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Adapting Curriculum for Your Gifted Learner

A a parent of a gifted learner, you know the problems involved in finding ‘just right’ units of study for each subject area. And you also know that gifted children are not necessarily gifted in every subject area. Choosing the proper materials for each subject can be a daunting task. In addition, some gifted children lag behind in other developmental areas such as social skills, emotional maturity, and even physical skills. It can be challenging to select the proper curriculum to meet your child’s specific needs.

It’s important to know, however, that gifted children don’t need only to do ‘more work’ than other students; the kind of study they engage in must be different, as well. The term used in the education world is ‘differentiated learning’ and it means that just as some children are visual learners and others auditory, gifted learners need curriculum that fits their unique needs.

Here are some of the key characteristics of learning you’ll want to include in the units of study you choose for your gifted child.

Gifted learners benefit from:

Teaching in wholes. Inquiry-based or thematic units of study that give a broad overview of a topic are readily grasped by the gifted. For instance, when learning about the game of baseball, the student would have the chance to learn the rules of the game, understand important strategies, know the nine positions, and get a chance to play the game. This is in opposition to many programs in which the child memorizes isolated bits of information, such as statistics of famous players or a list of equipment needed to play the game. Gifted children want the whole picture, not parts of it.

Material that is clearly well-written while offering the chance to learn in-depth and grapple with important issues and problems. Set individual goals for your learner. Allow your child to stop and focus on a particular issue or topic of special interest. It’s important for a gifted learner to work with specific goals in mind. But flexibility is also key because gifted learners are able to make connections between information across several subject areas.

A curriculum that lends itself to independent projects. Look for extension ideas that challenge the student to delve deeper into the subject. Encourage ideas for an independent extension designed by the student.

Real-life experiences that require problem-solving tasks. More than the average learner, the gifted thinker needs to apply learning to the real world.

Assuming ownership of their learning. This happens when higher-level thinking skills are used for processing information. Skills such as synthesis when a child makes connections between different bodies of information to arrive at a new principle or generalization of facts. When problem-solving skills are in use and communication skills are taught along with subject matter, the gifted student can shine.

Respect for individuality. When your gifted learner is engaged and focused on learning, it’s a wonderful thing to see.

Since gifted children comprehend complex ideas quickly, learn more rapidly and in greater depth than their peers, they must be allowed to move through lessons at their own pace. They must be given the opportunity to show mastery of information and then move on. They need time to explore in-depth, manipulate ideas, and draw generalizations. They need time and freedom to answer their own questions.

To modify or extend lessons, there needs to be changes in four major areas:

Content. Gifted children must be allowed to skim material they already know well and move on to new. They must be allowed to take ‘side trips’ when a topic captures their imagination. They may be able to work several grades ahead in their special areas of expertise.

Process. The gifted want to learn interesting information in a more in-depth way than other children. They may want to categorize, chart, or graph related information. They may see relationships to knowledge in another field of study. They need time, materials, and permission to follow a line of inquiry in an independent project of their own design. Cut-and-dried, fill-in-the-blank kinds of learning will bore and frustrate them.

Learning environment. More than most children, the gifted need freedom to explore, hypothesize, ask difficult questions and then create their own problem-solving plan. With guidance, they can go much deeper and reach levels of learning in which they synthesize and inter-relate information into new wholes. They need alternatives to common paper and pencil learning. Gifted children can benefit from a mentoring relationship in their special area of expertise and interest. Junior high and high school level learning can be linked to higher education institutions in the area.

4. Product expectation. As much as possible, gifted children need to demonstrate their learning in ways most comfortable to them. That may be in detailed written reports, but more often will be in hands-on projects and real applications. They may want to respond to learning through the arts or music.

The homeschool environment has the potential to solve many problems gifted children encounter in the regular classroom. Accelerated learners can study at various grade levels according to their skills in distinct subjects. They can show understanding and mastery in a unit of study and go on to the next unit. Parents can design projects tailored to their child’s unique interests and extend learning in creative ways. Properly-chosen curriculum for gifted children will reduce the stress and frustration many gifted children encounter in traditional learning environments.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and freelance writer. She is the author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read. Find her at

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