Homeschooling the Gifted/Talented Child, Pt. 5

Just How Fast Should He Go?

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that a child can go as fast, or as slow, as needed in order to learn the needed material. With some gifted/talented (G/T) kids, going slow is not the problem. I know some kids who will whip through a year’s worth of math or science in just a couple of months, especially if you are using a curriculum where it is focused on reading and answering questions, followed by testing. Many G/T kids are left-brain learners, and this type of schooling is very easy for them. They can read the material, answer questions, test, and move on to the next topic.

Should they be allowed to? I mean, you’ve seen those TEDx Talks where there are 14-year-olds in college. You’ve heard of kids graduating college at 16. Is this best for the child?

On the other hand, if the child is learning easily, is it right to hold him back so he will be at a level for his same-aged peers? Does this lead to boredom? Acting out? Quitting school?

To be honest, in a public school setting, the second scenario is more than likely to be true. You are more apt to find G/T kids who are held back due to age, who get bored and begin to act out. It is not unusual for them to drop out as soon as they are old enough. I’ve seen it numerous times.

In fact, I believe that many of our behavior issues in schools today, outside of not eating real food, can be traced to boredom due to material being too easy or not being taught in their learning style.

So what does a parent do when their Johnny is speeding through their curriculum so fast he will be done in half the school year? I’m going to share some suggestions.

  1. Make sure that you are using a curriculum that is not just read and fill-in-the-blanks. There are so many choices available today that I would try to provide a learning program that provides a good deal of hands-on projects. Hands-on learning provides all types of opportunities for deeper learning, making mistakes, and making discoveries outside the pages of a textbook.
  2. For subjects of deeper interests, explore library books, documentaries, museums, businesses on the topic, etc. Allow the student to dig deeper, while at the same time making sure that they are not focusing only on the subject of interest. It is not unusual for a child to become so fascinated with a topic they can become walking encyclopedias on that particular topic. Our children need to be well-rounded learners.
  3. When they have taken the normal subjects pretty deep, be sure they have the opportunity for other learning such as music, art, photography, and sports. Each of these can allow the child to continue to learn while broadening their horizons. In today’s technical world, a child can be exposed to all types of museums online.
  4. If they are still speeding through these various topics, then it is time to turn their attention to the world and being of service. I love the Moore Formula in that students are encouraged to study, work, and be of service as part of their education. I used this template with my children. It helps give them a broader view of life. If you have problems finding places to volunteer, check out the United Way.
  5. The last option follows along with Moore’s Formula also. This is allowing them to develop a home business or help a parent in a home business (depending on age). Moore has some wonderful advice in his homeschooling books on the positive learning a child has by developing their own business.

When I was just beginning to homeschool, I met a family who had a 16-year-old son who started a computer consulting business at 14 and was in such demand that the parents had to limit his work hours due to taxes. This so impressed me that I adopted that mindset to help other young people develop ideas for their own self-employment.

When considering how deep to allow to go, it depends on the child’s age and maturity. There is nothing inherently wrong with graduating early and going to college as a pre-teen. Just remember that cognitive development is often not at the same level as emotional development in the G/T child. This is where the advanced graduation can cause some problems.

A child who is 14 and entering college will not be emotionally ready to socially interact with young adults who are experiencing living on their own for the first time and learning to set their own boundaries. Sometimes, even in our Christian schools, the older students are not as accepting of a child who has graduated years early. Life is hard enough to have to wade through teen years and early adult years without adding additional stressors.

I was given an option of placing my daughter several grades ahead. I turned it down. I had too many negative memories of being teased for being the youngest in honor classes and making the highest grades. From this homeschooler’s viewpoint, I chose to branch out to explore the wide variety of topics available rather than going so far ahead. There’s an unending amount of knowledge to learn. By going broad, rather than deep, a child can slow down enough to allow other parts of their development to catch up.

Homeschooling the G/T Child, Pt. 3, Finding Support

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Parenting is never an easy task. When you add some type of special challenge to the mix, whatever side of the spectrum, it adds to the challenge. In today’s world, there are many free resources for children with challenges who may fall on the lower side of the spectrum. These children may be labeled “learning disabled” or “special needs.” There are countless organizations that will help you learn how to advocate for your child, how to find special resources to meet their needs, and provide plenty of support in respite care and parent meetings.

However, when the child is on the other end of the spectrum, the support dries up. I’ve experienced it myself and seen this with my daughter dealing with her own gifted/talented (G/T) child. If you talk about your five-year-old child reading at seventh-grade level, people will look at you like you’re bragging. If you mention your child learning how to do some physical feat months ahead of time, then you get that glare, like how dare you. Somehow over time being G/T has become a dirty word.

All children need to be celebrated at whatever level they are performing at, whether they meet developmental milestones a year behind what is considered normal, or advance in grade level faster than the typical child. Yet, many people today do not wish to hear of the accomplishments of the G/T child. They don’t want to hear Johnny in third grade is tutoring some high school students in calculus, because somehow it will diminish what their child is doing.

