The same basic principles apply to homeschooling gifted children as to homeschooling any other children. The goal of homeschooling in general is to provide the environment, resources, and experiences which encourage curiosity, growth, and exploration.
Gifted children often respond very well to the homeschooling approach, which provides more flexibility and personal attention than traditional schooling. Gifted children often work at a quicker pace than their peers, and enjoy exploring a subject to a much greater degree of depth than might be taught at a public school. Homeschooling is the perfect approach to cater to these preferences.
Some parents of gifted children worry that they may not be able to teach certain subjects well enough to really draw out their kids’ potential. If that’s the case, there’s no need to worry. You don’t need to teach everything yourself, and there’s a large number of resources out there to draw upon, from community classes to online courses to private tutors and more.
Because gifted children are so intrinsically motivated, often you merely need to provide the resources and materials and then get out of the way. However, there are a few special considerations that come with having a gifted child:
The “Gifted” Label
In a homeschool setting, labeling a child as “gifted” doesn’t have the same effect as it does in traditional schooling because all homeschool programs are personalized, regardless of the child’s ability level. So is there any reason to use the label in homeschooling? There are some instances in which the label could be valuable:
If you want to transition into the school system later on: The school can easily test your child when you enroll, but it can be useful to already have the label established so you can get the most enrichment services possible.
If you want to take advantage of outside enrichment programs: A gifted label is very useful when using outside enrichment programs, such as those provided by John Hopkins and Stanford.
If your child is gifted enough to be admitted to college early: Some homeschool students are so profoundly gifted that they’re able to enroll in college as early as age 12, sometimes even younger.
When homeschooling parents see that their children may be gifted, they often wonder if they should have them tested to find out. After all, most traditional schools and institutions determine eligibility for gifted courses and programs based on test scores.
The answer to this question is “it depends.” Many gifted children actually enjoy taking tests. If your child is one of these, then by all means, let them take the test. However, some children find testing to be a very stressful and uncomfortable experience, no matter how gifted they may be. If this is the case, carefully consider the potential benefits of testing before subjecting them to it.
There are a few problems with testing. For one, you may not actually learn anything new from the test results. Chances are, from your time spent working with your child, you have a very accurate idea of where he or she stands.
Furthermore, tests are not always accurate. Standardized tests have a number of serious shortcomings. They may be misused, or may only measure certain aspects of intelligence, rather than taking a holistic view.
Tests may also have a cultural bias which puts your child at a disadvantage. At any rate, be cautious of tests and of putting too much stock into test scores.
Telling Kids That They’re Gifted
It’s tricky to know whether to tell your child that she’s gifted or not. There are pros and cons either way.
Homeschooling offers a unique challenge because, unlike traditional schools, children aren’t usually aware how they compare to their peers. This can actually be a positive thing.
Gifted children, when left to their own devices, will typically have healthy relationships with their friends, sharing their unique strengths and learning from the strengths of others. They also tend to interact well with kids of all ages.
Telling children that they’re “gifted” can be risky, because it can become a source of ego-identification for them. In other words, their whole sense of self becomes defined by the “gifted” label. This can go one of two ways.
They may actually become more insecure as a result. They may even avoid taking risks or pushing themselves to new levels, because if they fail they might lose their status of being “gifted.” Or, on the other hand, they may treat other children who aren’t labeled as “gifted” with condescension or disrespect, which can cause some pervasive social problems.
These problems are often in response to, or at least exacerbated by, parents who constantly compare their gifted children to other kids. The fact is, everyone grows at a different rate. Just because a child is ahead of the curve at age 5 doesn’t necessarily mean he will be his entire life.
A healthy sense of humility, and of celebrating everyone’s strengths, is a much more effective approach. This isn’t to discourage you from being proud of your child and of his accomplishments. Just be cautious, and remember that being too competitive with your child’s academics can lead to problems down the road.
Part of a well-rounded education includes learning how to treat others kindly, and with respect. Often, worrying about labels can needlessly complicate things. Children thrive when given the resources and opportunities necessary to pursue their unique passions and interests at their own pace, without the added pressure and expectations that go along with labels.