It can be extremely challenging to find the correct educational environment for your gifted child. Many factors contribute to the mismatch between gifted learners and their educational experiences, and educators and parents alike may misunderstand the interplay among various options.

Which one is best?

Typically, acceleration and enrichment are considered the broad counterpoints on a continuum of service options: students may move faster through the curriculum and cover more ground (acceleration/breadth), or they may dive deeply into some facet of the curriculum (enrichment/depth).

In truth, however, this is a false dichotomy.

Students who truly dive deeper end up exploring content that accelerates their understanding in that particular topic well beyond grade-level expectations. Enrichment opportunities that don’t provide the student with a richer, more sophisticated understanding of the topic are simply not enrichment. Similarly, moving a student through multiple levels of math certainly increases the student’s depth of understanding of each concept covered. Rather than getting stuck in the back-and-forth of which option is better, educators and parents should consider the life goals, interests, and motivation of the student before deciding which options to use.

Perhaps the local public school can provide more resources, or can collaborate with a magnet school (in performing arts, science, etc.) to provide the necessary additional support. Perhaps a private school is the answer, since they generally have smaller classes that can allow for a more individualized approach.  It is important to pull all the players together (teachers, counselors, psychological professionals, administrators, etc.) and to be creative: our kids deserve our best efforts.  There are more options around than we might think of and there is no reason not to try something new even if it hasn’t been tried before.

best gifted educational options

Each gifted learner is different

It is vital to engage all children in their education, an approach which is doubly valuable for the gifted.  Each child has wildly different needs and may be not fully aware of what options are out there.  Sit down together and talk through what they want and need from their education.  Talk about teachers that they have liked and not liked, what their classroom interests are, what they want to be in the future, and how they feel they learn best.  Also talk to your kids about their other passions in the interest of supporting the “whole person.”  Do they want to sing in a choir?  Play soccer?  Go to art classes?  Work on the yearbook?  While these answers may not make the decision for you, they can become an outlet for customization and creativity.

Considerations for determining the best match between the student and the curriculum include:

  • Your child’s learning style and how it aligns with various options available to you
  • Rate of acquisition and fluency — how quickly does your gifted learner process and remember information?
  • Academic strengths and weaknesses — what strengths does your child want to nurture?
  • Relevance of the option to your child’s future goals — what difference might the choice make for their future?
  • Personal passions and motivation — is your child or student motivated to participate?

Allowing hyper-fluent students to move quickly through curriculum can open up opportunities to study other, perhaps less traditional, topics of interest. Other students who may not be motivated to whiz through material might benefit from a personal passion project. Regardless, any discussion of options is incomplete without considering the needs of the student.

The importance of socialization

You may have noticed that we did not suggest homeschooling or cyberschools above, and that is because those environments require more creativity to get the child’s social needs met.  Learning to interact with others as classmates, peers, friends, and romantic partners is vital to the development of the “whole person” in gifted education, and too often we forget this in seeking to meet the child’s educational needs.  If you choose homeschooling or a cyberschool as an option, we strongly recommend that you insist on an interpersonal extracurricular activity for your child, be it sports, Dungeons & Dragons, the performing arts, Scouts, or any number of other organizations.  If you homeschool or cyberschool, we suggest you look into weekend or summer programs such as the Center for Talented Youth (CTY), the Talent Identification Program (TIP) at Duke, or if you are near Philadelphia, we also offer programs through The Enrichment Center at the Grayson School.

How do you know if it’s right?

There are many considerations, benefits, and challenges you will discover in evaluating the public, private, and home- or cyberschool options available for your gifted learner.  The best option is what works for your individual child.   As our school counselor, Dr. Matt, tells our students all the time, “the more that we know about what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, the better (and faster!) we can help.”

It is not an oversimplification to say that your decisions come down to three very simple questions:

  • Is your child happy at school?
  • Are they engaged in learning?
  • Do they have friends who relate to them?