I want to validate the parents out there who get frustrated from being unable to share the various accomplishments of their G/T child because of people thinking you are bragging. It’s good to share a child’s accomplishments.

I would like to provide some resources on where you can find other parents who may be experiencing the same thing. The first place I would check would be your local community. If you live in a city of any size, there may be some parent support groups. The school would be a good place to find out about support groups for parents of G/T kids. Unfortunately, there are not that many out there in our communities. However, the internet abounds with various online groups. Below are two links that will give you a place to start.

http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/50-resources-for-the-parents-and-teachers-of-gifted-and-talented-students/

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/parents.htm [Wonderful source of daily articles concerning G/T kids, especially those who are “2e.”]

With homeschooling, there are various Facebook pages that will offer support for parents no matter what their child’s issues are. One example is the Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Another is the Gifted Homeschool Forum.

Whatever group you find, do not be ashamed to share about your child’s accomplishments. You are not bragging as much as celebrating a new milestone, no matter the age it was accomplished at.

Remember when you hear of another parent sharing their child’s accomplishments, be sure to give your own support. It’s the only way to change the way society thinks regarding giftedness as a dirty word.

The Two-Sided Coin of Giftedness

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“The root of excellence is perfectionism. It is the driving force in the personality that propels the individual toward higher and higher goals. There is a strong correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. I have yet to meet a gifted person who wasn’t perfectionistic in some way,” Linda Kreger Silverman, Perfectionism.

Today, I want to discuss the pros/cons of one of the most common characteristic of a gifted (G/T) child. That characteristic is perfectionism. As I look back at my own childhood, I know this striving for perfection led to a lot of anxiety and depression. Part of my efforts at perfectionism were rooted in the unrealistic expectations of a parent. However, it was also paired with my own expectations. It took a lot of life-learning to reach the point where I had a healthier and balanced form of striving to do my best.

Being a mother and grammy to a pair of females who also strive for perfectionism, I see both sides of the coin from a more objective viewpoint. It is not a bad goal to want to always move forward in improving oneself. It is good to try to work on bad habits to move toward becoming more of what God wants us to be. It is good to have high standards for yourself so you do the best you can at everything you do. The Bible even talks about doing all we do as to the Lord.

The problem comes from not accepting that, no matter how hard we try, we still make mistakes. Accepting that is very important in removing the negative aspects of this two-sided coin. Those who do not accept this often will experience anxiety or depression, and can even be stuck in procrastination. It is not uncommon for those G/T children to be stuck in a project by a fear of failure. They get overwhelmed with the possibility of not being able to get everything correct, so they do not even get started.

Some children will often refuse to try to do something if they feel they cannot master the skill immediately. It is simply “too hard” and not to be attempted. This is very common among the G/T.

Other aspects of the negative side of the perfectionism include never feeling as if your work is good enough. No matter the hours of research and the number of rewrites on a paper, it is still not good enough. This constant feeling of not being good enough can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Sometimes, a child can begin to feel physical symptoms due to this anxiety.

Sometimes the perfectionist will be unable to relax and enjoy just being. They feel they must be continually be working on something. Some G/Ts feel that they have no real value outside of their ability to produce.

This has some deeper spiritual aspects since we all need to learn that no one is perfect outside of God, and that our work, no matter how good, is never enough to earn our salvation. It is the dependence on God that actually will help the G/T child learn to accept their innate value, and to try their best and allow God to take care of the rest.

Ways to Help:

To help the G/T child who is experiencing the negative side of the perfectionism coin, a parent can begin by making sure you are modeling acceptance of your own mistakes, even while you always try to do your best. Also, sometimes children do not perceive your mistakes. Be open about them. It is also a good practice to have your child hear you asking God for forgiveness and even help in doing better.

Work with the child to set SMART goals, while emphasizing that it is the process of learning that is important. Never allow the child to feel that your love of them is based on how well they do on a project.

Sometimes G/T kids are so scared of failure that they refuse to take risks. I’m not talking of unhealthy risky behavior, but just trying new things, whether that is trying out for a sport or entering a contest or learning how to dive. It is good for a child to learn something that will take practice to master. This will enlarge on their view of accepting themselves for not being perfect.

Striving for perfection is not a bad thing. We all should strive to move to be more Christ-like in all things. It’s when we cannot accept our best efforts that this characteristic can become a liability. As you work with your G/T child, help them to know that they are loved at all stages of learning, even when they are unable to immediately master a skill, and that God is there to help us in our walk to be the best we can be.

http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents/social-emotional-issues/perfectionism
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/perfectionhg.htm

Homeschooling the Gifted/Talented Child, Pt. 2: Breaking Out of the Box

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Many of the suggestions I offer in my previous articles regarding children with challenges can be applied also to homeschooling gifted/talented (G/T) kids. When starting, it’s important to assess the child’s learning style. Also, if the child tends to be on the hyper side or have emotional outbursts, it is a good idea to check the diet and assess for food sensitivities.

