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Why Parents of Gifted Children are Turning to Homeschooling

gifted kids leaving school

Tell someone that your child is gifted and they’ll probably roll their eyes. They might wait until you’re not looking, but eyes will roll.

Tell someone that your child is at risk for not finishing high school, more likely to struggle with depression, at an increased risk of suicide, or even more likely to be incarcerated than the general population, and you’ll probably get more concern than eye rolling.

Of course most parents of gifted children realize that I’m saying the same thing. But many people have no idea.

Many people feel that the label of gifted is unfair – that is somehow implies that children who do not make often arbitrary sounding cut offs on IQ tests or other criteria are not smart, talented or in any other way special. And I would agree, it does imply that, and that has done a huge disservice to everyone, gifted children included.

The problem is that the label ‘gifted’ sounds a lot like ‘has gifts’. This problem is compounded by the addition of “and talented” to many gifted programs. So little Johnny goes in for testing for the “gifted” and “talented” program. Turns out he didn’t make the cut off. So now, as a parent what I’m hearing is “little Johnny has no gifts and is not talented”. See how I might find that off-putting?

The reality is that gifted kids are often difficult to understand, can be overly sensitive and unusually excitable. They can have a very hard time with injustice or unfairness and they think in ways that can make them hard for other children to get along with. They are often extremely intense. They can find themselves turned off of school completely after facing too many long days of being bored, and forced to be taught things they have already learned. They can struggle with depression, understanding big, heavy issues like poverty and world hunger on a profound level, but lacking the life experience and maturity to be able to cope.

Don’t get me wrong, they can also be amazingly empathetic, fiercely creative, able to solve problems far beyond their years and have many other remarkable qualities. Their intensity can allow them to absorb vast amounts of information when something is interesting to them. But the semantic mishap that has called this condition ‘gifted’ has left these kids and their parents accused of elitism and demanding too much from an already stretched school system. Because they are gifted people assume that they will do “just fine” without the extra help and support that they truly need.

Many parents of gifted students know first hand, they don’t do “just fine” without the proper help and support.gifted kids leaving school2

Sometimes their boredom translates into disruptive behavior. Sometimes it creates apathy for school, or worse, hatred. Some kids  become withdrawn or even depressed. Whatever it looks like, parents know something is not working. Parents of gifted children advocate for their child, for acceleration, alternatives, some kind of enrichment so that their child can get back to doing what they are supposed to be doing: LEARNING.

A lucky few have full time gifted programs that their gifted child can attend.

Some are given pull out classes. Once a week for an hour their child can move into a higher grade level of math or science.

Many are told that they could access some enrichment, that the school could provide alternatives that would engage this child better. But first he has to learn how to behave, that if he can’t do what is required of him in the classroom now they cannot even consider accelerating or enriching his curriculum. This is like offering to give medicine to a sick person on the condition that they get well first.

Others are told that, because their child doesn’t have a diagnosis, they really can’t do anything for him. Some are even told to go and “get” a diagnosis, so that funding can be allocated for their child’s education.

At some point along this path, many parents of gifted children find themselves exhausted and out of options. Needing to find some way to meet the needs of their children, homeschooling emerges as a viable alternative. Homeschooling offers the gifted child time to really explore their interests, it allows them to move freely through subjects that they grasp quickly and gives you the opportunity to address their unique set of needs.

Of course homeschooling comes with its own set of challenges, and its not for everyone. But for those of us who have spent time and energy trying to get our square pegs to fit into the school system’s round holes, the responsibility and effort of homeschooling, while at times daunting, are a welcome reprieve.

The Glorification of Busy

“I have to pick up one child at school at 3:10 and be across town – a 20 minute drive, with another and have her ready in her leotard for Ballet for 3:30, then I have to race back and get the third one to a scout meeting for 4:00 and then back to the dance studio to pick up the second one for 4:15 and then get over to the other side of town for the first child’s football practice that goes from 5 until 7. At some point I have to leave there and grab my second child from scouts at 5:30. After 7:00 I still have to get dinner, homework and baths done!”

She says this as though these horrifying conditions have been imposed upon her by some higher power that would mandate that, unless her and her children are running ragged all day every day, she is not fulfilling her motherly duties. And she is looking at me as though I should be impressed. I’m not. I feel sorry for her and her kids.

