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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Advocating for Acceleration – the Need for More Challenge

This is for parents of children who ask for more challenge, regardless of the subject. They’re gifted, curious, or quick learners. They come home from school and ask why the class is learning what they know intuitively. They ask intellectual questions about the topic. My son, in first grade, wanted to ask the teacher to discuss what is ∞ + ∞, and what is ∞ - ∞. My friend’s kid asked about the Voldemort’s motivations and what made him evil. Oftentimes, schools respond to this innate curiosity with frustration. One teacher told me that she didn’t have time to discuss how the structure of an atom has been elucidated by scientists over the last ten years in her 4th-5th grade combo class of 33 kids. Other schools will label the student as having “tiger parents” with the worst stereotypes of cultural backgrounds.

What can we do as parents? How can we advocate for schools to encourage curiosity instead of squelching it? How can we sustain their growth mindset so that they are not stymied the first time that they find a problem they cannot answer immediately?

Options for More Challenge

At School. One principle that works well for elementary aged students, make it easy for teachers by sending materials to school. Simplest are physical books or workbooks for your student to use while other children do grade level work. Some schools are open to online curriculum, most often middle school and beyond, or elementary schools with dedicated computers. On occasion, a school will agree to single-subject or full-grade acceleration, where the student attends one or more classes with older students. The upside of these options, the student learns at school and does not need to do more school after school. The downside, in-school options obviously require the teacher’s cooperation.

At Home or Outside Center. When schools are not open to modifying the curriculum, parents can enroll their children in outside programs online or at a center. The main advantage, this tactic only requires cooperation by your children and not navigating a political landmine at school. The downside is the loss of free or sports time with additional school, and the subsequent risk of rebellion. Nonetheless, some students are grateful for the opportunity.

Books. Many programs have developed curriculum books, from math to science to language arts. For reading, sending interesting chapter books, biographies, and nonfiction science books can hold student interest. Lastly, there are workbooks for everything from math to cursive to foreign languages. From a logistical standpoint, these options are straightforward. However, they can require teacher or parent involvement in learning.

Centers. Math centers continue to expand in major metropolitan areas, so are great options for parents with time to drive their children. While this option requires logistical coordination and time after school, children gain a peer group and in-person instruction. Many parents learned during the pandemic that their children do not respond well to remote learning, and it is these children that thrive in center-based learning.

Online Curriculum. Online classes can be self-paced or class-based, usually over video-conferencing. These classes aim to offer the same curriculum as in-person centers without the logistical challenges of driving. For parents looking to reduce commuting time, and children open to online learning, these curricula offer a simple plug-in curriculum. 

How to Approach School

Discuss Face-to-Face. The thorny question, how do you approach your school about the need for more challenge without a teacher feeling attacked and responding defensively. Starting with my article about communication principles for your school, understand that acceleration is a complex topic better discussed in person, or if needed, via video conferencing. The initial email would request time to discuss in depth and not present a solution or ask for any action beyond a discussion.

Gather Data. Before the meeting, assemble data to support your child’s need for more challenge. This could be an IQ test, achievement test, or their record at school. With one of my children, I showed placement testing from one of the gifted enrichment programs. With another of my children, I gathered their tests from school. Bringing objective data always helps turn the conversation in a positive direction.

Ask Your Child. Universally, schools have asked my children before agreeing to acceleration. When the school believes the request comes from the student, they are more open to change. On the other hand, when children we know have declined opportunity, the school has refused to modify their curriculum.

Role of a Consultant 

A consultant can help by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending potential paths for academic challenge. In addition, your consultant can help you strategize how to convince your school that your child needs a change, and how to approach the teachers with a collaborative tone.

Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.

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