While your experience at home with your child will inform your answer to these questions, you must also be involved with your child’s school, ask questions, and even observe your child during the school day for a more complete understanding and assessment of his or her needs.

  • Is s/he (literally) “leaning in” to conversations, and is there positive engagement with other students?  
  • Is the teacher differentiating between students and their needs in the classroom? Does that appear to be an impossible task based on the classroom dynamics you observe?   
  • How much time is spent sitting versus actively engaging in learning activities?  
  • How is the school tracking growth (not just proficiency) in meeting your child’s desire to learn?

Across the K-12 educational experience, individual student profiles must drive the selection of educational opportunities. However, for most students, high school brings many more choices to the table. Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate programs, honors classes, independent study, and dual enrollment in high school and college create a much longer menu of opportunities.

Subscribe to our blog to receive an upcoming post in which we will dive deeper into options specifically for high school students.


According to a press release from Betsy DeVos, dated February 10, 2017, The Department of Education has delayed the effective date of regulations concerning accountability and State plans under the ESSA until March 21, 2017, to permit further review for questions of law and policy that the regulations might raise. Additionally, Congress is currently considering a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) (5 U.S.C. §§ 801- 808) to overturn these regulations. If a resolution of disapproval is enacted, these regulations “shall have no force or effect.” Please call your congressional offices to express your support for upholding this important legislation, particularly in regards to permitting Title I funds for gifted education.

Your rights as a parent are defined by federal law.  As of January 24, 2017, the  Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states:

SEC. 8101. [20 U.S.C. 7801]  DEFINITIONS


(39) PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT.—The term ‘‘parental involvement’’ means the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities, including ensuring—

(A) that parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning;

(B) that parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school (C) that parents are full partners in their child’s education and are included, as appropriate, in decision-making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child; and

(D) the carrying out of other activities, such as those described in section 1116.



(d) SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES FOR HIGH STUDENT ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT.—As a component of the school-level parent and family engagement policy developed under subsection (b), each school served under this part shall jointly develop with parents for all children served under this part a school-parent compact that outlines how parents, the entire school staff, and students will share the responsibility for improved student academic achievement and the means by which the school and parents will build and develop a partnership to help children achieve the State’s high standards. Such compact shall—

(1) describe the school’s responsibility to provide high-quality curriculum and instruction in a supportive and effective learning environment that enables the children served under this part to meet the challenging State academic standards, and the ways in which each parent will be responsible for supporting their children’s learning; volunteering in their child’s classroom; and participating, as appropriate, in decisions relating to the education of their children and positive use of extra- curricular time; and

(2) address the importance of communication between teachers and parents on an ongoing basis through, at a minimum—

(A) parent-teacher conferences in elementary schools, at least annually, during which the compact shall be discussed as the compact relates to the individual child’s achievement; (B) frequent reports to parents on their children’s progress

(C) reasonable access to staff, opportunities to volunteer and participate in their child’s class, and observation of classroom activities; and

(D) ensuring regular two-way, meaningful communication between family members and school staff, and, to the extent practicable, in a language that family members can understand.

best gifted educational experienceOur post is featured on the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop, and we encourage you to read other great posts from the gifted community on this topic.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Gail Post, Ph.D.

    I agree completely that each child is different, and it is critical to evaluate the child’s academic AND social/emotional needs. Your statement about recognizing whether the child is happy or has friends is essential – regardless of how challenged he or she is, it won’t matter if the child feels isolated.

    • Nancy

      Thanks, Dr. Post! The optimal choice depends on the individual child.

  • Nancy

    Thanks, Tiffany! We are glad you found our post helpful.

  • Emily

    This is an incredible resource, and I am looking forward to sharing it with other parents. Thank you for summarizing issues and options so well! Thank you also for the important info on the ESSA… I hope parents will take action!

    • Nancy

      Thanks, Emily! We are glad that you found the information helpful – and are very appreciative that you are sharing with parents so they can take action to preserve and increase the resources available to our gifted learners.

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