But what’s really going on here? Do some parents really feel that their children need all that? Or is this some kind of strange competition for busiest parent of the year? Are these schedule run-downs that seem to happen any time you ask “what have you been up to?” their way of excusing themselves from the PTA? Or that play date you talked about six weeks ago? Or just making sure you know they aren’t lying around eating bonbons all day?

I try really hard not to judge other people’s parenting. But I have to ask, what is the benefit of having such a packed schedule?

What does this teach our children? Do they hear that, for time to be well spent it must be spent doing some formal activity? What would they do with themselves if they had some lengthy span of unscheduled time?

What values are we imparting during this mad dash? How are we cherishing our time…or theirs? Are we suggesting that we, as parents, have very little to teach them ourselves so we have to rush out at every opportunity to pay someone else to teach them something? Or even that every usable minute should be used to learn something?

I used to think it was an over-indulgence of the child’s requests for extra curricular activities, but having heard parents complain about how their children detest piano lessons or how hard it is to get them to pay attention for the entire dance class, I don’t think it is. I’ve also heard parents comment on how well their child ‘held up’ given the grueling nature of their schedule, or what a ‘trooper’ they were for having endured it. I think it holds some kind of value to the parent, not the child. A status symbol, or the ability to partake in a discussion about nearly any child related activity from experience. Maybe its a justification of what they ‘do’ as a parent, a strange sort of accounting for their position as mom or dad. A way to feel that not working outside of the home is justified, or a way to feel that working outside the home doesn’t negatively affect their children’s lives.

Whatever it is, I don’t share their admiration of their own impossible schedule and their insane quest to fulfill it.

I treasure family dinner times, together, at the table. I adore when my kids want to show me some crazy game they invented or some contraption (like the “exercise machine” they recently invented…a box, tied to a string, tied to one of their ceiling fans. Turn the fan on and it chases you and you run…voila, exercise machine!). I crave the days when they beg me to read just one more chapter of Magic Tree House and I’m not completely exhausted and I kind of want to know what happens next too, so we do. I love to do something we hadn’t planned on doing, or call some friends over on the spur of the moment for game night.

That’s not to say that we don’t do activities, we do. We have skating and scouts and karate and gymnastics, and next semester we’ll have a handful of things that take us from here to there. But we choose carefully and treat our time with the same care and thoughtfulness that we give to anything that we place a high value on in our lives. And when we do get to skating or scouts or gymnastics, I want them to enjoy it, not endure it. I want them to be ready, rested, well-fed and clear minded. We only get a finite number of seconds in this life, and I would rather cherish every one of them, then be so busy scheduling them all that they race by in a blur.

The face of homeschooling is changing

We’ve all seen them. Oddball homeschooling families. The kids are awkward, mom wears grandma jeans, dad is surly…sound familiar? Well its changing. The new face of the homeschooling family is the over achieving student, the soccer mom, the wealthy family who likes to travel, the family who wants to spend more time together or to free up time to explore other interests more intensely. The new face of homeschooling encompasses everyone – and it could be you.

Homeschooling has been a fringe activity in the past. But changes in technology and access to amazing resources are enticing families from all walks of life and all corners of the globe to reconsider. If this is you, I have written a book about Modern Homeschooling and you can purchase it on Amazon here.

The internet and computers have made school at home options literally point and click. My kids (in 3rd and 4th grade) can do an entire day of school on their own – without my help. (Don’t laugh homeschooling moms, I said “can” whether they actually ever will is to be seen!) The academic side of homeschooling has really been made unbelievably easy for anyone to do.  And whether your kids are breezing through school or really struggling to get through it, when you bring it home and they have 1 on 1 learning, they can come leaps and bounds in just a few weeks.

The choices homeschooling families now have are endless. Make your own curriculum, get one free off the internet, unschool them, sign them up for an online school or an online private school – the sky is literally the limit. We have our kids enrolled in an online public school in Arizona. They get boxes and boxes of supplies and books shipped to them each year – text books, work books, science equipment, art supplies, instruments – you name it. They each have a teacher and a class and have the option of joining into virtual lectures/discussions in every subject they are taking. There are counselors, clubs, field trips, after school play dates and much much more. Even though we find ourselves only spending about four hours a day on schoolwork, we don’t have time to take advantage of everything that their school has to offer. And that’s because we are busy doing things like creating our own server, learning to cook, taking swim team to a competitive level, ice skating 4 times a week, and just spending a lot of quality family time together. And I can’t think of anything better than that.

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