The “challenge” of having a “exceptionally gifted” child, what can parents and schools do about it?
Today I met with a good friend and mother of two primary schoolers, a girl and a boy. She described to me vividly the challenges you face when you have “special” children (…which in one way or the other is the case for most parents).
Her daughter, aged 8, and studying in an international school in Barcelona, started showing the typical symptoms of a child that was suffering in class: she was bored by the teaching, easily distracted, often frustrated and also not on very good terms with her classmates. Whenever she had the chance to go at her own pace, like in maths programs, she would move ahead quickly to absorb the knowledge. It was clear that the lack of challenge in class adapted to her created this lack of motivation for school in general.
The parents discussed with the school if it was somehow possible to give her specific challenges to motivate her and progress. Indeed, the school did launch a some pilot initiative to enrich the learning for children like her, such as through participation to the Fermi Math League. Eventually, however, the school didn’t see itself capable to sustain this special attention to exceptionally gifted children, as it already had enough on its plate with the other usual and maybe more “recognized” issues like dyslexia, etc.
The only solution at hand was to make her skip a year, which seemed possible in her case being a quite mature girl. But this was still a hard decision to take, and has created potential new problems (e.g. how do you deal with an 8-year old already getting full exposure to pre-teen problems of 10-year olds…?).
Then there was this anecdote: a former classmate argued with the girl that it was impossible, given her age, to be in a class above, to the point that she called her a liar and left her crying. When her mother found out, she apologised to my friend, adding some word of admiration: “wow, your daughter must be really smart if she jumped a class like that!”.
The point is, having a supposed “prodigy” child is by no means a source of pleasure, not even pride, for the concerned parents: it can be the source of a lot of suffering, mental stress and in the worst case, unhappiness and social exclusion, and of false envy.
So some questions from there are: how can schools better take into account such “special needs” of children that need more challenges to stay motivated and thrive? How to design personalised paths without stigmatizing them, nor eating into their free time, nor overwhelming the teachers?