Is the Montessori Classroom the Right Place for a Gifted Child?

After taking a brief look at giftedness in the first post of this series, I’m ready to answer the question, “Is the Montessori classroom the best place for a gifted child?” I believe the answer is a qualified “yes”. Just as in many educational conundrums, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Each school and family will have to thoughtfully consider the needs and gifts of the specific child. Montessori is not the perfect answer for every developmentally normal child, and it’s not going to be the answer for every gifted child either.

What Does a Gifted Child Need in School?

There are some distinctive traits that Montessori schools have that make them a great fit for gifted students, but other facets may not be as compatible with gifted education. Gifted children need certain things from a school environment. Ideally, the school should:

* have enthusiastic & knowledgeable teachers
* use a flexible curriculum
* rely on a student’s abilities rather than age/grade for placement
* emphasize on hands-on learning instead of rote memorization
* encourage parent participation

Sounds a lot like a Montessori classroom, doesn’t it? Many Montessori schools have all these attributes and more. Since the quality of Montessori schools can vary widely, parents of gifted children are encouraged to observe the school they’re considering just like any family would before making any decisions.

The Necessity of Parent/Teacher Communication

The success of a gifted child in Montessori, quite honestly, is going to depend more on the attitude and knowledge of the teachers and school staff than it is on the Montessori method itself. The Montessori method is almost tailor-made for the gifted child, but some Montessori teachers (just like traditional ones) may not be ready to take on the challenge of a gifted child.

The parents must be sure to communicate with the teacher(s) and school staff before the child begins, to make sure that everyone understands the needs of the child. Expectations must be shared on both sides, and both sides must be ready to make some compromises, if necessary, to ensure the well-being of the child.

Are There Any Downsides to Montessori and Giftedness?

Some features of Montessori education might stand in the way of the progress of a gifted child. For instance, the Montessori curriculum has a distinct progression of materials. Certain materials build upon others; some teachers may feel that the child is not truly receiving the benefits of Montessori education if they do material C and not A and B. This may depend on the specific teachers; some may feel comfortable skipping presentations if it’s apparent that the child is beyond them.

There are also some challenges in elementary that might not surface in preschool. In preschool, presentations are usually done on an individual basis. A rapidly-excelling child could receive as many new presentations as the teachers can keep up with. In elementary, presentations are often done for groups.

Frequently, those groups are based on grade. While we might refer to “Level 1” or “Level 2” instead of first and second grade, the Montessori elementary classroom does assign children to a certain level that receives specific presentations throughout the school year. In the case of a gifted child, it may be beneficial to simply move them up to the next level, even if they remain in the same classroom, so that it’s easier for them to take part in the appropriate lessons.

Skipping Grades Can Be Beneficial

For many years, educators have been reluctant to let children skip grades, even when they were clearly too advanced for the material. One concern, often raised by parents and teachers, is the aspect of socialization. Will the child miss her friends? Will he be smaller than all the other children in the class?

Recent research shows that those fears are unfounded. Children who skip grades because of academic readiness are actually much happier in school than those who stay with their peers. They enjoy school more and are more likely to stay in school and do well. While social and emotional issues may still be present, they are not likely to be very detrimental when the child is challenged and stimulated by the higher level of learning.

A Real Life Success Story

For the last two years of my classroom teaching experience, I had a very gifted young lady in my class. When her parents first met with me, they showed me her standardized test scores (she was in kindergarten) and she was testing at a high school level for reading comprehension, math, and other academic areas. They were extremely concerned that she be in an environment that not only challenged her, but allowed her the freedom to grow and learn at her own pace.

Together, we worked out some special projects (book reports, research) that she worked on both in and out of the classroom. We also moved her immediately into Level 2 (second grade), bypassing Level 1 completely. Because of the multi-age composition of the classroom, she was always able to play and socialize with children her own age as well as the older kids in the class.

Overall, it was a huge success. Her parents were quite pleased with her progress, and she was extremely happy in her studies as well as in her friendships. It was the perfect example of the parents and school working together for the best interest of the child.

Homeschooling a Gifted Child

If you are unable to find a Montessori school that will make special concessions for your child’s abilities, or you simply do not have access to a Montessori school, you might consider homeschooling your gifted child with Montessori. This would be a fantastic way to take the best features of Montessori education and tailor them for your child’s needs and abilities.

Whatever path you and your child choose, it’s important to revisit your decision every year to make sure that your child’s needs are still being met. The investment of time and energy is a huge one, but you and your child will reap the benefits for years to come.

For additional information:

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page
The Exceptional Child: How to Spot a Gifted Student