Supporting your gifted child at home and at school
If your child has been identified as gifted and talented, more able or of high learning potential – terms that are used to describe children who excel in academic work, or in an activity like music or sport – it's normal to have concerns and anxieties about what this means for them.
You might feel relieved that their school has recognised your child's abilities, especially if you suspected that there was something different about them, but also feel daunted about how to feed their hungry, inquisitive and tireless mind.
Schools must make sure that the needs of highly able children are met. This might be overseen by the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) or inclusion coordinator (INCO). Alternatively, the lead teacher for each particular curriculum area (such as English, maths or art) might be responsible for extending children who excel in that subject.
You might worry about seeming pushy, but it's important to discuss your child’s potential with the school. You are your child’s advocate, so ask to be included in the plans the school puts in place to support them.
Supporting your child at school
Although the Department for Education doesn't specify particular ways in which schools should cater for the most able children, schools have an obligation to provide every student with a quality of education that meets their needs.
Some of the ways in which your child might be extended and supported include:
- Opportunities for working in greater depth: for example, if the class is learning about the Egyptians, your child might be given an extra research project to work on once they've completed the core work.
- Working in a small group within the class with other children of high ability.
- Differentiated homework that provides extra stretch and challenge.
- Encouraging your child to evaluate and assess their own work.
- Looking out for the signs that your child might be bored or under-challenged, and providing tasks that engage them.
- Working with the year above for the specific subjects in which they excel, or actually being put up a year group - you should always be involved in this decision.
- Being assigned a mentor or staff member to provide individual support - but bear in mind that as many schools are struggling with tight budgets, this is the exception rather than the norm.
If you're a lower income family, your child might be awarded pupil premium: a sum of money paid directly to their school to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It's up to schools to decide how to use this money to benefit your child, but it could be used to better cater for their exceptional abilities, for example by providing their teacher with training on supporting highly able children, or paying for them to learn an instrument or take part in after-school clubs.
Supporting your child at home
There are lots of ways that you can support your highly able child at home.
1. Trust your child as a learner
Let them take the lead with their own homework, for example: you might feel that they're being sloppy and not making an effort, but it's important that they learn to organise themselves and manage their own learning. If you help with projects or homework, encourage critical evaluation and conversation (be a ‘critical friend’).
2. Keep informed about what your child is being taught in school
There are lots of ways to do this, ranging from talking to your child about what they're learning and whether they're enjoying it and finding it challenging, to regular meetings with their teacher or gifted and talented lead.
3. Remember learning can and should be enjoyable
It doesn't have to mean ploughing through textbooks and worksheets; you could, for example, extend their learning by encouraging them to find (reliable) YouTube videos about their class topic, using games-based learning strategies like apps and board games, or visiting museums that are relevant to what they're learning.
4. Let your child see YOU learning new things
Share your own enthusiasms, and be a learning example: don't be afraid to say you don't understand something or that you make mistakes. Getting things wrong takes courage but will help your child become a more resilient learner who doesn't get discouraged or upset if something doesn't work out.
5. Keep an eye on their mental health
Highly able children sometimes lack confidence. They might feel bored at school, which could lead to disruptive behaviour. They might be overly perfectionist and beat themselves up if they get something wrong. They may even be bullied. Encourage them to mix with other children in and out of school, talk to them about how things are going, and don't hesitate to seek help from the school or their GP if you have concerns.
6. Don't be too pushy
No one imposes more pressure on themselves to be perfect and to succeed than the gifted child. Your role is to support, not pressurise.
7. Let them be a child
However bright your child is, they are still a child, without the benefit of your adult experience and understanding of the world. Don't expect them to be mature beyond their years, or to always be sensible and rational. It's also vital to remember that even the most exceptional children need to sing silly songs, play outside, watch television and do all the things that children enjoy doing.
For a selection of engaging learning projects for gifted and talented children look through our Gifted and talented learning activities for KS1 and KS2 children pack.
With thanks to gifted and talented expert John Senior, a former headteacher and author of a wide range of best-selling G&T Enrichment books for parents and teachers.