Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advice for Newbie Gifted Homeschoolers

In a comment on yesterday's post, Angela wrote "I've done lots of surfing today in my gifted education research. I have a five year old son I plan on homeschool fulltime this fall--reluctantly. I am still in the mourning-the-death-of-my-career stage right now. :) But he has made it clear that traditional education is not for him. I am just overwhelmed at how to construct a gifted curriculum for him. If you have any words of wisdom you would like to bestow on a newbie, I would be so happy and grateful. Thank you!"

So here's my best advice for gifted homeschoolers:

1. Realize you're not perfect. Neither are "trained" teachers.

I've got a degree in elementary education, which has helped me hardly at all in homeschooling my kids. You are your children's first and best teacher. You've already taught him how to talk, how to walk, how to read and how to multiply. You can do the rest of it, too, or find someone who can. Educators know that "best practices" include reaching the child at his own level and moving at his own pace. Homeschoolers do this automatically.

2. Curriculum is over-rated

You don't need to spend loads of money on prepackaged curriculum and you don't need to replicate school at home. Especially with little kids, a library card and museum membership is really all you need. A Netflix membership is also helpful--we've used lots of videos and recorded History Channel and Discover Channel shows to follow our interests.

If you follow your child's interests--reading books and watching shows and maybe visiting a local museum exhibit--you will find yourself teaching "classes" in very unusual things. For example, Wolfie spent more than 60 hours his 7th grade year reading books about falconry, watching "Combat" and documentaries about the Crusades on the History Channel and researching catapults and trebuchets. As a homeschooler, we can put that together as a semester of "Medieval Weapons and Warfare," a class you would never find in a regular middle school.

Some beginning homeschoolers prefer to start with prepackaged curriculum. I'd suggest that you get a copy of E. D. Hirsch's "What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know". It will give you an idea what an excellent first grade would cover and I promise it will put your mind at rest about him missing out on anything. These books are available for each grade from preschool through 6th.

3. Nothing is Set in Stone

Deciding to homeschool this year does not mean you have to homeschool forever. Gifted kids and their asynchronies need different kinds of learning at different points in their lives. There may come a time when he wants to go to school to see what it's like. You may find a homeschool co-op that offers group activities one day a week--a day when you can concentrate on painting. I know I got a lot more writing done when I had only the three hours of preschool to myself. The short duration concentrates the mind wonderfully. ;-)

There are still days when I have to remind myself that the boys will only be middle schoolers once. They need me now and I can finish my novel once they're out of the house. But please keep in mind that homeschooling does not take as long as public schooling. You don't need to sit at a table for six hours a day. (In fact, please don't!) You can cover the K-2 curriculum in about 90 minutes a day of direct teaching. If he's got Legos to play or a backyard to explore or videos to watch, that can be your painting time.

4. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, not an educational choice

You can't only homeschool the oldest child. The others are watching. I tried this for a year with Klaus. By the end of that year, we were planning homeschool for all three of them. Wolfie and Xavier insisted. Now I have the two younger ones at home and we all have school together, for the most part. We also have the most fun when we have school together, whether that's reading aloud, which we do every morning, or doing vocabulary workbooks. You will never do a science experiment with only one of them. You will never do an art project with only one of them. Gardening and taking vacations and housekeeping and cooking and playing with the baby (remember home ec?) are all educational.

Keep in mind that if your oldest is gifted, the other two probably are, too. Maybe not to the same extent--Klaus is at a higher level of giftedness than his brothers--but they're just as poor a fit for a conventional classroom. Adaptations you make for your oldest will probably fit the others, too.

5. Find a support group

The internet is great for this. I suggest Mensa's Bright Kids for general questions about raising gifted children and the Homeschooling Mensans Yahoo group for questions specific to homeschooling gifted kids. Neither list requires you to be a member of Mensa. It's great to have a group of other parents in the same situation to ask questions of, particularly when you need a resource in marine biology for a 6yo or want to talk about early college options. ;-)


angela | the painted house said...

Oh, thank you for your comment on my blog--and this post! I can't read it right now since I have scheduled myself for a meeting over play-doh at the conference table in the backyard. But I will be back later today when I can read it without interruption. But just had to say thank you right now.

angela | the painted house said...

Ah, all is quiet; and I finally had a chance to read this post. THANK YOU for your time in writing this. I have stressed about curriculums--since there isn't really any that my limited research has shown for gifted children--but I am learning to discard my notions about traditional school and realize that homeschool is different. I guess it would be hard anyways to create some kind of comprehensive curriculum for gifted children since they are all at different levels in various subjects.

I am hoping to find a co-op nearby that will fit with Ashton. Also, I may look into a tutor--still not sure how I would want that to play out.

Have you felt ostracized in any way because you have a gifted child? I don't wear that fact on my shirt, but when it gets brought up, most people are stiff, doubtful, and defensive. I resist the urge to apologize.

I am glad you brought up the other two children. I am anxious to see their learning styles. Hopefully their brother's giftedness won't be a burden to them.

Again, thank you! And I will check out the links and poke around your blog for more info.

The Princess Mom said...

You mean the blank stares and defensiveness at park days when all the other mothers are comparing milestones? Totally BTDT. The #1 question I get from parents of gifted little ones is a variation of "Is this normal?" or "Isn't this normal?" The solution is Bright Kids or some other online sounding board.

Anonymous said...

Hi, great reading. I’ve recently discovered Bayard’s Books which seem to have the right mix of education and fun for all ages: StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks, DiscoveryBoxBooks
Also, I see they have a guest illustrator for one of their stories in the September edition of Storybox - award winning illustrator Helen Oxenbury, who also provided illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. They Also have some great ideas for a rainy day!

Anonymous said...

Great advice! I started out with a great curriculum plan, and I've used it to some extent, but we love the freedom to allow true interest-led learning.

Sometimes it's exhausting keeping up with the kids, but inspiring as well. There is a lot that I'm doing - writing, advocacy, etc. - that was directly inspired by them.

Still, thanks for the reminder that they're only kids once. This time is flying by as it is.