Your child comes pre-wired with intensities, learns differently than most kids, and is already more than a handful. Do you really want to give up the extra income and spend even more time with your child?
I have no statistics for you, but as the population of homeschoolers grows (think about WHY), so does the population of gifted who are homeschooling. There are already several gifted Facebook groups. They’re growing in numbers while finding support, resources, and a place where they can relate to other “poppy” parents.
Many, are former classroom educators who realize the numerous limitations of classroom instruction in the current educational climate of mandated standardization. Others are frustrated parents who caught onto the fact that the 1-2 hours per week of “gifted instruction” (an oxymoron in itself) their child receives just doesn’t make up for the other 36 hours of non-gifted instruction. Gifted parents are not alone.
Teaching your child at home means giving up that extra paycheck, working through feeling like a fraud, accepting the label of “outcast” or “weird homeschooler”, and gaining the courage to follow your instincts while most of the rest of the world is following that well-worn and oh, so predictable path of traditional schooling. It’s also about admitting that it’s harder than you thought (this comes from a veteran teacher), but also comes with huge payoffs. Homeschooling a gifted (or any special needs child) comes with an extra layer to consider.
That boxed curriculum that the other mothers recommend probably won’t work as is; unless of course, your child is the compliant type. Often, the reason you’re homeschooling means the exact opposite. Unschooling can be appealing-see Amy Harrington if you think it might be for you, In fact, you’ll probably discover that much of the advice you get from the average homeschooler just won’t work for you. Yeah, um…that’s the reason WHY you’re homeschooling; isn’t it? Think about it. Is your kid an average kid? No. So, while some of that advice will work, you know how your day to day runs already. Get prepared. Your rollercoaster just added some extra loops.
You may also come to the realization that your child is a self-directed learner at heart (it’s part of his natural make-up as a gifted kid), and quite possibly he will exceed your own understandings in a few, short years. This journey is not for the faint of heart. You’re taking on a lot. Do you really need to do it? That’s up to you. So, once you’ve identified that this is your path, how can you ease your burden and find a way to enjoy teaching your own gifted child?
1. Know that most teachers know less about giftedness than you do.
Strange, but true. Teachers have gifted kids in their classes (probably more than they realize), but most won’t pay much attention to them. Besides the strange quirks, they’re not at the top of the list these days. It’s sad, but true. The ones who can up the test scores are the ones teachers have to target. Proficiency rules; not excellency. Your kid is probably passing even if school isn’t working for him. When it comes down to their job (yes, that’s the lovely educational system we’ve got going these days), few teachers are adding on any extra learning of their own that doesn’t involve increasing their test scores.
So, do some research about teaching gifted kids and get going.
2. Teach less and they’ll learn more.
Direct instruction is you telling your child the procedure, demonstrating the algorithm, and defining the terms. It’s helpful for everyone from time to time, but it’s also a lot of regurgitation for gifted kids which makes them tune out quickly. You’re doing all of the work. When you’re looking to expose your child to a fact, idea, or concept, build in a little mystery; a little engagement for your gifted child by probing instead of telling.
i.e. Usual scenario- “It says here that the meerkat is from South Africa. Where do you find the puma?”
Instead, try this- “Hey, I noticed the meerkat is indigenous to South Africa. I wonder about the puma.”
Gifted kids will catch on quicker that you’re trying to get them to do more work (especially if they’re past second grade and were traditionally schooled for awhile). The first scenario evokes a bit of mystery, but unless your child is interested in South Africa or the animals mentioned, there’s a good chance you won’t pique her interest. The second option throws in vocabulary using the context clues (many gifted kids will pursue the question just because the vocabulary intrigues them), but you also have a hook often BECAUSE you’re not asking them to find out. It implies a choice. If it really is, they will wonder. They may not research the information, but it will intrigue them enough to wonder. You’ve used novelty through vocabulary, choice, wonder, and you’ve demonstrated your own curiosity. You’re showing learning isn’t just for kids. Adults like to learn too.
Guiding gifted kids this way can take practice and initially it may be more time consuming, but you’re getting more bang for your buck. If nothing else, you’re reinforcing your own curiosity.
Don’t limit your child’s learning to the books. Remember how much learning she shows outside of school? That counts. Go places, do things. We are all learning- almost all of the time.
“When teaching gifted kids, think multiplicity. They are a many-layered soul. You must appeal to their nature to enter their world.”
3. They’re not too young.
Stretch those minds. Gifted kids already use an expanded vocabulary. Use it yourself. I’m not saying fill your sentences so much that your child has no idea what you’re saying and I’m not saying to ask your child to “gravitate to your shoes and pick them up”, but expand your vocabulary and you will expand your child’s vocabulary with nary a formal lesson. If you do want to expand vocabulary in a more direct way, keep a log of your own new word learning along with your child. Choose a Word of the Week- W.O.W.
Give your 8 year old a research project. Yes, she can handle it. She can read research with you, collect data, write observations, and cite resources. How much you expect is what your child will come to believe is appropriate. Don’t limit your child to the expectations of a typical child her age. Just minimize exposure when it’s a brain stretch. Short bursts and be on the lookout for frustration. Is 5 minutes really too long to expect a kid to write observations (or type or draw them)?
4. Do what comes naturally to your child.
Though I’ve spoken about stretching your child to keep her engaged, be sure to include natural inclinations too. There are wonderful art books that incorporate math activities, cookbooks for kids that help with following directions, and more games that enhance logic skills than you can imagine. Ask around.
Use your child’s favorite activity as a research topic, create a book of puns with your child, write snappy comebacks for when someone says, “What’s up?” (Thanks, Apryle for the idea!) Use your child’s interests and they will plug into almost any lesson you’re working on.
5. Expert contact / Mentors- living in the real world.
Tweet to your favorite astronomer, email and ask questions of the pros. It’s not only interesting, it builds real world skills along with kid grammar skills and letter writing. Getting a great job (eventually) has a lot to do with making the most of opportunities, some with your level of education, and TONS to do with making contacts. Take advantage of these skills at a safe time in your child’s life- when he’s “just a kid”. You never know what will come of it in a few years.
Get in physical contact with experts. Visit places and people that interest your child. Build in a lesson on research and have your child research her favorite musician, writer, or mathematician and then contact him or her. Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaks fondly of his meeting with Carl Sagan as a child. It confirmed his aspirations to eventually become an astrophysicist.
6. Guide your child to document, reflect, and self-assess.
It’s difficult to fool a gifted kid. If it’s good, she already knows it. If it’s not, she’s already tearing it apart. Encourage her to keep a portfolio. Think architect or artist-they do it to document their achievements. Your child can too. Everything else can go out with the trash (or be kept to show growth). Encourage deep reflections. “Why do you want to keep this project, painting, or writing for your portfolio?” Develop measurable qualities that will help to focus your child’s high level of expertise. Teach her how to self-assess according to a rubric. Set goals; large and small, short-term and long-term. Then, teach her how to reach them.
Keep in mind that though they are small AND mighty, they are still kids. They get tired and cranky, silly and crazy. They get more bored and more curious than most kids though. Use that to your advantage. Keep your child involved as much as possible in her own education and she will begin to see not only the control she never knew she had, but that “fun” has many definitions. Remember that ownership is a huge internal part of being gifted. Show your child how to maximize her own learning potential.