Just because a child learns easy doesn’t mean straight book work is the best option for them. Personally, I feel that unit studies make learning more natural. Homeschooling is more than “school at home.” So, when homeschooling your G/T child, look beyond the books. Think of projects based on their topics of interest. Unit studies can be useful in this regard. For the older child, research projects that require more than just a typed paper could be a fun learning activity.

Book reports and research papers can be replaced with posters, art projects, a sewing project, a wood-working project, a diorama, a model, etc. Educational videos and documentaries can replace chapters in textbooks. Then the child can take one part of what they learned and create a hands-on project from it. A field trip to a local museum or even a business can stimulate more learning. In today’s internet world, the student can access museums of all types from around the world. This can add depth to the learning experience.

It’s so easy to be caught up in our busy worlds today that we just want to find a way to “get the job done.” This is not always the best choice for the G/T child. They need more to stimulate their mind. They need to be challenged and allowed to explore/make mistakes/get messy.

Remember, we choose homeschooling so our child can become all they are meant to be. That means getting out of the mindset of what everyone else expects. For the young child who is very advanced (I have a granddaughter like this), I do still suggest waiting for more formal education until they are older, around eight to 10 years old. I also suggest to go broad rather than deep.

For example, if a child is advanced in the math and sciences, I would focus on things like music or art and other electives. It would be easy to allow them to go as deep as they want in their favorite subjects, but this will often create a skewed education rather than offering a balanced training. There are many outside classes offered today, but don’t forget to allow plenty of time to simply be a kid. Play time is just as important for the G/T child as the children with challenges on the other side of the spectrum, and the G/T child could greatly benefit from play time. One never knows if they will create the next art masterpiece or the next classical music composition.

Allowing the child as much freedom as possible in their educational pursuits is a great way to raise children who are fulfilling their God-given potential.

Homeschooling the Gifted/Talented Child, Pt. 1: The Other Special Needs Child

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Over the past few years, I have written extensively about how to homeschool “children with challenges” for this blog. When people hear that phrase or “special needs child,” they are thinking of a child who has learning challenges. In the past I only lightly touched the topic of homeschooling a child on the other end of the spectrum. This year one of the topics I will be addressing is how to meet the needs of the child who is gifted/talented (G/T).

Why listen to me about this topic? I grew up at the end of a magical time in the public schools. I attended schools that utilized ability grouping. I know these are talked down about these days, but in my time they were wonderful. Children were allowed to be with other children who had like educational abilities. No child had to sit and be bored while fellow classmates who needed more time to complete their work continued working. Those who needed extra attention and time had it — without being made to feel they were stupid or unusual, because the whole class went at the slower pace.

By the time I hit junior high, honor classes were introduced. We were placed in classes where the requirements were harder. I thrived in such an environment. The classes tended to have the same group of kids, so you were able to develop deeper friendships with kids who did not think you were odd. You were not made fun of if you dug in a little deeper on a special topic. High school found me continuing on the honor classes track.

Fast forward a few years to when I found myself with a child who was learning faster than I could keep up. In the early ’80s, there was very little support. There was certainly no internet to look up ideas. If you spoke with other moms, you were looked upon as if you were bragging. I found a few odd books at the library. When my daughter hit 4th grade, I found myself talking to teachers who only wanted her to sit with her head on the desk when she was finished with her work. She went from attending G/T classes once a week and being allowed to do special projects…to no support or extra help. Within six weeks I was desperate. A friend suggested I homeschool. That begun my journey of more than 20 years.

Many times, G/T kids are expected to “just deal with it” if they finish work early. They are not considered to be special needs children. Their creative thinking and out-of-the-box solutions are often suppressed and criticized. Their tendency to jump from one topic to another will get them punished or disciplined. Some G/T kids are very social and love to talk. Since they finish their work early, they simply do not understand why they can’t visit with their schoolmates in their extra time. This doesn’t work very well in the current school system.

In order to save their “special children,” thousands of parents are now opting to homeschool their G/T child. Today’s gifted child will often have additional challenges that make homeschooling a better option. These children are usually called “twice-exceptional (2e).” These are the ones that might be a bit hyper. They may be very sensitive to stimulation of sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch. They might be the picky eaters because they can only tolerate certain textures in their food. They may be on the autistic spectrum. They may have a different learning style from our left-brain school system. These 2e children learn fast, but they often have other challenges that make simply teaching them in the public school system a disaster.

By bringing them home, the parent can create a wholesome learning environment where the child can learn in their special learning style. They can avoid the extra stimulation of other kids, sounds, lights, etc., that may set off melt-downs because the child simply does not understand how to handle the overload on their brains. Homeschooling allows the child to explore topics of interest to a deeper level. G/T kids will often start their own businesses while still working on high school. They also tend to be active in volunteer work in the community as they learn to take an active part in our society.

Homeschooling G/T kids can be a challenge, but also a joy as you observe them learning without all the restrictions of public schools. Those who are 2e end up thriving, because they are not hampered by labels and professionals who tell them what they cannot do. Over the coming months, I will be sharing many ideas on how to help your G/T child become the person God intended them to be.