Should gifted children be accelerated?
The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children. However, research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.
Potential Plus, a UK charity which helps families with children with high learning potential, endorses the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.
Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4- to 5-years-old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3- to 4-years-old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. In contrast, a level 1 gifted child, although very able, does not have the same advanced abilities. A level 1 gifted child is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). Therefore, it may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.
The research suggests that even very young children should be accelerated. A parent needs to consider their child’s abilities as a whole before making the decision whether to accelerate them or not. If your child is highly gifted and does not fit in with his peers socially then the best decision would be to accelerate them. However, if your child is moderately gifted and finds it easy to interact with peers then a decision about acceleration could be delayed. Young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted and they may become more anxious if they have too much pressure from parents. Children can be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.
However, gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may not be picked for school sports teams.
Gifted children can also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics and it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to be particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.
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