Your child is gifted, and you are considering homeschooling. What are the benefits?
When you choose to homeschool your gifted child, you are giving your child the opportunity to have an education that is tailored to their needs without the repetition of a modern curriculum, or the focus on minimum standards that may overlook the potential of each individual child. While there are in-school options such as pull-out classes and acceleration, those still may not meet your child's needs. Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Centerwrites of asynchrony that...
"...gifted children develop in an uneven manner, that they are more complex and intense than their agemates, that they feel out-of-sync with age peers and 'age appropriate curriculum,' that the internal and external discrepancies increase with IQ, and that these differences make them extremely vulnerable. Their greatest need is each other in an environment in which it is safe to be different. IQ tests may not predict who will become famous, but they do give at least a minimal estimate of the degree of the child’s asynchrony, and, therefore, vulnerability."
Maybe your child is simply too asynchronous to fit comfortably into a one-size-fits-all academic environment (as are many gifted children), or you are just tired of using all of your energy advocating within the system and want to put it toward something you feel will be more effective.
One of the great joys of homeschooling is the flexibility inherent in running your own show. If you try a particular curriculum and it doesn't work, you can throw out parts of it, jump around among sections, or just put it aside and try something else. If your child is intensely interested in volcanoes of the Pacific, you can let them focus on that exclusively rather than stopping them after 20 minutes to study Latin. You can do unit studies, or you can simply run as hard as you can to follow your child's interests! You'll be able to let your kids move ahead in each subject at the pace at which they are comfortable, and expand on those subjects or take breaks from them as you believe appropriate. The possibilities are endless and the doors open to you and your child are many - read on for suggestions as to how you can homeschool your gifted child!
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Living with any children presents a vast array of issues and difficulties, and choosing to educate your children at home can bring many of these issues and difficulties to the fore. Living with and homeschooling children who have an unusual degree of creativity, perception, processing skill or other talents can present unique challenges. While no two families are alike, some issues are common among families of gifted homeschoolers:
Choosing the Right Method
When it comes to homeschooling, there is everything under the sun -- from a structured school-at-home approach to a relaxed learning style known as unschooling. You have the freedom to combine multiple methods and curricula, take a child-led approach or even make your own materials. One popular concept is the “unit study”, meaning a topic is studied in depth, incorporating various subjects (math, science, history, etc.) into the exploration.
Of course, there is no cookie-cutter homeschooling method that works with all gifted children, because they all have their own individual needs. One of the advantages of homeschooling is flexibility, which makes accommodating those needs easier than seeking adjustments within a standard school structure.
Finding Appropriate Materials
Unearthing appropriate materials can be a challenge, because your child’s abilities, interests and maturity levels may not match. For instance, your six-year-old may be happily capable of reading chapter books, but the subject matter is usually geared for a sixth grader. How do you find an interesting book for your young child that doesn’t introduce them to romance, violence or foul language? Or perhaps your three-year-old is learning to read, but he's not interested at in the books he can actually manage on his own. Where can you go for appropriate resources?
Maximize Your Local Library - Ask your librarian for book recommendations, and investigate book transfers from other locations for harder-to-find materials. For topics of interest, try checking out books at two or three different levels. Books geared for younger readers tend to have excellent pictures and graphics, while higher level books provide depth and statistics.
Go Online - The internet is a fabulous homeschooling tool. Not only can you locate information and materials, there are interactive educational activities and support groups to be found. Online support groups such as TAGMAX ( at http://www.tagfam.org/) and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CA-gt-hs/) tend to have an excellent exchange of resource information. Few other groups will take seriously a request for astronomy materials for a preschooler or a calculus text for a nine-year-old.
Work at Different Levels - A homeschooler doesn’t have to be bound by linear academic paths or limited to school-organized pull-out or enrichment programs. Instead, he/she can read at a seventh-grade level, do math at a third-grade level and study science at a high-school level - and those grade-levels can change mid-year, even mid-month! Many gifted children are far ahead in some areas and behind their age-mates in others; this doesn’t matter in a home environment, where everything can be tailored to where they are at that moment.
