Gifted homeschooling is possible – and preferable. Here’s how to thrive when the classroom fails.
High school English teachers aren’t homeschoolers. At least not until they discover the hell that is kindergarten.
Despite years of experience in “gifted” education, I was green when it came to my own little poppies. My oldest daughter especially was a mystery, the kind of child who read The Wizard of Oz at five but melted at the slightest change in her routine. We enrolled her in school with cautious optimism, hoping for a year of social and academic success.
She spent most of her time in the principal’s office and all but failed out by May.
We were devastated. Confused. Why couldn’t our beautiful, brilliant daughter function in a classroom setting?
There were meetings and evaluations; IEPs and accommodations. Psychologists and specialists used phrases like “least restrictive environment” and “access to the curriculum.”
Not once did anyone mention celebrating our daughter’s gifts.
That’s when I realized we were heading for homeschool.
I am the mother of a twice exceptional, a gifted child with sensory processing disorder.
My husband and I didn’t know any of this when our daughter started school – we just knew she was smart, focused, and occasionally overwhelmed in social situations. The kindergarten classroom’s rigid structure and social expectations meant we spent the year extinguishing fires the system reignited. While there were offers of assistance and “plans” for success, they only focused on assimilation into an overwhelming, unsuitable environment.
I couldn’t face another year of that, and so we brought her home.
As years have passed and I’ve shared more openly about our experiences, I’ve discovered that homeschooling among gifted families is growing. Gifted children are frequently out of place in a traditional school environment, and homeschooling allows a safe, encouraging harbor – the true meaning of “least restrictive environment.”
In order to see why homeschooling is often a better option for gifted families, it helps to understand the definition of giftedness. Giftedness isn’t academic success or high motivation: it is wiring, the ability to process, synthesize, and evaluate information at a high rate of speed.
Gifted children often exhibit
- Intense curiosity, sensitivity, and focus
- Unusual alertness (even in infancy)
- Heightened sense of fairness or justice
- Quick, unusual wit
- Vivid imagination
- Self-taught reading and writing skills
- Remarkable memory skills
- Frequent daydreaming
- Advanced verbal skills
But gifted children also exhibit characteristics which make classroom learning difficult
They tend toward intense focus, frequently presenting heightened emotional and sensory sensitivities, asynchronous development, and twice exceptional characteristics.
Dabrowski’s Five Overexcitabilities
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas of sensitivity in gifted children, each with its own set of benefits and challenges:
|Psychomotor||Always on; needs to move; needs to talk||Enjoys sports and debate; likes order and conversation||Often impulsive; have difficulty sleeping; can be intensely competitive|
|Sensual||Heightened awareness of the senses||Deep appreciation for beauty||Overly sensitive to smells, tastes, and textures; prone to sensory meltdowns|
|Intellectual||Always thinking; seek answers to deep questions||Curious; analytical; theoretical; abstract||Asks lots (and lots) of questions; follows rabbit trails to excess|
|Imaginational||Incredibly vivid imagination; prone to daydreaming and make believe||Richly creative; loves poetry, music, drama, and the arts||Frequently anxious (considers worst case scenario first): exhibits magical thinking (I believe it, so it must be so)|
|Emotional||Highly sensitive||Highly attuned to others’ needs; empathic in the truest sense of the word||Prone to anxiety, depression, and anger; experiences physical symptoms (stomach aches); frequently feels lonely or isolated|
While the list of benefits in the chart above proves the intensely fascinating and rich interior life of a gifted child, it’s easy to see why these characteristics would be a drawback in the classroom. Educating a group of 25 children requires some level of conformity, and for good reason: in order to reach every student, a teacher needs the children to sit down, listen, and follow directions appropriately. A quick survey of the challenges above reveals the hard truth: at best, a gifted child will be out of place in the classroom. At worst, the gifted child will be disciplined or ignored.
Gifted children’s abilities develop at different rates. For example, a gifted child who excels in math may struggle with learning to read. Additionally, gifted children’s social-emotional development does not occur at the same rate as their intellectual development. A first grader may read at a high school level but exhibit social behaviors more common in preschool.
In a classroom environment, asynchronous development becomes quite the challenge. What do you do with a precocious poppy who has mastered the academic curriculum but can’t relate to her peers? What sort of pressure does it place on a student when teachers expect congruent mastery across the classroom board?
Given my own daughter’s experiences, twice exceptionality is an aspect of giftedness close to my heart. Children with autism spectrum and developmental disorders like ADD/ADHD are frequently labeled as behavior problems, while students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning challenges are labeled as slow and unmotivated. Twice Exceptional children frequently struggle in the classroom – not because of their intellectual gifts, but because of the perception of those around them.
Taking the Leap
Even though a child’s school experiences might be traumatic, making the decision to homeschool your gifted child can be a daunting task:
- What if I can’t keep up?
- What if I can’t provide the right kind of challenge?
- What if I can’t teach certain subjects?
Homeschooling a gifted child is actually a lot easier than it seems.
Parents are facilitators, not teachers
Homeschooling a gifted child isn’t as much about instruction as it is about guidance. Gifted children are naturally curious and have plenty of topics they love to explore. Try taking a step back and letting your children take the lead. You know how much autonomy they can handle, and they appreciate the freedom to spearhead their own learning.
Parents don’t have to fixate on curriculum, assessments, test scores, and grade levels
You don’t have to use a boxed curriculum; you don’t have to stick with one grade. You don’t even have to start where your latest assessment dictates. You have the freedom to choose when and were to start, based on the distinct needs of your gifted child.
Parents don’t have to recreate a school environment at home
- You can do subjects (and even grade levels) out of order
- More work doesn’t always equal better work or better learning
- Experiential learning can be more effective than rote memorization
- Rabbit trails open up doorways to new, unexpected learning
Love your child. Enjoy your child. Don’t let “school” get in the way of that.
It’s true that I never anticipated being a homeschooler.
But now that our fourth year is in the books, I can’t imagine any other way. My children are thriving – emotionally, academically, and socially. Home is our least restrictive environment.
It’s the the key to authentic learning.