Homeschooling the Gifted Child
As a parent, you may have asked these questions about your children:
“Is my child gifted?”
“What curriculum should I use for a gifted learner?
“How do I teach a gifted child?”
This blog post will provide answers for these challenging questions.
Homeschooling the Gifted Child
Gifted children are characterized not as much by performance as by the way that they think and learn, and have been studied by educators and psychologists for years. Over time, a fairly defined list of characteristics has been developed to help identify gifted children:
• Early and rapid learning- This would describe the three-year-old who one day picks up a book and starts reading, or the eight-year-old who researches and remembers the scientific names of all the birds that regularly appear in his backyard.
• Advanced language skills and vocabulary- Gifted children tend to talk early and use words beyond the level of their peers. For example, a gifted five-year-old might tell you that his dinner is “unappealing.”
• Strong memory- Gifted children seem to remember everything. One six-year-old I knew, during a trip to Canada, was able to find his way back to a place he’d visited only once.
• Ability to analyze and solve problems- These are the children who repair broken appliances or come up with new “inventions.” A two-year-old I knew was the consummate escape artist; she could find a way around any lock, latch, gate, or fence to get where she wanted to go.
• Perseverance or persistence (often interpreted as stubbornness)- When involved in something they find interesting, gifted children have an amazingly long attention span. These are the children who won’t come to dinner until they’ve finished a book or put in the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
• Need for constant stimulation (often misdiagnosed as ADHD)- The phrase that most commonly comes from the mouth of a gifted child is “I’m bored.” These are the children who are constantly “into everyone’s business” or who don’t want to go to bed because they’re afraid they’ll miss something (which explains why gifted children are often poor sleepers).
• Impatient with details, memorization, or rules (often interpreted as laziness or carelessness)- Gifted children are interested in the “big picture”—global ideas and overarching concepts. Memorizing math facts, refining their handwriting, or following rules drive them crazy. This also explains why gifted children like to argue and are often sloppy and disorganized.
• Ability to verbalize thoughts and feelings- Gifted children are able to “think about thinking.” They can explain their reasoning for doing something and describe how they are feeling with surprising insight.
• Makes unusual mental connections- The word generally used to describe gifted children is “imaginative.” When they’re supposed to be completing schoolwork, they turn pencils into rocket ships or find pictures in the carpet pattern. One eight-year-old I knew entertained herself on car rides by trying to make math equations for house numbers. (9153 would be 9 – 1 = 5 + 3).
Of course, these behaviors by themselves are not necessarily evidence of giftedness, but, if seen consistently, they can indicate that a child may be gifted.
What if you think your child fits this profile? How would you homeschool a child like this?
Curriculum for Gifted Children
The first area to consider would be the curriculum itself.
Because gifted children are able to grasp information much more quickly and broadly than their peers, grade-based programs are generally not the best option. For subject areas where skills are developed (math, grammar, and spelling), it is best to find a program that moves developmentally by level and let your child move through the program at his or her own pace. Even then, it is important that the program not be based on rote memorization.
Instead, the curriculum should delve into the underlying principles behind the concepts, providing the depth of understanding, that gifted children need. Broader conceptual subjects (science, social studies, and the fine arts) are best covered in unit studies or project-based programs that enable gifted students to explore topics in depth, make connections between subject areas, and use their imagination and creativity.
Homeschooling parents know that choosing the curriculum is only the beginning.
Even with the perfect curriculum, there are often adjustments that need to be made for the gifted child. A six-year-old who is working in an advanced math book, for example, may find that his fine motor skills are not developed enough for the small answer spaces. You may need to have your student write on separate paper with wider lines, at least for a time. Gifted children can also become frustrated because their brains go faster than their hands can write, so consider teaching typing early and allowing your student to type his work or answer questions orally. Gifted children need to be challenged, so make sure that projects and discussions encourage deeper thinking.
No matter what program is chosen, teaching a gifted child day in and day out can provide some unique challenges. Sometimes having a superior intellectual capability can lead the child to believe that he or she “knows better” than you, the teacher. You can avoid many unnecessary arguments by allowing your gifted child to take as much ownership of the schooling process as is appropriate. Choices of where schoolwork is completed, how much time is spent on each subject, and the daily schedule can often be left to the student. One mother I know simply gave her middle-school son a lesson plan book and let him schedule out his own school week. He ended up scheduling all of his math lessons on one day, his reading on another day, science on a third, and so on. Gifted children hate being interrupted when they are engrossed in something, so scheduling longer amounts of time in the different subject areas, as this student did, may also help to make your child more cooperative.
Homeschooling a gifted child, while different, involves the same considerations as homeschooling any child. You need to understand that child’s unique personality, select appropriate and engaging instructional materials, and discern whether the challenges that arise are educational issues or opportunities for character training. Applying the principles presented here should help you in navigating your gifted child’s homeschooling journey.