Justin and Zoe (parents of Thomas, 5 years): When Thomas was transitioning to school we immediately knew that the key to success will be working in close partnership with his teacher and with the school leadership as well, and ultimately, that’s an exercise in valuing and respecting the professionals who will make the difference for your child.
Heike (mother of Magnus, 13 years): You have to talk to the teachers every year. They could have new teachers every year. You want some consistency and you’re the only consistent thing in their lives. The teachers, they will talk to each other but they don’t know your child in the way you do. So every year you have to go in, and connect with the teachers. Tell them what your child is like. Tell them what his needs are and see how you can work together.
Dr Gail Byrne (educational psychologist): The learning needs of a gifted child are different and those learning needs are about often the pace of the curriculum. It is about the level of repetition in the curriculum.
Alison (mother of Ruby, 5 years, and Annabel, 3 years): Children like Ruby potentially have to sit through a lot of material at school that they already know, and I think that that can be very challenging for them.
Heike: We didn’t realise that school wouldn’t be able to fully cater for a kid who was beyond what a bright kid was. That’s why we provided extra activities. It’s the only way you could keep him functioning.
Dr Gail Byrne: All children’s responses to schools are individual. I think in terms of a gifted child’s experience of school, what it can be sometimes for them, if you listen to them in their words, they can be disappointed. These are young children who have such high expectations of school.
Alison: Ruby was expecting to go to school and start learning, I don’t know, geophysics and she didn’t learn that on the first day. So she stormed out of school like a black cloud and she was furious. School was going to be where she got to learn everything that she wanted to know, when she wanted to know it, and it’s not like that because she’s one of many. And I think that that’s a good skill to learn anyway. Is that she is one of many.
Dr Anne Grant (educational consultant in early childhood giftedness): Remember that the child will hit highs and lows, as all children do at school, and don’t become too anxious over every little low; that your child needs to learn to cope with those, as all children do. But neither should they have to cope with too many lows, and if you feel this is happening then you need to step in again and talk to the school.
Dr Gail Byrne: Parents can help their child learn at school by developing in their child a love of learning. Even if the parents are unhappy about how a school might be dealing with the child, it’s important that that not be discussed in front of the child.
Alison: Before we chose that school I met with the principal and the vice-principal and the prep coordinator, to find out what their plan was for Ruby. So tell them who she is, what her needs are, and find out how they were going to meet those needs.
Heike: We also had an individual learning plan for Magnus that started in about Grade 2. We pushed for that. The school didn’t offer that, and then every year the teachers could pass that on to the next teacher, so they had an idea of where they were going.
Alison: Living in a rural community adds an extra dimension that you need to accommodate when you have a gifted child, because the resources aren’t there as they would be in the city. We have had an educational psychologist who’s been local, so we’ve been able to work with her. She’s now consulting with the school.
Justin and Zoe: I think it’s different to say your child’s gifted but not everyone understands what that means and what the impact of that is. And because the children are fairly rare, partly you might have to go some way to educating the school.
Dr Anne Grant: Parents should go to the school and say ‘My child is advanced in this area and this area’ and as far as they can, take some evidence. Now if you have got a formal identification, take that. But usually parents will have lots of information about this child’s development over the years. So take that. That’s the basis to start a conversation, and ask the school to meet the particular learning needs of this child.
Heike: From our experiences high school is one of the best things that could have happened to Magnus. It’s very different to primary school. The kids, they become more independent. You have to, as a parent, let go a little bit. You have to leave them being responsible for their own learning, and for Magnus it’s worked really well.
Alison: School’s a completely new thing for me and just learning about how it works and how I can make it work best for Ruby is still, we’re still just working it out.
Heike: I found talking to other parents was a really helpful thing. You find that they’re not all the same as you and they’re coming from slightly different directions. Some of them have really profoundly gifted kids. Some of them really believe in testing. Some of them have lots of kids in the family. But all of them have similar problems, once you get them into the school. They’re all finding the same issues coming up. So talking to other parents, you can hear about what they’ve done in the schools and what’s worked, but generally you have a support network so you realise that you’re not alone, that when you approach the school, people who’ve done it before can give you advice and tips and it’s really, really handy.