Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gifted Homeschooling

A few parents have remarked on this blog that they're investigating homeschooling their gifted kids. It's a popular option. When we were doing research for Genius Denied, the Davidsons told me that about half the families the Davidson Institute for Talent Development works with homeschool their children at some point during the kids' K-12 career. Few parents start off intending to homeschool. They're not religiously or philosophically opposed to public schools. It's just that the regular education programs their local schools offer don't work for their kids. Attempts to make accommodations go awry. So the parents take their kids out of school and attempt to teach them at home.

Of course, with gifted kids, this can be a problem too. As one mom told us, "Homeschooling an extremely gifted child is daunting. What works today is guaranteed not to work in six months. 'Canned' curricula are useless. Every single day is a challenging adventure."

So most parents of gifted kids don't wind up just teaching them at the kitchen table from the various curricular packages. They cobble together "school" from college classes, tutors, distance learning, and even half-day programs or pull-out programs at schools that are OK with that sort of thing. For instance, a kid might take calculus at the high school, music and art electives with her age-peers at the local middle school, study literature through an online provider like Stanford's Educational Program for Gifted Youth, and Spanish with a neighbor who speaks it fluently. That might work for one year. Then you have to find something else that works for the next year. Flexibility is key.

Fortunately, homeschooling parents tend to be wired types who like to help others in the homeschooling community. So there are a lot of homeschooling resources on the internet. I can recommend Hoagies' Gifted Education Pages on homeschooling, available here. While you're there, be sure to read the article in Reason magazine from Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation (available directly here.) He points out that this mish-mash style of education is actually closer to the way a lot of us assemble our careers than the cookie-cutter style too many schools promote. That may be small comfort when you're tearing your hair out because you carved out 6 months to learn multiplication and your kid learned it in 6 hours. But it might inspire a smile.


The Princess Mom said...

We homeschooled my 9th grader this year for the first time. The curriculum is certainly "cobbled": summer language camp plus the usual 9th grade classes online plus community college plus a newspaper job plus summer technology camp. But we've liked it so much and it has made such a difference in my son's outlook, that we'll be homeschooling all three boys next year. Giving them back the freedom and responsibility to learn is a gift.


Anonymous said...

>For instance, a kid might take calculus at the high school, music and art electives with her age-peers at the local middle school, study literature through an online provider like Stanford's Educational Program for Gifted Youth, and Spanish with a neighbor who speaks it fluently.

And, one thing to keep in mind is that many of us live in communities where the only children with any access to the public school system are students enrolled full time so homeschoolers are totally left on their own.

While many parents may find help from distance learning courses or college coursework these options are expensive and may not work for some children. Much of the work most homeschooled students do is with their parents and it typically requires an intense dedication of family resources.

Quiltsrwarm said...

Laura... You got the assumptions about why parents of gifted children homeschool right in our case. We never intended to homeschool, and my husband was dead-set against it, but it was at the back of my mind as an option if things didn't work out.

Last year was an incredibly eye-opening experience in how badly misinformed school administrators are when it comes to the needs of these precocious kids. I even had the gifted-coordinator tell me to my face that she didn't think many of the kids identified in early elementary as being gifted WERE gifted, because by they time she saw them in her 5th grade classes, the kids weren't smart at all (her opinion).

The thought hadn't occured to her (and I pointed it out) that perhaps the kids were so turned off by school by the time they hit middle school, that she saw "smartness" in only the kids the most adaptable to their situation. After dealing with this person and others who couldn't/wouldn't help my children, I'd had enough and made the decision to homeschool the weekend before school was to start this year -- and I haven't looked back.

Friends of mine who also have smart kids but who have homeschooled all their lives are uncomfortable with the gifted "label". They simply say their kids, while smart and advanced for their ages, are well-adjusted because the parents are able to make curriculum choices based on the needs of the children.

Thanks for addressing homeschooling in your blog, Laura... Homeschooling is such a doable option for gifted kids, a lot of work, but I tell you! Even with three gifted kids and having to switch gears more times than I care to mention, I am a LOT less stressed-out and my kids are a LOT happier than we ever were in the public schools. Our only problems stem from our location in a rural, farming community. Being wired IS a MUST for gifted homeschoolers, but because we are so rural, we have only a modem for our Internet connection.

Online classes, like what are offered through universities or charter schools, often require broadband access and the only way I can get that is through satellite and that, in turn, requires some major money to get started... Not to mention the cost of the classes themselves (as the previous poster mentioned).

So, like many parents of homeschooled gifted children, we "cobble" our curriculum (it is called Eclectic Homeschooling, by the way!)...

Lisa said...

Thanks for addressing homeschooling. And for Genius Denied! Before reading it, we had never considered homeschooling our son.

