By Tiffany Tan
As with anything regarding a gifted child, homeschooling is more...everything! It is more fascinating, more frustrating, more exciting, more exhausting, and can be more expensive. While each situation is unique, some issues are common among 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 unique and usually asynchronistic 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 four-or five-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?
- 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 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and TAGMAX (click Mailing Lists, then choose TAGMAX) 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.
- Skip Grades — A homeschooler doesn't have to be bound by a particular grade level. Without pull-out or enrichment programs, 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!
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 is 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 if private instruction is possible. 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 consulting.
- Prepare 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.
This article was orginally written for a collection of information about starting the homeschool journey, "From Chaos to Confidence," on the HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) Web site. It is used here with HSC's permission.