Is Your Teen Gifted — and Ready for Advanced Classes?

3 key steps will help you decide
Is Your Teen Gifted --- and Ready for Advanced Classes?

Does your teen seem bored at school, or ready for more challenging and engaging schoolwork? If so, then it might be a good idea to consider classes for advanced or gifted students.

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While public school systems vary from city to city and state to state, most offer courses or programs designed for students who excel academically.

This tougher coursework is sometimes called honors or advanced classes, or is part of the school district’s “gifted and talented” program. In some states, regulations require schools to have programs designed to meet the academic needs of these advanced students at all levels, starting as early as grade school.

Classes often work to spark creativity or encourage critical thinking in younger students.

For older students, in addition to advanced and honors classes, the College Board fosters the Advanced Placement (AP) program, which offers college-level courses to high school students across the country.

The College Board administers the SAT, the standardized test widely used to assess a student’s readiness for college in the United States. Credits from these AP classes can transfer to the college your child attends, allowing him or her to get some courses out of the way before even setting foot on campus.

Some students show an advanced general academic aptitude, while others perform well in certain areas such as English or math. But, how do you know if your child is ready for an advanced class? Here are some tips to help you decide.

1. Do your own homework first

Pediatrician Veronica Issac, MD, says parents need to look at several factors, but first they need to do their own homework.

In general, advanced classes are more in-depth and require more time and self-discipline from the student. However, they differ in each school district and often among the district’s individual schools, so you’ll need to sort out the options.

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Check with your child’s school to get information on the curriculum for advanced classes and how they compare to a regular class.

“Talking to your child’s current teacher can help as well,” Dr. Issac says. “The teacher can give you insight into classroom behavior and academic abilities.”

Some schools will notify parents if they believe a child is right for an advanced class. However, Dr. Issac says parents should research advanced-class options in their school district and serve as their child’s advocate if they feel advanced classes are right for their child.

She also recommends talking to anyone who regularly spends time with your child and whose input you value. Parents are ultimately responsible for their child’s educational path, but getting the opinions of others can help you make a more informed decision.

2. Talk to your teen about the options

Once you have a good understanding of what the advanced class requires, the most important factors are what your teen thinks about the move, and whether you think your child is ready and would benefit from the advanced class.

Parents should take into account their child’s work and study habits, as well as any ongoing extracurricular and social activities.

“Children should be able to manage their time fairly well,” says Dr. Issac. “If that’s an issue, you can encourage your child by suggesting a daily planner or other tool to help him or her manage a heavier workload.” You also can discuss what activities your teen is willing to give up or spend less time on.

When you talk to your child, try to tie in any benefits you see with your child’s interests and college or career goals.

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3. Consider possible concerns or unintended consequences

Changing to an advanced class will change not only the coursework, but likely also the teacher and the other students in the class.

“Focus on the positives but listen for any concerns your child has and address those honestly,” Dr. Issac says. “It may not be the academic challenges. It could be about losing their current friends or disappointing you if they fail.”

You need to gauge whether your child is ready emotionally as well as academically.

Continue to monitor how it’s going

Don’t let this be the only time you discuss your child’s concerns.

If you decide your child is ready, make sure you continue checking in after the advanced class starts. Transitions are difficult, and you’ll need to make sure your child is managing time and stress levels well as he or she adjusts. You both may need to make additional changes to support your child’s success.

“Children naturally try to expand their boundaries and challenge themselves and the world around them,” Dr. Issac says. “Advanced classes may be the perfect way for your child to become more independent and gain self-confidence, while the parent is there for support and to act as a safety net.”

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