By Alexandra Shires Golon
If someone had told me when my sons were just two and four years old (as someone actually did) that I would be homeschooling them one day, I would have politely replied (as I actually did), "Pull every one of my teeth out first!" Here we are though, more than four years later, and life with our children couldn't be better, particularly where academics and the children's school options are concerned. Oh, we have our ups and downs – really high ups and really low downs. Such is life with the gifted. But our days are nothing like they were with a depressed, unchallenged, gifted seven year old.
After five schools in as many years, our oldest son was drowning. Unchallenged, though accelerated and attending a private school for the gifted, we watched as our child, once thoroughly inspired to learn, slipped into a deep depression. We could not, for whatever variety of reasons, create an education plan that met his need to be constantly intellectually challenged with our need to ensure that his childhood was honored. How does a curriculum offer Algebra, advanced sciences and college-level but age-appropriate reading along with ample time to ride a bike, play baseball and just explore? How do you convince an educator that while your son's handwriting skills may be, at best, age-appropriate, he really can converse and write with college-level vocabulary?
Like so many families across the country and around the world (including families I know of in Australia, Canada, Brazil, Cuba and more) the only alternative that answered those criteria was to do it ourselves. And so, with however much trepidation I was feeling, I became a homeschool mom.
Once perceived as outcasts, homeschoolers aren't viewed as all that radical anymore. In just the time we've been involved with it, we've noticed vastly different responses. When we first started and a well-meaning store clerk or librarian would ask, "Why aren't you in school?" our answer was usually met with an "oh......" As if the subject were taboo, we were "those kind of people." Not long after, however, when my children explained why they weren't really in any grade, they were met with, "Oh, my neighbor does that! Her children are so smart..." or, "Boy, a lot of people are doing that these days! It must be working!"
Sometime in the middle of our first year of homeschooling, it occurred to me that the whole idea had become much more than an education option. It had become a way of life. How our family had changed once we had no one else's schedule to adhere to! We ate when we became hungry, woke once we were rested and if we were in the middle of the greatest science experiment ever, there was no bell to rush us off to P.E.! Can you imagine the thrill when your child asks, "Mom, can I immerse in math?" How my son had changed after only the first few weeks and months of learning and exploring at his own personal level. My staunchest critics, family members who hadn't seen my son since the time of his lowest depression, were more than surprised to encounter a happy, funny, self-assured young man in the child they were certain would suffer socially, emotionally, and academically in homeschool. Once considered shy and overly introverted, people who meet him today comment on his self-confidence and happy demeanor.
I began this journey as I have most every other curveball thrown to me regarding my children, with a trip to the library. Some books I always recommend to people considering homeschooling include: Creative Homeschooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families by Lisa Rivero, Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax, Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson, and The Complete Home Learning Source Book by Rebecca Rupp. For support from other parents who homeschool, there's the TAGFAM family of email lists -- specifically TAGMAX for homeschooling gifted children -- and, of course, the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum's list.
For actual nuts and bolts I recommend: The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise & Susan Wise Bauer; Homeschool Your Child For Free: More than 1200 Smart, Effective, and Practical Resources for Home Education on the Internet and Beyond by LauraMaery Gold & Joan M. Zielinski; the Core Knowledge series (What Your Xth Grader Should Know) by E.D. Hirsch; and And What About College?: How Homeschooling Can Lead to Admissions to the Best Colleges & Universities By Cafi Cohen.
My list of “best resources” includes Scholastic -- yes, they let homeschoolers set up classroom accounts and earn the bonus points just like a regular classroom. For great prices on a wide variety of homeschool books I turn to the Rainbow Resource Center run by a large homeschooling family in the Midwest. My incredibly HUGE library wouldn't exist without the fantastic deals on Half.com and Amazon Marketplace and for high school level social studies (you name it, they have it!) I use Social Studies School Service.
For on-line classes, there are a number of distance learning services available. Our family has had success with Independent Study High School at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also, the Universities of Texas and Missouri offer programs that have received favorable reviews. There's also the High School Hub.
There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families doing it, from unschooling to school-at-home and everything in between. It really is something that must evolve within the family and include the input of the students. While it may not be the answer to every situation, it may very well be the best answer for kids who learn differently than their peers.
Alexandra “Allie” Golon served as Director of the Visual-Spatial Resource and Marketing Director/Homeschooling Consultant for the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado. As a former G/T teacher and parent to two exceptionally gifted boys, she brings a wealth of experience to her book, Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids: Successfully Parenting Your Visual-Spatial Child.