Having a child that is gifted doesn’t mean that traditional school is going to be easy or that it is the best educational choice.  Sometimes traditional schools can work but many times they do not work unless there are special programs, modifications, or acceleration.  And then, there are some gifted kids that completely exceed the resources of traditional schools and need even more.  However, as parents, we often do not even know where to look for school choices or educational options that are available.  The truth is, there really are tons of school choices if we expand what we consider as “school.”  Here are some of the most common educational options for meeting the needs of gifted children:


  • Traditional School – Traditional school is the everyday public school that most people think of when they hear the word school.  Each state has their own curriculum guidelines and policies for identifying and serving gifted students.  If your school does not have a gifted program, they may have pull-out services during the school day or they may do differentiation within the classroom.  The National Association for Gifted Children has a list of each state’s’ association.  Many gifted students are in traditional schools but the level of services varies greatly and many parents find themselves being advocates for additional differentiation, acceleration, or modifications.  In addition, many parents of the gifted have to find resources for after school or during their summer to better meet their child’s educational needs.
  • Gifted and Talented  Programming in Traditional School (GT or GATE or TAG) –  There is no federal mandate (explained here) and funding for the grant program keeps getting reduced and is on the slate for elimination.  Gifted education is in need of a federal mandate similar to that of special education.  Due to the lack of a federal mandate, states vary to such extremes on what they offer, when they offer, and who qualifies.   Not all states have gifted mandates and not all states have gifted funding which makes it hard for parents to even know about GT programs.  The Davidson Institute has a listing of where states fall.  Gifted programming and services completely vary by state and the districts within those states.  Some places offer GT services starting in pre-K while other places wait until 3rd or 4th grade or even later until middle school.  Some places offer a self-contained GT class while others offer only pull-out or after school services and others offer nothing.  Some places offer single subject acceleration while others require a whole grade.  Some places have restrictions on how far ahead a student may work within any given subject while others let the child soar.  There is no cookie cutter GT services in the US.  In fact, it even varies within the same school district.
  • Acceleration or Grade Skipping – Although, acceleration seems to be a controversial issue, the research has consistently documented the benefits and that it is more damaging to hold a child back in a grade they have already mastered.  In addition, acceleration should be viewed as two possibilities: single subject and whole grade.  One type of whole grade acceleration is early enrollment.  This is when children younger than kindergarten age test in and are allowed to start their formal schooling early.  Another type of early enrollment will be discussed later and has to deal with early college entrance.  Acceleration or grade skipping be beneficial to many gifted students but also to some high achievers who may not have met the formal GT eligibility.  In addition, acceleration is an affordable GT service in areas where there are not enough GT students to have self-contained programs or pull-out programs.  Single subject acceleration is the best way to meet the needs of asynchronous gifted students who have certain areas that are extremely far ahead of their peers.  For some profoundly gifted students, one grade acceleration is not enough.  For our son a double grade acceleration still would not have been enough for his math and science.  We opted to homeschool and leave the public school system.  However, acceleration has lots of supportive research  for meeting the needs of gifted students.  The Acceleration Institute has lots of research and resources that can help you pursue this for your child if that is a choice that may work for your student.
  • Afterschooling – Afterschooling is a term used to describe how parents meet their gifted child’s needs since they cannot homeschool.  The enrichment occurs after public school hours and at the parent’s expense.  Afterschooling is basically the enrolling of your student in a multitude of specialty programs that match your student’s interest or online gifted classes that occur at night or are self-paced (EPGY from Stanford University, CTY from John Hopkins, GLL from Northwestern University, etc.).  In some cities there are speciality enrichment programs that focus on learning a foreign language, extra science, robotics, programming, music, theater, and arts.  In addition, there are lots of online classes available.  We were doing afterschooling for 2 years before we switched to homeschooling.
  • Homeschooling – Homeschooling is a broad term to cover many types of educational styles that occur outside of a traditional school setting.  Some consider homeschooling education occurring in the home.  In fact, homeschooling covers a wide spectrum ranging from unschooling, coops, secular homeschooling, religious homeschooling, classical conversations, eclectic homeschooling, roadschooling, world schooling, radical unschooling, radical homeschooling, play groups, etc.  Homeschooling can be completely free to whatever dollar amount you choose to spend.  There are lots of resources online for homeschooling for free.  It takes a little more work to find secular resources, but there is a growing number of secular homeschoolers.  In addition, the public libraries have a wealth of books, textbooks, and curriculum aides. There are tons of online programs that are both free or for cost.  We are lucky to be in Houston as there are 100s of homeschooling resources from all the museums and theaters.  With the help of the internet (FB, google, Pinterest, etc.) you can find all kinds of educational resources to help.  There are also infinite numbers of homeschooling groups on FB, meetup, yahoo groups, and Bing so you can find support in your area.  In addition, there are also many groups specifically for homeschooling gifted students and homeschooling Mensans.
