Homeschooling your Gifted Child
Homeschooling a gifted child can be summed up in one deceptively simple word: intense.
It will be intensely challenging, you will be intensely exhausted, they will intensely fight your efforts to stay on task or stick to any kind of a schedule, they will react badly if you cannot stay on task or stick the schedule that they hate with intensity, they will fixate on a thing with such intensity that you will be sure they have left this world entirely, and most of all homeschooling your gifted child will be intensely rewarding.
Why consider homeschooling a gifted child?
Homeschooling a gifted child comes with all the benefits of homeschooling all children. You will enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, you won’t have to defend your child to teachers that just don’t ‘get’ him, you can enjoy travel or spend time doing other things because school won’t take you seven hours a day. But gifted children have a unique set of needs that the current public school system is struggling to meet. Gifted students process things differently, and that can mean that a math lesson that is 45 minutes long can be learned in 5 minutes. It can also mean that a science lesson that is 45 minutes long leaves them yearning to explore the topic more deeply and creates a preoccupation in them that makes it difficult to sit still and pay attention for the rest of the day.
There is ample research supporting the fact that compaction and subject matter acceleration work really well for gifted kids. The problem in a school setting is that they both require an intense amount of time spent on each individual student. With compaction the idea is that the teacher will assess what the student knows and then teach to fill in the gaps. This sounds simple enough, but when you have twenty or more students, this suddenly becomes an exercise in infinite workloads.
Another option that works well for many gifted children is acceleration. If whole grade level acceleration is appropriate for a child then the public school system can accommodate that quite efficiently. However, often subject matter acceleration is more appropriate. A gifted child can be working two or three grade levels ahead in math while still working at their grade level in other subjects. Some school settings do accommodate subject matter acceleration, but as with compaction, it requires an increase in workload – something that is difficult to get out of an already overtaxed system.
If you are in a situation where your school can’t or won’t accommodate your gifted child, homeschooling can be a great alternative. With homeschooling you can use both acceleration and compaction. You can make information more compact if he or she understands it, and you can move ahead at your leisure – you don’t have to wait for the next school year to start the next school year’s math. You don’t even have to wait until your kids are done this school year to allow them to learn something that is several years ahead. They can feel free to explore their own potential. I have noticed with my own gifted children that they have an uncanny ability to fill in the blanks. In math this can mean learning several skills simultaneously. Learning multiplication facts while learning fractions and decimals. (Or maybe its learning multiplication facts because they are learning fractions and decimals, maybe one skill somehow helped them with another?). Whatever it is, homeschooling allows them to do more of it.
An additional academic advantage to homeschooling a gifted child is the ability to accommodate the gifted child’s areas of interest. If they want to spend a week exploring anti-matter when they should really be learning about division, that’s usually okay. The learning style and speed of a gifted child means they’ll typically make up for lost time quickly. If a spark is ignited when he or she learns how to do basic algebra, you can let them do as much as they want. If they pick up Huckleberry Finn and just can’t put it down, you don’t have to make them. The love of learning and the thirst for knowledge that, it seems to me, is innate with the gifted mind, can truly be accommodated by homeschooling. By pushing that passion into the 45 minute boxes that we call school, we often extinguish it.
One non-academic reason for homeschooling your gifted child is that gifted children tend to prefer to be around people of all ages. They are more likely to relate to a person who is their age intellectually or socially in a given situation. This doesn’t always mean they need to be around older children; sometimes asynchronous development leaves them behind in one or more areas and they are more comfortable with younger children. Either way, more variety of ages then is typically is allowed in school settings can be very good for gifted kids.
How to homeschool a gifted child?
There are many methods of homeschooling and different curricula and approaches, what you do in that department really comes down to personal choice. From my own experience homeschooling gifted children, I can tell you that there are three things that keep me sane. When things start to feel like they are unraveling (and they will, trust me), these are the three things I always come back to to get us back on track.
1. Scheduling. That’s right, we need to have a schedule. I know of tons of homeschooling parents that don’t , but we do. And then we have to be ready to abandon it at a moments notice. My experience has been that my kids need to know what we are doing when and for how long. My son will hold me to this as if it is tattooed on my forehead and my daughter will forget it the moment I tell her what it is. But they both need it before they can settle in to doing any real work. On the flip side, if we stumble across something that captures that intense desire for more, we had better be ready to abandon it, or what makes them love learning is lost.
2. Keep them moving. This one might be just so that I can catch my breath, and try to figure out how the heck I am going to find more information on tectonic plates and still have time to sort something out for dinner, but it helps. I find a way to get them some exercise everyday. If they tire themselves out, when its lights out time at night, they are better able to turn off their brains and get some much needed rest.
3. Take care of yourself. I know I know, you’ve heard it before. But it is so important and so true it is worth repeating. Do you know why, when you are on an airplane, they tell you if the oxygen masks ever come down to secure yours first, before securing your child’s? BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF YOU CANNOT TAKE CARE OF OTHER PEOPLE. This is not just a “you deserve a break, give yourself a gold star” moment with a bunch of smiley faces. This is a necessary part of taking care of anyone. If you don’t do it you will run out of oxygen and then the people who depend on you will be left to fend for themselves. Homeschooling a gifted child can at times feel like you are constantly pouring liquid into a bottomless vessel. Their thirst for knowledge can exhaust you very quickly. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to fill up that vessel.
For more information about homeschooling check out the book Modern Homeschooling – a comprehensive look at how homeschooling has moved into mainstream society in recent years.