Advocating for Your Gifted Child
While homeschooling cuts through most educational “red tape,” you will probably still find situations where you need to advocate for your gifted child. Perhaps your local science museum is hosting a summer science camp designed for fourth through sixth graders - is it appropriate for your seven-year-old whose science studies are solidly at a fifth-grade-level? How do you find out?
Call and Ask - This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to talk yourself out of a potential resource if your child doesn’t exactly fit the criteria. Find out how firm the age or prerequisite requirements are, the purpose behind them, whether special accommodations are a possibility, and if the class is truly ideal for your child. It is usually most effective to talk directly to the instructor, and in person if possible.
Propose a Trial Period - Sometimes people are more willing to bend age-related rules if they have the opportunity try it out before committing. A trial class or period allows the child to determine if the class is what he/she had in mind, and the instructor can evaluate whether it is a situation they are comfortable with or not.
Offer to Attend - Age restrictions can sometimes be relaxed if a parent agrees to attend with the child, sit outside the classroom, etc.
Private Lessons - If an age-appropriate class is not available, investigate the possibility of private instruction. Not only do many gifted children thrive with one-on-one contact, the instructor will also have a better opportunity to evaluate whether your child’s skills might in fact match an existing class.
Enroll and Go - While we do not necessarily recommend it, some people have had success by simply enrolling their child in classes and activities that they feel are appropriate, without addressing the age issue. This approach is risky, but it may get your foot in the door.
Be Proactive - If your child has special needs in group or social situations, be up front about any accommodations that may need to be made. It is not uncommon for gifted children to have social or learning disorders, sensitivities, or allergies that can require the understanding and consideration of others.
A common homeschooling phenomenon is that our children tend to be fascinated with whatever subjects we parents feel the least competent at teaching. And, with gifted children, the learning curve can quickly become difficult to keep up with. Gifted children tend to have strong passions which drive them to seek more information than average, and can exhaust standard resources literally overnight. An effective solution can be finding a mentor in your child’s area of interest. Following are some tips on finding a mentor:
Ask Around - Talk with people in your child’s field of interest about what resources are in the area, how passionate your child is about the subject, and what they wish to learn. Potential mentors include high school or college students, professors, professionals and retirees.
Get the Word Out - Let people in your community know that your child would like to find a veterinarian who would let them ‘shadow,’ an artist who would allow them to observe or a programmer who would discuss code for a while.
Play Dumb - In general, people love to share their wisdom and expertise with others. Explain to potential mentors that while your child is fascinated with the subject, you are at a loss, and are looking for help.
Offer to Pay - Investigate the possibility of classes, private lessons or consultingPrepare Your Child - Make sure your child understands what is expected of him when working with a mentor in advance. Does he/she need to be quiet while in the office, avoid touching things without permission, etc.
Many of the considerations regarding homeschooling your gifted child apply to teens as well as to younger children. However, if your older child has moved beyond the level of resources available for school-aged children, you may want to start thinking about college-level projects or classes. In fact, college classes can be part or all of your teen’s schooling, and may even have become part of her (or his) schooling before she entered her teen years.
If your teen enrolls in classes at a community or four-year college, continuing attendance may be all that’s required for admission as a full-time student at a four-year college or university. At most schools, an applicant’s admission depends solely on her college record after some number of units has been completed. This number ranges from 12 to 60 semester units.
If your teen is preparing for full-time admission to a four-year college without first completing a substantial amount of college coursework, his preparation may or may not be traditional. Well-documented, good work in traditional high school subjects can provide the basis for college admission. This work can be done independently and in schools, with tutors and mentors, through distance learning, and in special programs for the gifted.
If traditional subjects do not engage your gifted teen’s interests and passions, a persuasive presentation of his or her abilities and accomplishments in other areas can often lead to college admission. Careful, detailed documentation of travel, volunteer work, employment, independent learning, community involvement, work with tutors and mentors, and participation in special programs for the gifted can form the core of a successful college application. Clear indications of academic ability should also be a matter of record, and this will most likely include at least minimal coursework in traditional academic subjects. Test scores, written testimony from experts, and work samples can form a substantial part of the record.
