Choosing a school for a mentally focused child
Exploring a mentally focused child's school fit
Kids vary widely in their ability to focus or concentrate in school: while some find this quite easy, others don’t. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s focus on school choice: it can profoundly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them.
Mentally focused kids are good at sustaining their concentration: they normally find it a breeze to focus in class, sustain their focus, and key in on their studies.
Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for your highly focused 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 get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fit, more academic challenge, social struggles, academic struggles, intensive learning interests, university preparation, and special needs.).
Highly focused kids’ fit in 10 school types
On this page:
Small school (150 students or less)
Smaller schools with small classes often provide more individualized learning and one-and-one support, which can bolster your child’s concentration. The structure and intimacy of smaller classes can help your focused child engage more fully with their studies. Since they’re conducive to group work, small classes also often have plenty of interaction, which can help your child develop critical interpersonal skills.
Just keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.
Finally, “Small schools often have a family-like feeling, because the class sizes are so small,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. “They form a sense of community across the grades. You get these cross-grade friendships, relationships, and mentoring if it gives certain kids leadership opportunities, something they would rarely have in a larger school.”
Big school (151+ students)
If you’re considering a big school for your mentally focused child, look into the size of its classrooms. Many kids, including focused ones, do better in smaller classes, which not all big schools have. Smaller classes often provide ample individualized learning and one-on-one support, which can boost your child’s engagement.
Also, ensure a school’s teaching approach is suitable for your focused child. “For instance, a school emphasizing group learning over individual learning may or may not play into your child’s strengths,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. “You want to make sure the social, emotional, and academic realities of the classroom are a match for your child’s attention skills and personality.”
Coed schools require your child to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions, which can sometimes be challenging and distracting. That said, many kids, including mentally focused ones, find a coed environment stimulating and engaging, which can enhance their learning and widen their perspective. “Some research shows that girls and boys often learn, think, and see things differently,” says Stacey Jacobs, an education consultant at Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Bringing these two dynamics together allows students to experience the best of both worlds.”
Also, your child will have a wider range of social experiences in a coed environment, where they can learn from both boys and girls. “My son really enjoyed spending time with boys and girls in school, which he rarely does outside of class,” one parent told us. “He also learned a lot about how girls and boys sometimes react differently in certain situations.”
In a girls-only school, your daughter can focus on her studies without having to negotiate the social complexities and intense pressure of a boy-girl environment, which can be a big distraction for some girls, even mentally focused ones.
Also, “Confidence and self-esteem can be significant benefits of girls’ schools,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. “A girls’ school may promote a sense of security and comfort, which can allow girls to feel confident in their learning environment and more comfortable taking an academic risk.”
Of course, since your daughter won’t be learning with boys, aim to give her many 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.
In a boys’ school, your son won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions, which can sometimes be distracting, even for focused boys. This can enhance your son’s concentration and help him get the most out of his studies. Also, boys’ schools normally respect the differences between boys and girls, which can promote your son's academic and social development. “Just ask a prospective school how it meets the learning needs of students, and how they will meet your son’s needs, as learning styles can vary widely, even within a single gender,” says Stacey Jacobs, Toronto-based education consultant at Clear Path Educational Consulting.
Finally, make sure any school you’re considering isn’t too focused on “high energy” boys. While your son may enjoy the many group learning opportunities and physical activities normally offered in a boys-only environment, he may also sometimes prefer to sit quietly and read a book or work on a project. Ensure he’ll have ample opportunity to do this.
Reggio Emilia school
In Reggio Emilia schools, teachers consider each child’s relationship to one another and aim to promote positive connections between them, which can be great for highly focused kids (as it can be for less focused kids). The Reggio classroom is set up to promote lots of interaction and group learning, which helps focused kids engage even more fully with their work.
That said, make sure any Reggio Emilia school provides the right balance of learning opportunities for your child. For instance, if your child prefers individual to group learning, make sure it provides plenty of opportunities for them to work on their own.
International Baccalaureate school
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.
At a Montessori school, your focused child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, which can further enhance their concentration. Since many of these schools don’t have recess, this will also give your child more time to focus on their work, pursue their interests, and absorb knowledge. An additional benefit: in a Montessori classroom, your child will often work in small groups with kids of different ages, where they’ll learn from and mentor their peers, which can help them become more assertive, develop important social skills, and if they’re on the shy side, come out of their shell.
Language immersion school
The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, is a nice fit for many focused kids, especially those who enjoy the challenge of high-level learning and who are language-oriented. Many focused kids also value the opportunity to work in a structured learning environment with other motivated and studious kids, who may share a passion for learning.
That said, “Mentally focused children who are curious and unconventional learners may prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”
Finally, since learning in a second language makes it difficult to negotiate social interaction in class, make sure your child has plenty of time to interact with their peers outside of class—something all kids need.
Many focused kids find the diverse and vibrant student community of boarding schools stimulating. Working and interacting with a group of kids away from home and in a new environment can open up new learning and social pathways. Just make sure to inquire about a school’s teaching and learning approach. For instance, ask how much independent learning and individualized support a school offers, as many focused kids find this beneficial. Also, ask about class sizes, as smaller classes with low student-to-teacher ratios can help ensure your child won’t get lost in the shuffle.
Highly focused kids’ school fit: key take-homes
- Highly focused kids can thrive in both big and small schools. Like distractible kids, they often do well in small- to medium-sized classes, which tend to provide tailored instruction, plenty of interaction, and the right mix of group and individual work to keep them engaged.
- While coed schools come with the challenge of negotiating boy-girl relationships, many focused kids manage this well. Single-gender schools don’t have this distraction, but since they don’t offer a coed environment, make sure you give your son or daughter plenty of opportunities to interact with the other gender outside of school.
- At a Montessori school, your focused child will often work independently on their own tasks, e.g., during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, which can further enhance their ability to sustain their concentration.
- The Reggio Emilia classroom is set up to promote lots of interaction and group learning, which helps focused kids engage even more fully with their work.
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