We pulled him out of K in the middle of the year and he is like a completely different child (very happy). He wanted to learn and had never gotten used to extreme boredom. Of course, we did a lot of advocating and searching for a school before I quit my job and started homeschooling.

YS Parent said...

Yes, I got interested in the writings of John Holt early, because his book How Children Fail was recommended to me by my junior high assistant principal when I was in ninth grade. That radicalized my thinking quite a bit, to get a book recommendation like that from a schoolteacher. Over the years, Holt discovered and began advocating homeschooling, so I had heard a lot about it by the time I had graduated from college, and was ready to try it for my own children after reflection on my experiences as an identified gifted child in "good public schools" in two different states growing up.

My wife, on her part, thought homeschooling was a shockingly radical idea when we were first married, but by the time we had our first child, we had attended homeschooling conferences and met homeschooled teenagers and we liked what we saw. We STILL like the results of homeschooling, now with four children of our own. These days one good way for parents of gifted children to find one another, besides through organizations like the Davidson Young Scholars program, is to look for homeschooling networks with advanced learning opportunities or online groups about gifted homeschooling. We enjoy a great local support group with other parents homeschooling gifted kids, and all our effort in setting up group activities for our children is amply rewarded by how much more they learn and how much more we parents feel encouraged and enabled.

Laura Vanderkam said...

YS parent: I had the privilege of interviewing John Taylor Gatto once (for a column called Some Can Sail Over High School that ran in USA Today in August of 2002.) When I got off the phone with him, my brain was buzzing. Some people are like that -- you get smarter by listening to them! Here's the link if it pastes well in here:

Anyway, here's a great quote from him: "In 30 contact hours" — that is, one-on-one teaching time — "you can teach a kid to read so well, the kid will be self-teaching from that point on," says John Taylor Gatto, the 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year, who now advocates home schooling. More math than most adults use takes just a bit longer. "So what are we doing the rest of the 12 years?" he asks. "We're teaching habits of obedience. We've extended childhood to an insane degree because it makes people more manageable."

G Bitch said...

Homeschooling is an attractive option but it seems to only work if one parent stays at home or if the parents work from the home. For parents who have to work full-time and need 2 incomes to stay afloat, much less thrive, homeschooling seems absolutely impossible. (Not that it necessarily is but it certainly seems so. It also seems possible only for upper-middle to upper class white homes, which are the ones most likely to have the income, resources, etc. to pull off one parent staying at home and also paying for university courses, tutors, materials, etc.) Are there ways to homeschool while working full-time? Esp. a precocious child who needs new strategies and lesson plans and materials every month, week or even day?

The Princess Mom said...

Is it possible to homeschool and work? Yes, but it requires flexibility on the part of both parents and success can depend on the emotional age of the child. Klaus is pretty much independent. If I didn't work from home, I'd have no problem leaving him to his own devices during the day. He's a teen but I feel the same way about 11yo Xavier. He's also quite independent.

Also, homeschooling doesn't have to break the bank. Klaus' CC chemistry course cost us a whole $15. Some scholarships are available for gifted kids so they can afford distance-learning and summer camps. Some states offer public virtual charter schools where you can take distance-learning classes on the state's dime. Scouts costs $12 for the year and offers a lot of opportunities for socializing as well as enrichment activities. Many public libraries have textbooks and curricula to borrow for free, not to mention basic resources for researching subjects and the great works of fiction. Some libraries offer free classes. It's an excellent resource for voracious minds.

If you can find a homeschool group in your area, you may be able to trade not only curricula but teaching duties, where your child may be able to stay with another homeschooling family during the day. Dads can help teach, grandparents can help teach.

Learning doesn't only happen between 9 and 3. I know single-parent families who "do school" at night after dinner. The actual instructional time in the public schools is about 2.5 hours/day. IME, homeschooling takes about as much time. Long answer short: Yes, it can be done with both parents working. :D

Tony Plank said...

This is certainly an encouraging blog for me. My wife and I are starting to think that the only thing that may work for our Son is home-schooling. He is a first grader and initially liked school but the slow pace is turning him off. He was tested for the gifted program in the district but tested just a bit above average. They also told us unofficially that the portfolio we submitted was suspected to be cooked by Mom and Dad. We think the truth is that he is ADHD and they do not want to deal with that.

I will say, we were very lucky on our regular classroom teacher who genuinely cares for our Son and tries with her limited resources to challenge him. He would not have lasted the year if it were not for that. But try as she might, it is still far short of his capabilities. He does two column addition at school and algebra at home. It just doesn’t work.

So, our options are to get a formal diagnosis of ADHD and try to force them to accommodate him in the gifted program or home-school. And frankly, we are not convinced that the gifted program is that great. The biggest reason we are considering that is so that he can be around kids that are more like him and develop some friendships. Right now, he is not very successful at establishing friendships with the others in his class.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts, I’d appreciate it. Regardless, I’m enjoying reading the blog.