Gifted teens often take a path that leads to early college admission, and this sometimes requires early graduation from high school.
Your teen may not want to go directly to college. Her interests and talents might best be pursued elsewhere; a college degree is not always necessary for personal fulfillment and high achievement. However, if that is the path they choose to pursue, there are a number of ways for homeschooled gifted teens to make a smooth, successful transition to college.
Most gifted children have some asynchronies. That means they they are not developing evenly in every way. Your sweet little seven-year-old may at times have insights worthy of an adult, the attitude of a teenager, and the hissy fits of a preschooler... and that doesn't even address their academics! For a gifted child, this can be normal behavior. Some gifted children, however, have more extreme asynchronies. Some of these may fall into the category of learning disabilities. These kids, who are gifted but have learning or attention difficulties, are what we call "twice exceptional."
"Children with learning disabilities, behavior disorders, or other types of school problems who are also gifted in one or more areas must be allowed to be gifted in their areas of strength while they receive assistance in their areas of need. The discrepancy between their superior abilities and their dramatic weaknesses results in feelings of inadequacy, frustration and hopelessness. Many of these students are at high risk of becoming school dropouts. To bring sanctions against any child which prevent them from experiencing differentiation whenever or wherever it's needed is simply not effective or fair." (Winebrenner, Susan; The Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children Fall 1998 XII )
However, making the distinction between typical asynchronies and a true learning disability is difficult, because the line is so fuzzy. You may find yourself asking, "Is my child just a little quirky, or are we looking at the possibility of Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, mental disorders, dyslexia, visual or auditory processing disorders...?" What is 'normal' and what is pathological, anyway? One marker is the level of frustration your child faces - is this something they can truly work through, or would some kind of academic accommodation or professional assistance be more helpful?
There are more challenges in educating a twice exceptional child, but the flexibility to differentiate inherent in homeschooling allows you to address your child's strengths while leaving room to work at a different level on their learning challenges. Perhaps your child has an amazing ability to tell long, complicated stories - but has difficulty with hand-eye coordination, making handwriting a challenge. At home, you can have your child dictate his or her stories, or you can have them work on the computer (keyboarding is often easier for children with fine motor issues). In a classroom, the child with auditory sensitivities or ADHD may appear 'spaced out' and unable to learn, but at home, with few distractions, they can zoom ahead with their schoolwork. Another child might work best lounging upside down over the living room sofa, or they may prefer to contemplate the Roman Empire while pacing in circles and manipulating a Rubik's Cube. When you are homeschooling, the possibilities are endless for a child whose learning style or behavioral challenges don't work well in a formal classroom setting!
In addition, by homeschooling, you are able to schedule appointments for doctors, occupational therapists and other specialists who may be so busy as to be unavailable during typical school hours.
to link interested families with information and resources regarding educating a gifted child outside the traditional school system
to provide gifted homeschoolers with the opportunity to network and exchange ideas and resources
to increase awareness of homeschooling as a viable educational alternative for gifted children
to advocate for gifted homeschoolers as needed
to network with other education-related entities in support of these goals
Gifted Development Center Since 1979, The Gifted Development Center (GDC), a service of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, has served as a resource center for developmentally advanced children and their parents, and for gifted individuals of all ages.
California Association for the Gifted Gifted Education Communicator is a quarterly journal on topics of interest and benefit to parents and educators. The CAG Newsletter, Intercom, is now an electronic quarterly newsletter sent to all CAG members in a downloadable format. Thus it is most important that we have current email addresses for all of our members. CAG members will also receive periodic notification of educational opportunities and matters of legislative urgency. Darleen Saunders, CAG Capitol Region Parent Representative, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please contact HSC's Gifted Adviser for ideas and support, or if you have suggestions for additional resources.