Nearly one million school-aged children in the United States are educated primarily at home. Many of them are gifted. Parents who wonder if homeschooling will work for them need to consider the reasons for doing it and how to meet their children’s academic, social, and emotional needs.
Reasons for gifted children to learn at home
Parents who homeschool cite several reasons: traditional schools fail to meet their children’s needs; state and district budget cuts have reduced or eliminated many gifted programs; and the gifted programs that remain do not address the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, because they offer few opportunities for peer interaction, self-directed learning, or divergent thinking.
The uneven or asynchronous development of some gifted children make homeschooling a particularly good fit for them, because their parents can tailor a curriculum to their children’s own intellectual progress. For example, a fifth-grader might need to study prealgebra, read high-school-level books, but practice fourth-grade writing skills. Likewise, a child who is advanced in most or all areas can work at advanced levels without formally accelerating into a higher grade.
Homeschool parents support their children’s emotional needs by accepting and valuing their differences. Intense, highly sensitive, or creative children may feel that something is wrong with them in a classroom that does not tolerate diversity; however, a homeschooled child’s family can foster self-understanding through bibliotherapy (the use of books to promote emotional growth) and socializing with small groups of peers. Parents of introverted children can use homeschooling to provide an appropriate balance of alone time, family time, and group time.
But what about socialization? Myths and realities
Nearly every homeschool parent has faced the question “But what about socialization?” Some people assume that children who learn at home are isolated and lack friends and the ability to develop social skills. In reality, homeschooled children participate in many recreational and educational group activities and have ample time to develop meaningful friendships with others of all ages.
By planning a social and emotional curriculum, homeschool parents can help their children accept themselved and realize their potential.
Insightful parents can use homeschooling to broaden their children’s social education through multiage socializing, real-world learning, and opportunities for close friendships. Multiage socializing occurs in homeschool co-ops and support groups, sports teams, clubs, book discussion groups, community classes, and visits to senior centers and nursing homes.
Children can experience real-world learning by taking field trips to museums and businesses and by becoming full members of the community through volunteer and civic activities. Homeschool parents can seek opportunities for their children to form friendships by scheduling time for them to play and learn with children who share their intensity, intellect, and creativity. Gifted homeschooled children also benefit from friendships with adults willing to share their passions, conversation, and time.
How to start homeschooling
To start homeschooling, parents should consider their state’s education laws, their children’s interests and needs, educational costs, and forms of evaluation.
Rules and regulations pertaining to homeschooling vary greatly from state to state. Before beginning homeschooling, parents should contact their state’s department of education or homeschool parent association to get a copy of their state’s regulations and requirements.
But unless advance curriculum plans are specifically required, parents need not have a full year’s or even a full semester’s curriculum planned by the first day of homeschooling. Many parents begin by concentrating on their children’s interests and strengths, which encourages their self-confidence and love of learning. Over time, parents can experiment with ways to address subject areas or skills that do not engage or come easily to their children.
To homeschool successfully, parents do not have to know more than their children in every subject area, nor do they need formal training in education. Whereas a classroom teacher must be an expert in many teaching strategies, homeschool parents need to be experts only in regard to their own children’s learning styles, personalities, and educational needs.
When a child surpasses the parent’s knowledge base in or ability to teach a particular subject area, his or her needs can be met through distance-learning courses, talent search programs, mentors, community classes, homeschool co-ops, or part-time enrollment in public school, private school, or college. Moreover, many gifted children can learn to teach themselves what they want and need to know.
The amount that a family spends on homeschooling will depend, of course, on its resources and budget as well as on its needs and goals. Some families pay for distance-learning courses, summer camps, Saturday programs, part-time college courses, lab equipment, reference books, and other materials.
However, many families homeschool successfully and inexpensively by using public and university libraries, used books and materials, the Internet, informal mentors, inexpensive community classes, and scholarships for enrichment programs.
Parents have several options for evaluating their children’s progress. Some states require that homeschooled students periodically take standardized tests. When parents have a choice among forms of evaluation and assessment, they can also use talent-search testing, student portfolios, chapter and unit tests from textbooks, and informal conversation to track their children’s progress. By using formal evaluation only when necessary, they can keep the focus on learning rather than outside measures of achievement.
Is homeschooling right for your family?
Homeschooling is not the best fit for every family. If parents are intrigued by but unsure about homeschooling, they can try it for a semester or a year before making a long-term commitment to it.
For parents who like being around their children and are willing to be creative in homeschooling according to their children’s cognitive, social, and emotional needs, however, it can be a joyful and rewarding path for them as well as for the children.
This post has been adapted from an article by Lisa Rivero published in TIP’s Digest of Gifted Research.