It’s happened often enough that I don’t take offense anymore – person discovers I’m homeschooling only one of my kiddos, person inquires as to why, person discovers my kiddo is classified as profoundly gifted, person is either wildly interested or mildly threatened, then person asks, in all earnestness, “Do you think you can keep up with him? Don’t you ever worry that you won’t be able to teach him? Aren’t you afraid that he’s too smart for just you to teach?” Good thing I don’t take offense anymore, huh?
When inquiring minds pose these questions, it’s not at all a question of my own intelligence. They’re not calling me dumb or doubting my abilities, they’re just that amazed and the concept is that foreign – when homeschooling a gifted kid, how do you teach a child who is, in all likelihood, smarter than yourself?
Homeschooling has been on a meteoric rise in the last few years, and among those families making the choice to home educate is a large group of those left underwhelmed, underserved, and misunderstood by traditional education – those families with gifted children. Fed up with a lack of funding, the absence of programs, or just in need of more than a traditional school can offer these kids, parents of gifted littles are choosing instead to take their children’s education into their own hands and make the leap into homeschooling. Whether it was always the plan or a desperate, last-ditch effort, homeschooling has become a very viable option for families who discover their children are several standard deviations above the norm.
Our plan was never to homeschool. I fully admit to being full of opinions based on stereotypes and a lack of experience when it came to homeschooling and was actually quite vocally anti-homeschool. When we discovered that our son was profoundly gifted, once we gathered our jaws off the floor, we began to wonder what we were supposed to do for him. Homeschooling popped up almost immediately in internet searches, but I pushed that thought away. No way, not us, not me. When a grade skip, a list of accommodations, and countless meetings at his traditional school still couldn’t meet his needs, I still put it off – I was THAT convinced that homeschooling was not for us.
Until it became our only option.
It became apparent, eventually, that the damage being done to him by trying to shove his square peg self into the round hole of school was too much. I thought I was saving my sanity, thought I was protecting our relationship by putting off homeschooling, but I was really only saying no to his needs, putting my own comfort before his. His wonderful principal looked at me during yet another meeting trying to make more accommodations for him and asked, “When do we get to address his gifts?” Everything was so focused on forcing what wasn’t working that we had yet to allow him the freedom to be who he is, yet to be able to let his gifts shine and flourish. He was suffocating in our attempts to save him, and it was time to let him run free. It was time to bring him home.
But how? Now what? How exactly do you homeschool a gifted kid, a genius kid, a kid who, more than likely, is smarter than yourself? The short answer: over time.
Just as your kindergarten teacher didn’t have to worry with how they’d teach you trigonometry, just how you don’t have to fret over potty training your newborn when you first get home from the hospital, I don’t have to feel the weight of teaching my son everything immediately. The weight of his education is a solid one, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t take this responsibility lightly, but I also don’t have to know everything right now. Of course there will be subjects I’m not familiar with. Of course there will be material that’s beyond me. Of course he will reach a point when I can no longer be the sole educator in his life. But that moment is not now, and I can’t let an intimidating future scare me away from doing what’s best for him at the present.
So what happens when you reach a subject you can’t grasp? What happens when you’re the teacher of material you don’t understand? Homeschooling, like parenting, is not one-size-fits-all. There are several options when it comes to how a homeschooled child will learn and it creates a safety net of sorts for the timid, overwhelmed, or those of us who just sort of stink at math. Co-ops are an option. Online classes are an option. Local tutors are an option. We have a school nearby that solely offers classes a la carte to homeschoolers, so that’s an option. YouTube and Google are teeming with explanations and demonstrations, and my circle of friends and family has more than a few highly-intelligent people I can call on for help. But the most exciting option, the most desirable route, is to teach my son how to learn, how to take ownership of his education, how to ask questions and find answers, so that when the moment comes that he wants to learn something I can’t teach, he can learn it for himself. Gifted learners, after all, aren’t typical learners – they don’t always need someone standing in front of a chalkboard or four weeks of review. Homeschooling a gifted kid is not like teaching a class, and a good portion of the time it just requires knowing when to get out of their way and let them loose on whatever topic catches their fancy.
Another great option, and my current personal favorite, is to just learn it with him! So many people fear and focus on what they don’t know and forget that they’re still learners, themselves. I can’t tell you the incredibly fascinating things I’ve learned as we’ve delved into history together, the mind-blowing creatures we’ve discovered as we explore zoology together, even the grammar rules I somehow missed as we’ve studied literature together. To the shock of everyone, even my math skills have improved as we’ve practiced together. Considering myself a learner alongside my kiddo has given me a sense of freedom, excited me, humbled me. I don’t know everything, and I don’t have to.
Look, guys, I’m not flying blind here, either. Curriculum exists, and there’s a lot of it. Some even geared towards homeschooling a gifted child. I have a guide, a help, even instructions if I want them when it comes to certain topics. I’m not standing in front of him, reciting every mathematic formula and scientific theory from memory. I have Pinterest to inspire me, YouTube to teach me, and an entire world of friends on the internet to support me. Whatever I don’t know I can learn, and whatever I don’t learn I can farm out. Like I said above, I don’t have to teach him everything at once. I have time, and I can use some of it to read the manual.
More than anything, though, when it comes to homeschooling a gifted kid I have to remind himself, myself, and some “well-meaning” people that while he may be smarter than me, he’s nowhere near as wise. I like to think I had a part in the forming of his fascinating brain, and I did very well in school myself, so I’m not intimidated by him. He may know more about World War I than I do and can solve math problems way quicker than I can, but I’ve got experience on him. I’ve been around the block, I wasn’t born last night, and I’ve seen a few things in my day. He still needs me. He needs me to guide him, to show him, to lead him. Whatever he reads in black and white I can show him how to apply in this gray world. Whenever his technology fails him I can teach him new ways to discover. I can ask him questions, direct him towards new interests, support him, encourage him, or open the door and just get out of his way. He needs me – not always as an instructor, not just as a chauffer, but as a parent.
As the wonderful Colleen Kessler says, homeschooling is really just parenting on steroids. Education isn’t just the recitation of facts and parenting isn’t just tucking them in at night – homeschooling is a marriage of these. Homeschooling is finding the gaps left behind by mere textbook learning and filling it with experiences, love, wisdom, and freedom. Homeschooling a gifted kid is all of that with a whole lot of Googling added in. He’s brilliant, my boy, but he’s not too smart to be taught… especially by his mom.