Homeschooling children who are unusually gifted and creative requires parents to be creative as well. Often the very reason for homeschooling gifted children is that they fail to thrive—to an even greater extent than other children—in an age-based, one-size-fits all classroom. When we bring our children home to learn, we have an exceptional opportunity to create a learning environment and experience that is unique and truly tailored specifically to them.
Below are a few creative thinking approaches and techniques that parents can use when seeking homeschooling solutions, from making the decision to homeschool to choosing curriculum, from seeking social opportunities to finding a daily rhythm. Much of the theory of creativity in this piece is based on Tina Seelig’s book InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, which I use in my college-level creative thinking course and highly recommend to all parents, homeschooling or otherwise.
Reframing Our Ideas of Education
One of the most important aspects of creative thinking is being able to look at a problem from a different perspective, to reframe it so as to see new angles and opportunities. Whether you are trying to decide if you should homeschool or have already homeschooled for several years, it pays to take some time to think about your current attitudes and beliefs about education, with an eye toward seeking new, different perspectives.
For example, until we started homeschooling, I did not question my belief that the standard grade-based curriculum was the best way to learn, or that frequent evaluation was necessary to know if children were learning, or that children learned best when directed by others. Homeschooling showed me that none of this was necessarily true. Grade-based curriculum actually got in the way of optimal learning. Letter grades and other forms of evaluation were rarely necessary or useful, and doing away with them as much as possible helped to ameliorate perfectionism. And my experience (both that of our family and other families I've known) has shown that gifted children in particular thrive when at least some if not most or even all of their homeschooling is self-directed.
Gifted children’s learning needs don't fit the expected norms, so letting their own curiosity and drive lead them can help them to be adequately challenges, as they seek their own answers to satisfy their boundless curiosity. Self-directed learning is also practical. Even relatively compliant gifted children usually have a strong sense of self-efficacy, and giving them as much control as possible eliminates much unnecessary conflict.
How to find the right balance of self-directed learning is different for every family, and even for each child within a family. For us, it was even different from year to year. I got myself in trouble when I focused more on being able to explain our approach to others or trying to be consistent for consistency’s sake than on focusing on day-to-day needs. I am convinced that homeschooling gifted children is really messy and complex in the sense that it doesn't fit into a neat category. As much as we want someone to tell us the answer, it is ultimately up to us to be experts on our own children. That is the creative part. Homeschooling is often fluid and full of mistakes (aka learning moments) and requires that we truly pay attention to what works and what doesn't rather than what should work. We have more room for error and experimentation than we realize. Extremely gifted grade-school age children can make up for lost time quickly, in terms of subject learning, if they have to, barring severe learning disabilities.
Reframing Our Ideas of Giftedness
Another important area of reframing is giving thought to how giftedness itself complicates our choices. Within the gifted parenting community, it can seem as though everyone else's children are doing amazing things at young ages in ways that are public and easy to recognize and quantify. We look at our own children and wonder what we're doing wrong (or what is wrong with our children). When our son was about seven or eight, it seemed as though all he wanted to do was play Pokemon, which he did, a lot. I played the card game with him, and he got some good math practice, but it was hard to document much traditional learning. At that time I was on GT mailing lists and reading about children winning contests and taking college classes, and it took all I had to remind myself that our son needed something different (it's why I wrote my first book, for myself!).
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that our children's intelligence level means they should be prodigies, that they should always be ahead in everything, and if they aren’t, we are failing them. We know better, of course, but it's a powerful underlying message, and we can easily mistake early success as the main goal of homeschooling.
Of course, they will be ahead a lot of the time, but something to keep in mind is that we don't want them to feel that precociousness is what defines their intelligence. There will a time when they are no longer measured by how far ahead of their peers they are (20 year olds don't talk in terms of reading at 30-year-old levels, after all). In some areas, they might seem right on track with everyone else, but what is going on inside is much, much different: deeper, broader, more complex, more creative, more emotional, perhaps, often more difficult for them to process.
SCAMPER: Reframing How We Use Curriculum
A simple but useful homeschooling technique for getting ourselves out of the usual way of thinking about a challenge or problem is SCAMPER (created by Bob Eberle). SCAMPER is an mnemonic to help us to systematically seek new solutions.
Put to another use
Below are some examples of how parents can use the SCAMPER technique to reframe questions about curriculum and learning. You will find that many of the prompts overlap and seem similar. That's because they are designed to offer several ways to approach a question or problem.
What can you substitute? Instead of learning about "simple machines" in first grade, substitute child-friendly steampunk, such as The Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide: Contraptions, Creations, and Curiosities Anyone Can Make.
What can you combine? Combine drama and film with science and space travel and even ethics by watching the film Apollo 13 as a family, then using the Teach With Movies website study guide for follow-up discussion and activities.
What can you adapt? A common first grade language arts topic is tables of contents. Adapt the learning to a higher level by helping a young child to create table of contents for his or her favorite book(s) or re-write and improve poor tables on contents.
What can you modify? Metrics are often listed as one of several areas of math to learn in about middle school, but gifted children of all ages often enjoy immersing themselves in the metrical system, learning its history, its use worldwide, its future. It's okay to modify learning so specialize for awhile rather than generalize.
What can you put to another use? Instead of learning about public education generally in high school, homeschooled students can put this learning to their own use by researching public versus private colleges—the history, cost, differences, perhaps how such systems are different in other parts of the world. This serves a practical purpose in their own eventual college search.
What can you eliminate? You will find that much of what is listed on "what to learn when" lists can be eliminated (or checked off), because children have already learned it or they will learn it later along with something else (or they may never need it--not as crazy as it might first sound).
What can you reverse? Not only is it okay to teach subjects “backward,” it is often the best choice for gifted learners. While taxation may normally be covered in high school, there is no reason a curious math-minded young child can't learn it before learning algebra, perhaps even by helping parents to calculate the family’s taxes. Scope and sequence are very, very flexible in homeschooling.
Using a creative approach to homeschooling not only opens doors to higher, more creative learning, it is also more interesting and enjoyable for all involved—children and parents alike. Finally whenever possible, engage your children in the creative problem solving process for homeschooling decisions (they especially enjoy techniques such as SCAMPER). Their own solutions are often the best ones!
What’s Your Homeschooling Big Picture?
As homeschoolers, especially when our children are highly excitable and insatiably curious, we can also easily become overwhelmed by problems of minutia: schedules and curriculum, what math program to use, where to find challenging enough on-line classes, how to juggle half a dozen sports and activities. Doesn't just reading that list make your stomach tighten? Those kinds of problems take up much of our time, and, because they are--relatively speaking--easy to solve (yes, you read that right), we can easily get into the habit of thinking that they are what homeschooling is all about.
Once in awhile it’s good to take a step back from our day-to-day decisions and routines, to think about our individual homeschooling vision statements and educational philosophies. What do we really want for our children--especially in terms of social-emotional growth? What do they want for themselves? What are your biggest social-emotional issues? And how can homeschooling get us from where we are now to where we want to be? What is your big picture? Is it difficult to put in words? Has it changed since you first started homeschooling?
If your homeschooling needs a pick-me-up, or if you have lost sight of your Homeschooling Big Picture, here are a few new ways to think about motivation, perfectionism, and creative thinking.
Do you wish your children were more motivated? Or at least motivated to do what you want them to do? For a refreshing and scientific perspective on motivation, watch the following TED Talk by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation
You might even want to watch the video with your children. Afterward, here are some possible questions to consider and discuss:
One example of the “functional fixedness” that Pink discusses (being stuck using an object or tool in a single or habitual way) is the practice of grading. Often we give grades only because it’s what has always been done, and we aren’t sure what else to do. However, Barbara Clark explains the problems with grading in her textbook Growing Up Gifted (Prentice Hall, 2007):
[Grades are] unfair, misleading, meaningless in most cases, and damaging to the self-concept of both bright and less bright children. They create pressures and anxieties for both teachers and students. They neither motivate not contribute to learning. They communicate information on a par with chance estimates; at best, what they say is neither explicit nor constructive. But for many parents and teachers alike, grades are the most important part of the school’s responsibility. (p. 496)
Homeschooling gives families the unique opportunity to use grades only when they are useful. How do you use grades in your home education? How might you use them (or not use them) differently?
Who among us doesn't deal with perfectionism at least some of the time? While it’s good to see the lighter side of perfectionism, such as the article at http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Perfectionism, we also know that unhealthy perfectionism can be a very serious and painful issue for many gifted children and adults.
In her article "A 'Perfect' Case Study: Perfectionism in Academically Talented Fourth Graders" (Gifted Child Today, Fall 2007, pp. 14-21), Jill Adelson suggests that rather than lumping perfectionists into a single category, we can think of them as distinct categories of manifestations and traits, each of which can be addressed with specific, effective strategies. She lists five categories:
For example, once we realize that a child’s perfectionism is primarily that of the Procrastinating Perfectionist, we can help her to break small goals into small steps, add some wiggle room into her deadlines, and learn to prioritize. Parents can look for Adelson’s article in their local public or university library, either in the bound periodicals section or through a database subscription.
What are some ways that you can address perfectionism as part of your Homeschooling Big Picture and encourage a pursuit of excellence that brings pleasure, rather than unhealthy perfectionism?
Use Creative Thinking Techniques
Perhaps what is most surprising to students in creative thinking classes is that learning some specific techniques that have (gasp!) rules can make us more rather than less creative and can lead to amazing new solutions to problems.
The kind of creative thinking taught to business and engineering students can be used by homeschoolers and other families to look at problems and challenges in a new way. That’s in essence what creative thinking is all about: looking at something in a new way. Seeing possibilities we otherwise miss. Discovering new combinations. Not settling for the first answer or solution we think of, but allowing our minds to go, to use Dewitt Jones’s phrase, the next right answer (See https://dewittjones.com/).
These three creative thinking approaches can be very useful in homeschooling: Brainstorming, the SCAMPER technique, and Wishful Thinking.
1. Brainstorming. Many people think that brainstorming is a laissez-faire, anything goes mulling over of ideas. Traditional Brainstorming, however, as envisioned by creator Alex Osborn, not only was designed to be used in groups, but also has a specific sequence of steps and clear rules to follow. The main rules are to focus on quantity rather than quality, to withhold criticism and judgment (the “no squelching” rule), to welcome unusual and strange ideas, and to combine and build upon ideas as you go. The goal of brainstorming is to free our minds from judgment so that later, when we are in the evaluation phase of problem solving, we have a large quantity of ideas to sift through. Otherwise, if we judge ideas too early, we tend to miss what might be the best ideas because we “squelch” them.
2. SCAMPER. Roger Eberle built upon Osborn’s brainstorming idea to create the SCAMPER technique. When we have a problem to solve, a product to improve, or just something that we want to do differently or better but we’re stuck as to how to start, we can go step-by-step through the SCAMPER acronym, asking the questions found at this webpage: http://creatingminds.org/tools/scamper.htm.
3. Wishful Thinking. Finally, one of my all-time favorite creative thinking exercise is one of Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking exercises—Wishful Thinking. Wishful Thinking allows us to let our imagination go “all the way” to an ideal solution, to what we want if all barriers fall away and no limits apply—no practical barriers, no financial barriers, no physical barriers. We indulge our fantasies and only later take a more critical look at them to see what ideas they suggest. The goal is to use the ideal if impossible solution to come up with new ideas that can work.
Here’s an example of how creative thinking can be used to add life to your Homeschooling Big Picture. Allow yourself to describe—on paper, if possible—your ideal home education. These questions might help you to get started:
If your children are willing, ask them to do the same. No squelching of ideas! No evaluation at this point.
Give your ideal picture some time to come into focus, and then ask yourself if it helps you to see what values you might have that you are missing, or what you might be able to do that allows you to realize at least part of your ideal vision. The point isn’t to feel guilty or frustrated about what you can’t do or aren’t doing, but to realize that unreachable ideals often have within them very do-able and exciting aspects of new solutions.
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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