So, you are thinking about homeschooling. Or maybe you have just started, but don’t know what to do first or how homeschooling a highly gifted child might be different from any other form of homeschooling.
As someone who homeschooled for ten years, I can assure you that the questions never stop coming, and the answers change continually as your family’s and children’s needs change. However, here are a few common questions from parents of gifted children to help you to get started.
Question: How do you actually begin? Do you need to get licensed or certified somehow or register with your state?
Answer: The first thing you will need to do is to become familiar with your state’s homeschooling law. Homeschooling is legal is all fifty states, but the requirements differ widely from state to state. (Links to state laws and other resources are available at the end of this article.) Larry and Susan Kaseman’s “Taking Charge” column in Home Education Magazine is a valuable perspective and source of information about legal aspects of homeschooling. You can also look for local and state homeschooling support groups for sources of up-to-date information and support.
When you study your state’s homeschooling law, pay attention to these areas:1
Families new to homeschooling need to know if they must notify their state department of education or their local school authorities of their intent to homeschool. In some states, no notification is required. In other states, all homeschoolers must submit notification by a certain date (usually summer or fall), and some states require only those children who are leaving school--rather than never having gone to school--to fill out notification forms.
Age of Compulsory Attendance
All states set ages when children must begin schooling and when they are no longer bound by compulsory attendance. These ages almost always are the same as for students attending public or private schools.
Some states require no qualifications other than being a child’s parent or legal guardian. Other states require homeschool parents to have a specific level of formal education or to work with certified teachers to fulfill the law.
Parent requirements to homeschool raise interesting questions and issues. Private schools often do not have to hire certified teachers, even though these teachers are working with more children at once than homeschool parents. Much of the teacher training required for certification isn’t useful for home education, where keeping a group of students on task and developing lesson plans for many children of a similar age are not applicable. For one-on-one learning, the most important qualifications are a willingness to find and do whatever works best and a deep knowledge of the learner.
Attendance in some kind of education program is compulsory for all children in the United States. Some states specify a number of hours, days, or months required of homeschooled children. Not all states require that attendance records be kept or submitted (see Record Keeping, below).
Depending on the state of residence, parents have much flexibility with their home education calendar. Unless the law restricts attendance to traditional school days or months, families can divide the hours or days throughout the year, homeschool during the summer and take time off for travel in the winter, or homeschool late afternoons and evenings rather than in the morning. For gifted children who are hungry to learn, not having to break the day, week, or year into artificial learning and “non-learning” times a joy.
Private School Status
In some states, homeschools are considered to be private schools, with homeschooling requirements falling under private school regulations. The paperwork may be the same as for private schools or it may be specific to homeschoolers. It’s important to know what your home education is classified as, because this may affect the services available to you and whether private school legislation applies to your homeschooling.
Subjects and Curriculum
States may or may not list specific subjects for homeschoolers to study. Many states require that homeschools offer the same curriculum as public schools in the state, while a few have no subject requirements. By understanding what is required as well as what is allowed by law, families give themselves as many choices as possible, especially for children with asynchronous ability levels.
Contact with Local School District
Depending on where they live, homeschool families may be required to have some contact with their local school district personnel. This could be when they notify them of their intent to homeschool, when they submit test scores or other paperwork, or at quarterly or annual reviews.
Testing and Assessment
One thing that all parents thinking of homeschooling will want to know is if their state requires them to submit standardized-test scores. Several states require no testing of homeschooled children. Other states call for homeschooled children to take whatever standardized tests are given to public school students, or to be given some other state-approved standardized test at regular intervals. In some cases, parents have the option of waiving the standardized-test requirement if they agree to have their child’s progress reviewed by a certified teacher, principal, or superintendent, or an advisory board set up for this purpose.
Records that homeschool parents may be required to keep include attendance logs, immunization records, quarterly progress reports, summaries of curricula and textbooks used, reading logs, test results, or samples of writing or other work. In some states, no records are required. In others, record keeping is a large part of homeschooling.
A few states specify homeschool guidelines for children with special learning needs, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents whose children are twice-exceptional should check if their state has specific guidelines for them, or if homeschooled children are eligible to receive any special-needs services.
Question: I keep hearing about deschooling and unschooling. What do they mean?
Answer: Deschooling is recommended by most homeschooling experts as a way open parents’ and children’s minds to new ways of learning. Sandra Dodd, homeschooling author, gives this advice for how to deschool: “Just stop. Stop thinking schoolishly. Stop acting teacherishly. Stop talking about learning as though it’s separate from life.”
Remember what life was like when your children were very young and they soaked up information just by going about their daily lives. That is what deschooling often looks like. For children who have had painful or difficult classroom experiences, their deschooling may take the form of decompression, hours of sleep or reading, and getting themselves ready, once again, to tap into their joy of learning.
I prefer the term "self-directed learning" to unschooling. In essence they mean the same thing, but self-directed learning implies more of an active role on the part of the learner. Unschooling is an approach to homeschooling that is similar to the deschooling period in it that gives as much control and choice to the learner as possible.
Question: How will my child learn to be socialized if we homeschool?
Answer: The process of deschooling can help us to think about what “being socialized” really means and what kind of socialization we want for our children. My favorite definition of socialization comes from Linda Silverman: a "deep, comfortable level of self-acceptance that leads to true friendships with others."
Note how different this definition is from the common understanding, which is more akin to having a lot of friends or getting along with everyone. A big part of meeting social-emotional needs is knowing what they are and working through the myths about socialization (another part of the deschooling process). For example, not every child needs a best friend every step of the way through grade school, so we can be careful not to set this up as an expectation for a child who is otherwise happy and thriving.
In some ways, the most valuable aspect of homeschooling for our family was the time available to develop healthy social-emotional habits and growth. In terms of perfectionism, for example, having several years of learning free from grades was a wonderful benefit for our son.
Question: I’m worried that my children will have gaps if we homeschool. I’m just not as gifted as they are!
Answer: Will there be gaps? Yes, just as there would be in school, because learning is a life-long adventure. Gifted parents are often by their nature perfectionistic parents, and because homeschooling puts everything in our control, it's easy to drive ourselves crazy trying to make homeschooling "perfect." When that happens, take a day or more off. Unschool. Stay in your pajamas until noon. Be a "good enough" homeschooler. And be willing to seek other teachers, mentors, and resources along the way. The question is not if your children will surpass your ability to teach them in the traditional sense, but when.
Question: I would love to homeschool, and my children are begging to be homeschooled, but my partner and I both work. Is homeschooling a possibility for us?
Answer: I worked part-time during many of our homeschooling years, both at a university where I teach and at home as a writer and freelance indexer. Being employed does present challenges to homeschooling parents, but they can often be met when a family is highly motivated. Here are a few ways to make it work:
At the same time, be careful that the decision to homeschool does not become yet another source of needless guilt. Not everyone has a family situation that makes homeschooling feasible. If you do homeschool, remember that it is not the perfect answer, because there is none, just as there is no perfect classroom. Do the best you can, be flexible, and have as much fun along the way as possible.
References and Resources
Deschooling Links and Information: http://a2zhomeschooling.com/beginning_home_school/deschooling_recovering_from_school/
Homeschooling Gifted Children: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/home_school.htm
Homeschooling Support Groups: http://a2zhomeschooling.com/support_groups/support_groups_homeschool_worldwide/
State Homeschooling Laws: https://www.hslda.org/laws/
“Unschooling the Gifted Child”
1Adapted from The Homeschooling Option: How to Decide When It’s Right for Your Family, by Lisa Rivero (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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