prefer more scope for exploring their own interests than language immersion schools sometimes allow. For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them enough time to pursue their passions both in school and out. The added challenge of second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s intellectual and creative development.”

Boarding school

Many boarding schools provide learning environments that directly address gifted students’ learning needs, such as dedicated gifted classes, withdrawal classes, in-class adaptations, etc. They also often have a wide range of extracurricular programs to challenge and stimulate gifted learners and enable them to pursue areas of interests. For instance, they might have an after-school Spanish discussion or reading group for students with a special interest in or talent for language and literature.

“Consider, though, whether your child will be comfortable and confident while living away from home, and while having to navigate the various, and sometimes unforeseen, social-emotional experiences, alongside the many academic challenges,” says Joanne Foster, gifted education expert and author of ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.

Gifted kids’ school fit: key take-homes

  • Some big schools provide learning environments that explicitly address the needs of gifted students, such as dedicated gifted classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and breakout groups. Small schools with smaller classes, meanwhile, can often be more flexible in meeting gifted learning needs within a regular classroom.
  • In a single-gender school, your gifted child won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions in the classroom, which can help them focus on their studies free from some potential distractions.
  • While some Montessori schools allow gifted students to accelerate their studies, others are reluctant to move kids too quickly through the curriculum or to move them to a higher age-level class.
  • The IB programme is designed to be demanding, well-rounded, and rigorous, and it can provide the right kind of 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.
  • While high-ability students often welcome the extra challenge provided by language immersion schools, it may not be the best fit for those who are curious and unconventional learners, who need lots of scope to pursue their own interests.
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