  • Self-contained Schools for the Gifted – Some public schools offer self-contained gifted schools.  In our zoned district, they only have self-contained gifted program at the middle school level.  There is nothing like it for the other grade levels.  A neighboring district has self-contained schools for gifted children starting in 1st grade and uses dual enrollment at the community college starting in 9th grade.  The Davidson Academy is the only self-contained public school for the profoundly gifted.  This is great for those who live in or near Reno, NV.  They have recently started an online high school.  Many major cities across the US have private schools for the gifted and the quality of their programs vary.  Sadly, self-contained public gifted schools are rare.
  • Private Schools – There are many types of private schools ranging from religious, secular, international, to specific schools for various types of disabilities.  The kind of private schools available really varies on the city and state.  In addition, prices vary widely.  For us in Houston, secular and international private schools ranged from $13,000 to $25,000 per year not including fundraising requirements and uniforms.  Other parts of the country have more affordable private schools.  Some parents of gifted children have found private schools to be more flexible for their gifted child as well as offering more challenges in classroom settings with smaller class size numbers.
  • Hybrid Schools – Hybrid schools is a subtype of a private school that blends private school and homeschooling.  In many of these schools, students attend a campus for 2 to 3 days a week while homeschooling the other days and having group field trips.  The hybrid school is really a more flexible scheduling of school for some gifted students and families who full-time homeschooling is not an option.  Around here, hybrid schools cost between $3,000 and $10,000.  In our area, most of the hybrid schools are religious but in some parts of the country there are secular ones too.
  • Online Schools – There are two types of online schools, public and private.  The public online schools are free just like public school and they follow the traditional school’s curriculum but it is done at home and online.  If you choose to do your state’s online public school your child will still have to do the state testing.  There are also private online schools which are significantly cheaper than physical private schools.  The private online schools may not follow your state’s curriculum guidelines but may follow a different or be completely different.  For some gifted families, this is what they use to homeschool so they do not have to locate any curriculums or programs.  The online schools provide everything for you.  Some online programs even provide computers and printers.
  • Charter or Magnet Schools – In most cases charter or magnet schools are alternatively run public schools that have admissions based on a lottery system or application system.  Some are schools within a school physically on the campus of a traditional school.  There are some private charters in some states.  However, not every city has charter schools or magnet schools.  Some gifted students benefit from them if the schools theme or emphasis matches the student’s area of interest and talent.
  • Dual Enrollment – Dual enrollment is the concurrent enrollment in high school and college.  Some public high schools have established dual enrollment programs with their local community college or university.  Others do not, but if you contact the nearest community college the option may still exist. If not, you may want to contact the nearest 4 year university or look online.  There are several universities that have online programs that any student can enroll in.  In the Houston area, many of the community colleges extend their dual enrollment program to homeschoolers and private school students.  In some dual enrollment programs, students graduate with an associate degree at the same time as they receive their high school diploma.  For some dual enrollment programs, the classes are actually offered at the high school.  For others it is either offered online or at the college campus.  Dual enrollment programs are different at each community college or 4-year university.  Their admissions department should be of assistance.
  • Early College Entrance – Early college entrance is different than dual enrollment because it entails a student at any age younger than 16 enrolling full time as a college student.  Dual enrollment programs have a cap on the number of college classes taken at a time.  Early college entrance is full time student enrollment at a college or university.  There have been several articles on students as young as young as 10 entering a university program. We know a student who is 14 and working on her PHD.  It can be done, but it is rare.  Another type of early college entrance are the specialized college high school programs that begin when a student is a junior and as young as 14.  These students then attend college full time, finishing high school requirements while at college.  Hoagies’ has a list of early college programs that are in various universities across the country.  If you have a profoundly gifted student ready for full time college under the age of 16 you need to set up a special meeting with admissions to go over their early entrance requirements.  For some it will be passing the standard college entrance exams, taking their placement exam, and interviews with your child.  I have heard of some universities wanting to see the IQ and achievement testing of applicants under the age of 12.  In addition, many universities have policies requiring parents being on campus or even in the class depending on how young the student is.  And, most universities will not let young students live on campus.  This is a tough choice and only fits a small percentage of gifted students.

As you can see, there are many educational options for our gifted children.  Some parts of the US and other countries may not have all of these choices available.  Each choice is going to have its own pros and cons that are different for each child.  There is no one solution or option that works best for all gifted children.  Just like all other children, there is no one size fits all.  We as parents have to choose the best option that works for our family.  For us that is homeschooling, but we have friends doing early college, dual enrollment, traditional public school GT programs, private, or self-contained schools for the gifted.  You will need to find the school choice that works for your child and fits with your family.  

Additional readings:


This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on “Educational Options.”  I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.

Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: